13 Tales of Illusory by Stephanie Ayers
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This is a single author collection of twelve stories and a poem. I won’t say anything about the poem, because I don’t know shit about poetry.
The Puppet Master 3.5 stars – As I was reading it, I wondered why Finn would be griping about not travelling since they’re with a circus. All circuses that I know of travel. Then again it never explicitly says they’re with the circus, but “in a circus car” seemed... But the end of the story was so satisfying, it seemed like an irrelevant question once I finished. Even still, a little more detail on setting would have bumped this up to four stars for me.
No Returns 1 star—Loved the premise, but again, not enough words to convey the impact, for me. I guess the premise wasn’t unique enough to make up for the fact that I didn’t care about the person it happened to because the person wasn’t realized. Also, this:
She ignored it and opened the back, delighted to find a roll of film within. She carefully removed the roll, pleased to find it unblemished by the light.
Um, it doesn’t work like that; if you open the back of a camera and there’s film in it, the act of opening the camera exposes the film. Fiction it may be, but we know How Things Work. As a photographer this was particularly vexing.
Wade, Haunted 2 stars—one more the author’s love of brevity in scene setting tripped me up. There was a short (yet tall enough to loom) staircase that seemed to ascend a full floor level and has the character “looking down” at the living area, but he “made his way” there without seeming to descend the stairs again, so couldn’t place the character in the house. Even the woman/ghost sitting beside him, yet far enough to stroke him with her bare foot...these weird little skips in continuity made it difficult for me to appreciate the end (which in this case wasn’t a surprise.)
Season of Change 3 stars—standard horror short, nicely done.
On the Ninth Day 1 star—not sure what to say about this. I guess I was more bewildered than anything, maybe too familiar with Norse mythology? Like, if it had been Loki, maybe. But...Odin? Evil? No sale, here. (also the Wild Hunt was Celtic mythology—which would have worked well for the story, but Odin and Norse mythology? Eh, like I said, bewildering.)
Strike a Pose 4 stars—this one is kind of awesome. There were a couple things that made me blink (the soul remaining connected to the body after death? And being ashamed of having been murdered?) but overall, really liked the concept and story.
A Child Lost 2 stars—this was a new-to-me take on the stealing babies trope, but I think it might have been more interesting from the pixie point of view. I find the characters of these shorts to be too briefly sketched for me to know or care about them, so the impact of the story needs to come from setting and what happens, and in this case, by having most of what happens a flashback, it was very distancing.
The May Queen 1 star—apparently finding yourself in hell is lucky. Another “pre-Christian religions are evil” trope/story, not really my thing.
The Chair 3.5 stars—the sentient chair is a kind of child’s storybook device that makes this story (of the execution of an innocent man) more chilling. Oddly the opening and closing of the story refer to an execution that doesn’t happen.
Tears of a Sinner 3.5 stars—an immortal beloved story x bluebeard-esque story.
What the Sign Saw 2 stars—I think this would have been a lot stronger without the prologue type opening. Secondary character behaviour wasn’t consistent with resolution, almost as if the author changed her mind how to end the story and didn’t revise the first/middle parts to match.
The Thirteenth Year 2 stars—this is a vampire story that uses the “vampires can’t see their reflections in mirrors” trope, which I hate, so my dislike of this story is a personal thing, nothing on the writer (I wish the focus of the story had been on the mirror and gargoyles, though.) Hmm, maybe the last line revealing the boarder to be a vamp was supposed to be a twist. I figured it out in the first few paragraphs, though, so if that was a spoiler, um, sorry?
OVER ALL—the writer has a gift for words, but chooses the wrong places to be brief and wax eloquent, in my opinion. A little more on setting and/or character and a little less on clothing. Because of the lack of characterization and setting, it was hard for me to feel anything for these stories unless they showed me somthing I hadn’t seen before (“Strike a Pose” being particularly memorable).
I would read a full-length novel by this author, where the setting and characters could be as lovingly drawn as some of her descriptions (Worthington’s appearance in “The Thirteenth Year” for example or Bruning’s appearance in “Tears of a Sinner”)
I feel comfortable giving the collection three and a half stars, as some of the things I didn’t like were personal (tropes I dislike, writing style choices, which are on me, not a fault of the writer) and the writing is very good. If you enjoy short/flash horror and like to see something a little different, there’s definitely enough of that to make this worth the purchase price.**
**I was given an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
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