The gargoyle has stood watch, lurking in the background of countless tales of horror or bearing witness to history as it happens.
When you put out the call for authors to share their unique gargoyle stories, good things are bound to happen… aren’t they?
Published October, 1998 by Ace Books.
For centuries, they have watched over us. Leering from the arches and peaks of ancient cathedrals. Spreading their wings across hallowed doorways. Even decorating our homes in stony, silent elegance. Are they angels or demons? Sacred or profane?
In the Shadow of the Gargoyle features fifteen original stories and two classic tales of the legendary gargoyle. The contributors range from bestselling masters to the hottest newcomers–award-winners, artists, musicians, and, yes, gargoyle collectors. Each of them experts at drawing blood from a stone…
Contributors include:* Harlan Ellison * Neil Gaiman * Katherine Kurtz * Brian Lumley * Jane Yolen * Charles L. Grant * John Mason Skipp * Nancy Holder * Alan Rodgers * Lucy Taylor * Jo Clayton * Don D’Ammassa * Christa Faust * Robert J. Harris * Brian Hodge * Caitlin R. Kiernan * Marc Levinthal * Melanie Tem * Wendy Webb
Look, I’ll be honest. When I saw this in my local used bookstore and Neil Gaiman’s name showed up on the cover I figured that alone was worth the couple bucks they were asking. I wasn’t as familiar with the other names(though I had heard of a few), but I do trust Neil Gaiman’s reputation and thought… what the heck, let’s check it out.
Funny enough, his story doesn’t crack my top 3 from this collection, even though it is a satisfyingly creepy (and lonely) tale.
Being an anthology with 17 stories, I’m not going to break down each story in here… no one wants to read that(do they?).
But I will say a few things about this collection.
First, the stories really cover the expanse of tone, feeling, and emotional vibes. There are some, such as the opening story ‘The Soft Sound of Wings’ by Charles Grant and ‘May This Be Your Last Sorrow’ by Charles de Lint, that really strike a satisfying lonely tone.
There are others that take a more humorous look at the world of gargoyles that borders on the world of mobsters and crime noir, such as ‘The Gargoyle’s Shadow’ by Katherine Kurtz.
Stories that lean heavy into the idea of gargoyles as protectors, such as ‘Scylla and Charybdis’ by Don D’Ammassa.
Honestly there are stories that verge into sci-fi, fantasy and a lot of personal longing and lines of madness showing up among the characters present.
They are all interesting, though the pacing and tone is super varied from one story to the next. However, you’ll find that the deeper into the book you get, the darker and more dangerous the stories get.
Which is how we find ourselves ending the book with stories on mass murders, slayings, and a world being decimated by gargoyles turned to flesh.
Like I said, there really is something for everyone in this book.
When we get to “The Bottom Line” at the end of this review, I’ll share my favorite stories with you. Before that, however, let’s talk about:
The Not So Good
This was a difficult book for me for some reason. While I traditionally LOVE a good short story anthology like this, I found I could only read one or two stories before I’d have to take a break and either find something else to read or just come back to the next story in a day or two.
I can’t quite put my finger on why that is, exactly, besides to say that if I read much more than that the stories all began to bleed together in a way that wasn’t pleasant or otherwise good for the book.
A fatigue would set in and suddenly I’d find myself just skimming over the stories, unable to stay invested in them.
Which is a problem because, by and large, most of the stories here are good and are deserving of your full attention.
Other than that, there isn’t too much I can knock this book on, since almost every story had elements that found a way to stick in my mind, chewing on the ideas for a little bit after reading.
The Bottom Line
Overall I enjoyed this collection, however it wasn’t one that I could sit down and rip through story after story in one sitting.
There was a gravity with each one that begged for me to take a moment to digest what it was I had just read. By and large, that’s an enjoyable outcome to have from a good short story.
However, there were a few stories that just didn’t connect and left me feeling a bit cheated.
I found that, through the various stories, there are some very unique interpretations of just what a gargoyle is. At first this annoyed me, but the deeper I read into this collection I’d find the stories taking a looser approach to “the gargoyle” were some of the most enjoyable.
I think that’s what caused a bit of the fatigue with this book, especially through the first two thirds, is that so many of the stories were pretty standard depictions of gargoyles behaving in different ways. Protectors, solemn watchers, downtrodden and forgotten citizens of earth, or even aggressors.
But then the book takes a turn and we get into some excellent stories that leap into the worlds of fantasy, celtic folklore, sci-fi, and outright horror. And that is where the book really shines.
I wish the order of these stories had been rearranged a bit so that we were given some of that “explosive” storytelling earlier on. It may have helped ease that feeling of “gargoyle fatigue” I had while reading this collection.
But overall, the stories are mostly all good, solid stories worth the read.
I give this anthology a 3 out of 5 stars.
Ok, so I told you I’d share my favorite stories from this collection so here they are, in no particular order:
‘Cenotaph’ by Brian Hodge – This story feels wholly unique in this collection as it leans into Celtic folklore. It’s a perfect blend of the feeling of longing and loneliness while also feeling like home. A sadness coupled with the peace of finally finding a belonging.
‘Found Angels’ by Christa Faust and Caitlin R Kiernan – This story was one that stood out immediately after reading it as one of my favorites. It’s drenched in that gritty, gut-wrenching horror from the darker side of the American West. It sets up a feeling of someone who at once knows it all and has nothing to lose, yet is ultimately content to give it all away in horrifying fashion.
‘The Soft Sound of Wings’ by Charles L Grant – This story opens the collection and I re-read it about three times. There was something so tantalizingly melancholy that absolutely captured the FEELING of Autumn. And that feeling is wrapped around a story of a man wrestling with the grief of losing his wife, a killer hunting children, and a self reckoning.
While I enjoyed the majority of the stories in this collection, these three were probably my favorites as I worked my way through this anthology.
I think the best way I can describe a book like this, as well as the best reason I can recommend it, is this. While it’s NOT a book you’re going to want to chew through in one sitting, it’s full of thoughtful, wonderful writing that gives you a multitude of different story styles to enjoy.
As such, it’s the perfect type of anthology book to have on the shelf just to pull out time and again to read a single, specific story or two when the mood strikes. Almost as if it were a dark fiction and horror short story version of the coffee table photo book.
It’s worthy of a spot on your shelf and I think you’ll find at least a handful of stories you enjoy if you are a fan of dark fiction, horror, and beautiful prose in your writing.
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