Monday, January 27, 2020

Mythumbra by Storm Constantine

What I love about Storm Constantine's writing is not so much the story, but rather the mood and the environment that she evokes with each piece. And if you're looking for plot-driven narrative structures with wicked twists, then perhaps this collection of short fiction is not for you. Mythumbra: A Collection of Stories sees Storm collecting stories that have appeared in a number of different publications, and offers a mixed bag in terms of what you might encounter, ranging from secondary world fantasy and sci-fi, to gothic fantasy with Lovecraftian notes. Storm very much pays homage to the rich weirdness of Tanith Lee's writing.

"The Drake Lords of Kyla" is perhaps one of my favourites, with a traveller encountering a dragon-like people known as Lighurds. There's the narrator's fascination with the exotic, and the thrill as she sees a slice of a culture entirely different from her own. This story is more reflective mood piece and travelogue.

"Long Indeed do We Live" was not a story that I really gelled with. It examines how mankind might not flourish as intended in a controlled environment, even though every need is catered for when the environment beyond the protected domes has been destroyed. And yet there is an element of horror, of the supernatural hinted at. Whether this is the imagination of the people in the tale, is a matter of conjecture.

"A Winter Bereavement" brings us into the world of the countess Areta, and her younger companion Mimosa, as the former embarks on a seduction. This is a very mannered, almost Victorian tale, that focuses on mood and gesture, and yet heads off into unexpected, uncharted territory at the end.

Okay, so I loved "The Saint's Well" which pitted a man of the church against the miracles perceived by a small town in the country. It delves into the magic of subjectivity, and now an event may not need to be objectively true for it to still maintain some profound, private truth for those who experienced it. Storm's evocations of the countryside are vivid, and make me feel as if I am right there, walking with the protagonist.

"At the Sign of the Weeping Angel" is filled strangeness, of how when one is plunged into an unfamiliar environment – especially if it is a party of someone you don't know – the act of entering a strange space can put you in contact with nameless mysteries. Storm doesn't explain much here, and I feel this is the kind of story that will give you something different with the next read.

"Master of None" was dark. Horribly and wonderfully dark, and takes a stab at the consequences of someone addicted to New Age courses – and how the plethora of qualifications offered are at the end of the day, rather quite absurd. And yet the hapless protagonist, in her obsession with finding yet another certificate for her wall, stumbles onto something that is a little more than what she expected.

"In the Earth" was another that I adored. At its heart it's the story of childhood reminisces, and how our opinions of events in the past may be coloured over time. Once again, Storm effortless evokes the sense of old houses, the countryside, oppressive weather, and awkward interactions.

"From the Cold Dark Sea" brings a classic touch of Lovecraft, but with a more feminine angle. This is a journey, about an outsider offered a glimpse into a world that she may never be part of. And that is all I'll say. Once again, wonderful imagery, deeply evocative, involving the ocean and the life teeming beneath the surface and washed up on the shore.

"In Exile" is a story that offers a slice of life, yet another where an outsider is offered the opportunity to glimpse into a world that is not her own. Mabelise and her sister have been sent to live in a villa, where they are strangers on the island, and not privy to the true meaning of the rituals the locals enact. Mabelise's sister is there to recover from a serious illness, yet Mabelise has no real hope for her sister's healing. The women who are caring for them may have an unconventional approach, however.

"The Serpent Gallery" is a peculiar piece. It feels as if it has a contemporary setting, and yet there's a strangeness to it that pitches the story into oddness. I loved the unsettling descriptions of the mysterious paintings. I won't say more, for to do so would ruin the experience.

The last story, "The Foretelling" is, in Storm's own words, a Pre-Cataclysm tale of of Azeroth. She makes no secrets of her love of the World of Warcraft setting, and while it's not a setting I know all that well, I still enjoyed dipping into the world.

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