I was recently asked by James Hutchings to review his short story collection The New Death and Others, a request I was glad to comply with since I had been interested in reading the book anyway.
Many of the stories in this e-book can be considered as belonging to the fantasy genre, however they are not rip-roaring sword and sorcery adventures of mighty thews and skull crushing, nor are they epic high fantasy quests to save the realm from Evil and Darkness. Instead they are tales of irony, satire and sardonic wit dressed in the imagery of myth and imagination, many times reminiscent of the works of Lord Dunsany.
Like many a good book The New Death and Others is not very original, but then again originality is firstly quite rare and secondly not necessarily equivalent to quality. I found many of the stories rather charming and filled with dark and clever humour.
How the Isle of Cats got its Name combines familiar themes from HP Lovecrafts The Cats of Ulthar with an amusingly absurd curiosity from the history of musical instruments.
The Enemy Within is a short piece of grotesque humour on xenophobia and how we construct our identity in opposition to ‘the other’.
There are also several poems, many of which are based on stories by HP Lovecraft, Robert E Howard, Clark Ashton Smith and Lord Dunsany.
A noticeable difference between Hutchings work and that of these elders of the genre is that his stories are written from a progressive perspective. Its a refreshing sensation to be able to not only enjoy the style and esthetics but also to sympathize with the message in a work of fantasy fiction. But think not that this is a collection of crude political propaganda, even those stories that comment on our modern society and the condition of our planet are highly enjoyable as eloquent and imaginative fiction.
One of the most striking stories, Todd, is a horror story written in a more modern style with every day language. It made me think of Stephen King, probably because the main characters where kids in a contemporary setting.
From the perspective of a fantasy role-player there are many things to be inspired by, or to lift unashamedly from the page to the gaming table. We are introduced to the overly ambitious sorceress Abi-Simti who will stop at nothing to expand her occult skills, and to the city of Mayajat whose population is ruled by the lunar cycles, their temperaments shifting with each full moon.
If you enjoy clever and witty fables and wonderful but dark fairy tales you should really give The New Death and Others a try.
The New Death and Others is available as an e-book on Amazon and Smashwords.