Mythanimus by Storm Constantine (book review).

An issue that many writers of short stories have is that their output is likely to appear in many disparate publications such as anthologies and magazines, including, these days, on-line magazines with no print version. No reader can reasonably follow all the sources if they wish to read the entire output of a favourite author.

A collection is the solution but not every mainstream publisher is prepared to issue them, unless it is a high-earning author and there is a considerable gap between the money-making novels. Ever since the publication of her first Wraeththu novels, Storm Constantine has had a following eager to see all her work.

Mythanimus’ is the fourth of her short story collections (the others being ‘Mythangelus’, ‘Mythophidia’ and ‘Mytholumina’) which together contain most of her published stories and a few extras. Constantine had always been fascinated by the mystical and many of these stories explore this. With few exceptions, the events are portrayed through the points of view of women and there is usually an emotional connection between the leading characters.

‘Owlspeak’ is a tale of unrequited love. The couple are from different sects with different beliefs and outlooks on life. They want different things and misunderstandings ultimately separate them. ‘An Elemental Tale’ has a similar theme. The water and fire elementals that love each other are incompatible as their natures are in conflict.

The concept of the ruined world or city where something nasty lurks turns up in a number of SF or fantasy settings. In some cases, it is the aliens technology that provides the danger, in others it can be supernatural or just monstrous. In ‘Dancer For The World’s Death’, Lariel is taken through a portal by his mentor to a ruined city where he has to dance as part of a test. In contrast, the protagonist of ‘Panquilia In The Ruins’ deliberately goes to the ruins that everyone shuns as whatever is there drives visitors mad because it is on her route. There, she has to face her fears.

Danger always lurks where there are fanatics, especially those who ignore rules put in place for a reason. The people who dwell within ‘The Preservation’ are there to make sure that their way of life is not lost for ever. When a fanatical sect breaches the area, the destruction is reminiscent of the misguided missionary zeal of the Spanish priesthood when they first arrived in the Americas, with similar effect.

The idea of a city that moves (‘The Inverted World by Chris Priest, 1974) or floats (‘Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift, 1726) are not new. It is what an author does with them that is important. Constantine concentrates more on the characters with the strange city a presence in the background. ‘Priest Of Hands’ is set in the flying city of Min. Ays is a priest whose job is to lay on hands and ease the passing of the dying. The drug he uses revives one of the people he is called to, leading to a misunderstanding of cultures. In ‘The Time She Became’, the moving town of Jubilee Garter is merely the background where Sax and Zeeb when a girl appears out of no-where. As she seems confused they care for her.

The magic in Constantine’s stories is subtle. In both ‘Joy Of Desire’ and ‘The Fool’s Path’, Tarot cards play a significant part, directing decisions of the characters. In the former, it is Melissa’s mother’s cards that lead to her accepting her inheritance as a witch. In the latter, Carlotta doesn’t believe in magic, mocking a reading of the cards but discovers that that is a dangerous attitude. The Tarot plays a minor role in ‘Candle Magic’ but is the candle that Emma uses to try to capture the attention of the man who is her latest obsession.

One thing a good storyteller does is to turn tropes upside down, not just for the reader but for the characters as well. In ‘The Deliveress’, short-sighted estate agent receptionist Jenni is suddenly transported to another world where she doesn’t speak the language and is totally out of her comfort zone. The Priestess of this world is expecting a Deliverer who will fight against the latest Dark One. This Deliverer, who is definitely not going to be female, will be a fierce warrior. Jenni, however upsets all the expected norms.

Another story to turn the expected differently is ‘Where Vampires Live’. Here, two cousins, Zenna and Ariel, venture out at night to a grove where Zenna says vampires live but instead find an injured boy. The story examines belief and expectation. ‘The Silver Paladin’, co-written with Sian Kingstone, does much the same. Lady Mariana is expected to marry the man of her father’s choosing but she has dreams of a different kind of bridegroom.

Very few of the stories in this volume could be regarded as having a conventional contemporary setting. ‘Of A Cat But Her Skin…’ is one. After a row with her boyfriend on a visit to a country house, Nina discovers a statue of a cat in a recently opened part of the garden. It fascinates her so much that she finds an excuse to go back.

‘The Farmer’s Bride’ is the final story in the volume is based on a poem of the same name by Charlotte Mew.

For followers of Constantine’s work who are not familiar with her short stories, this is a good place to get acquainted, then to chase up the other volumes in the set.

Pauline Morgan

May 2021

(pub: Immanion Press, Stafford, UK, 2011. 356 page paperback. Price: £12.99 (UK), $21.99 (US). ISBN: 978-1-904853-60-2)

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