Sunday, October 23, 2011

Heroes Dark and Dangerous

Dark Heroes
Jessy Marie Roberts, ed.
Pill Hill Press
Paper $15.99, ebook $0.99

This anthology has an interesting premise.  The creatures we think of as monsters play the role of hero. 

Most of the authors in this anthology were not familiar to me, although a couple of them were.  I've always found anthologies in which I don't know the work or at least the reputation of the contributors to be something of a crap-shoot.  Fortunately, the dice roll came up predominantly in my favor.

Here's what the book contains:

J. Leigh Bailey draws on Mesopotamian mythology in "The Twelfth Monster of Chaos" in one of the more original takes on a dark hero.  The vampire Phil Wolters describes is "Just Waiting for the Sun to Set" but what comes out in the dark is something even he has trouble defeating.  Samhain fights for right in "Cat Got Your Tongue?" by Gary Buettner.  Scott M. Sandridge has the first of several werewolf/shafeshifter stories, but it's "Nothing Personal", in which a madame hunts down the murderer of one of her girls.  Jennifer L. Barnes continues werewolf theme in "It's Medicine; Not Magic".  Mel Obedoza turns the tables on convention with her "Monster Hunter."  In "The Ease of Evil", Aaron Renfroe gives us a tale from the point of view of a monster who doesn't realize he's a monster.

Anita Siraki doesn't deal with a werewolf per se, but in the bleakest tale in the book, "La Bete", her heroine experiences life as a wolf and discovers that revenge has a high price.  Those who deal with the undead, even those who hunt them down, take on their characteristics, something Christopher Heath demonstrates quite effectively in "Azieran:  The Crypt of Shaddis'zzam".  His Azieran is always a fun place to visit.  Gorgon sisters battle in "Their Last Escape" by Alexis A. Hunter.  Revenge comes from beyond the grave in Chloe Stowe's "The Widow and the Scythes".  On the "Solstice", Darin Kennedy's heroine April Sullivan makes a return appearance to try to prevent another necromancer from raising Arlington National Cemetery.  J. M. Martin turns in the best were-animal story, and certainly the most emotionally complex one, in "Eaters of Meat and Hunters".  Kat Hekenbach shows us that werewolves are just "Ordinary Folk".  A half demon aids his former lover, now a nun, in protecting a young girl from "The Dream Easter".

This isn't the strongest anthology I've read from a small press this year, but then it's been an exceptionally strong year for small press anthologies, as I've stated elsewhere. This is still a better anthology than most of those published by a certain New York imprint known for its anthologies.  I suspect many of these people will be well known in the field if they keep writing.  The stories are at a professional level, although some are stronger than others.  I guess that reaction on my part is to be expected with so many dealing with were-creatures.  That's probably the one gripe I have about the stories as a whole.  I was expecting more variety; in fact, I'm somewhat surprised there weren't more vampires, since they seem to be everywhere these days.  At least the vampire herein didn't glitter but was properly loathsome (Thank you, Mr. Wolters).

If it seems I'm damning with faint praise, I don't intend to.  I quite enjoyed the anthology.  It's just that I enjoyed some stories more than others.  With the exception of J. M. Martin's werewolf story (set in the same world as Tisarian's Treasure, reviewed here), the stories I found the most interesting were the ones that stayed away from the tried and true and focused on monsters/creatures/beings that haven't gotten as much exposure.  I also found that the stories in which the narrator had a distinguishable voice tended to stand out.  Overall, the contents were worth the investment.

What did annoy me, and I mean really annoy me, was the ebook version, at least the one for the Nook.  There was no table of contents, not even a listing, never mind anything interactive, and when I tried to use the Go To function, nothing came up on the Chapter option.  I had to put bookmarks in as I came to new stories.  As I'm not in the habit of having to to that, it was a little bit of a hassle.  I would have preferred to keep reading without having to stop and place a bookmark.  (I know it only took a couple of seconds; it was still a nuisance.)  Pill Hill Press has an extensive list of anthologies on their website, and not all of them are available in electronic formats, so my complaints may just be a function of where they are on the epublishing learning curve.

Regardless which version you prefer, print or electronic, check this one out.  There's some good writing here, and I'd like to see some of these characters again.


  1. I've neglected to thank you for the special mention of my story, so...THANK YOU! I really appreciate the time you've spent reading my work, Keith. It means a great deal.

    I'll be pulling for you during NaNoWriMo! Go to it!

  2. You're quite welcome. And thanks for the encouragement on NaNoWriMo. I'm hitting the "I'm so far behind/Will this never end?" stage of the process.