Tanith Lee – Cold Grey Stones

A unique collection of eleven stories from Britain’s foremost Mistress of the Fantastic; all are previously uncollected, two have never appeared in print before and five stories are wholly original to this collection.

Tanith Lee’s latest collection, published by NewCon Press, is part of their new Imaginings line. This line will consist of short story collections by selected authors and contain previously published, but uncollected, stories and some original stories picked by the authors themselves. You can find more information on this venture on the NewCon Press website.

When I was offered a chance to review this collection, I jumped at the chance. Tanith Lee is an author I’ve heard so much about, but never got around to reading, at least that’s what I thought when accepting this collection for review. It turns out however I’ve read two anthologies containing her work, The Dragon Quintet, which contained her novelette Love In A Time Of Dragons, and Winter Moon, which has her novella The Heart Of The Moon. Both of these were purchased because they also contained stories by Mercedes Lackey and as such I hadn’t remembered that Lee was also part of them. However, after looking them up, I do recall enjoying them a lot and marking down Lee’s name to find more work by her. This brings us back to the present and Cold Grey Stones, which provided me with more of her work and I didn’t even have to go out and hunt for it.

Cold Grey Stones contains eleven stories that range from quite long, almost novella-length, to just short vignettes. In subject they range from horror to fantasy. While I liked all of them, I did have some favourites, but what bound all of them together was the wonderful quality of the writing. For some of the more modern stories, the style was crisp and contemporary, but many of the stories included in this collection have an almost fairytale-like quality to them, which I really enjoyed. Lee’s use of language ranges from the sharp and angular (Killing Her) to the poetic (The Heart of Ice), but they all convey a mastery of language and a facility with words, which makes reading these stories such a lovely experience.

My favourite stories were Clockatrice, The Greyve, En Forêt Noire and My Heart: A Stone. These all contain a riddle and possess something haunted, in some cases literally, in the others more metaphysically. Clockatrice, the first story in the collection and one of the longest, tells the story of the 16th-century Diana, who was petrified by a cockatrice, and that of modern-day Dru, who becomes fascinated by her story and that of her lover, who had a clock created in her memory, which was ornamented with both her image and that of the cockatrices. I loved the Gothic feel to this one and the visuals it created in my head of the clockatrice being. Another story set in the modern day, the combination of its depiction of the horror that today’s economy is for people badly affected by it, and the protagonist’s somewhat lackadaisical acceptance of the appearance of what seems to be an animated headstone, lends The Greyve a rather absurdist tone, but one that is laced with hope, even if the ending is somewhat less than happy. En Forêt Noire is a blend of horror, mystery and classical ghost story set in what seems to be 18th-century France. I loved the sensibilities in this one and the ending really surprised me. My Heart: A Stone is a true ghost story, one with a moral about human nature. I loved the narrator and his fey-like nature that allowed him to shift into a hare at night. He’s also rather unreliable, as it isn’t clear what is true and what is fancy until the very end. I liked this aspect a lot and again, it made for a surprising ending. I loved the stark visuals Lee created of opulence gone to seed, of beauty corrupted by the bitter consequences of indulgence.

The combination of the stories collected in Cold Grey Stones not only gives a good overview of Tanith Lee’s broad range, but it’s also a wonderful jumping-off point to explore her work further. The book opens with a lovely introduction by Ian Whates, who recounts his first encounter of Lee’s work on the form of the first two volumes of The Secret Books of Paradys. He waxes quite lyrical about them and, as luck would have it, my husband brought an omnibus edition of these books home last year, so I’ll be able to follow in Whates’ footsteps and explore more of Tanith Lee’s work. If you haven’t encountered her writing before, but like me have heard a lot of good things about it, Cold Grey Stones is an excellent introduction. If you’re a long time fan, it will provide you with some lovely new work or previously printed work you may not have encountered before. In either case, Cold Grey Stones comes highly recommended and is well worth your reading time. Cold Grey Stones is available in the UK as a signed, limited hardback edition and in both Kindle and ePub-formats everywhere.

This book was provided for review by the publisher.