Archive for Available Dark

Saffron and Brimstone [book review]

Posted in Books, Kids, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , on August 15, 2015 by xi'an

I cannot really remember how I came across this book, when selecting Amazon (free) books to collect from Andrew on my last trip to New York… (Thanks to ‘Og readers!) Presumably the name popped out of a list of recommended books. The cover was intriguing enough to stop by and to spot that the author was Elizabeth Hand, whose horror/fantasy trilogy I had liked very much in the late 80’s… So I ordered the book and brought it back from New York. Only to realise that this was an altogether different Elizabeth Hand, whose book Available Dark I had read a little while ago. And did not like so much. However, since the book is a collection of short and less short stories, I gave it a try.

As it happens, this Saffron and Brimstone truly is a great collection of short stories, fantastic in a completely different frame than those of the fantasy books I usually review here. It is a fantastic that borders reality, sometimes hardly fantastic, but with a constant feeling of something being not fully natural, not completely normal. The subtitle of “strange stories” is quite pertinent, as the feeling of strangeness hits the reader (or this reader) almost instantaneously from the beginning of each story. I enjoyed all of the eight stories for different reasons, from a reminiscence of an “Alfred Hitchcock presents” short story called the Cocoon that terrified me [as a pre-teen] when I read it late at night!, to variations around Greek myths that brings them beautifully into the modern era. And always with a central female character who brings another degree of strangeness and surreality to the tale.  I do not think it matters the least that those novels are or are not fantasy or fantastic. They are simply gems of contemporary literature. Superb. (Which makes the rather unexceptional Available Dark the more inexplicable!)

available dark [book review]

Posted in Books, Mountains, Travel with tags , , , , , , on September 13, 2014 by xi'an

“Paved roads had long ago surrended to gravel tracks that disappeared into a desert of snow covered lava. Black spires like a forest of charred trees blotted out the stars near the horizon.”

This is the last book I read from my Amazon package: Available Dark by Elizabeth Hand. I cannot remember how I came to order it… Maybe a confusion with another fantasy author like Elizabeth Moon? Or simply because the story was taking place between MaineFinland and Iceland?! Anyway, I read the book within two days during a short hiking trip to the volcano region of Central France. The plot has indeed a mesmerizing quality that made me keep reading further and further at ungodly hours. (With the help of an US jetlag.) It is original and intense enough to overcome the major difficulty that the central character, Cas, is far from sympathetic, from specialising in corpse photography to being almost constantly on drugs. But the construction of the plot and the introduction of the characters, always seen from Cas’ viewpoint, are well-done, even though the ending is both precipitated and unrealistic. Too many coincidences. The original setup of this novel is the Finnish black metal scene, with its undercurrents of satanism, ritual murders, and church burnings. Rather accurate judging from the wikipedia page on the topic! What I appreciated most was the description of the first impression of Iceland on Cas, when she landed from Helsinki. “The trip to Reykjavik [from the airport] was like a bus tour through Mordor. Black lava fields, an endless waste broken here and there by ruined machinery or a building of stained corrugated metal.” So I may consider reading another novel in the series in a near future…