The anthology brings together tales of woe and angst, loneliness, redemption and humour, featuring starving artists, possessed Popes, damned kings and hopeful prisoners. Lost Souls is an exploration of what it is that makes us human – and what happens when that’s stripped away.
Earlier this year I was blown away by Jurassic London’s first two Pandemonium anthologies, Stories of the Apocalypse and Stories of the Smoke, making their two other anthologies shoe-ins for anticipated books of the second half of 2012. Lost Souls is the first of those and I can tell you the anticipation was well-deserved. As I received an e-copy of the print version, I can’t attest to the veracity of the claims about its gorgeous exterior, but I did get to see Vincent Sammy’s stunning artwork and that alone would be worth the price of entry!
It is important to note, however, that unlike their previous anthologies Lost Souls isn’t a speculative fiction anthology. Or rather it doesn’t exclusively contain speculative stories. In addition to ghost stories, a fairy tale and a myth-inspired story, there are stories without a hint of the fantastic, though they might still be horrific, especially those stories set in the First World War. The anthology is divided into five sections, each depicting a different form of lost souls. In Lost we meet the ones who lost their way in life, the homeless, the unfulfilled, and the obsolete. Power shows us how power and influence can lead one astray and to lose faith in our fellow man. Stories allows us to figuratively and literally get lost in fiction, while War details the loss of life, of innocence, and an entire generation of young men in the Great War and a wholly different fight inside a prison’s walls. But what was once lost can also be found and in the section of the same title we are shown stories of redemption, justice and love in the strangest of places.
Lost Souls contains too many stories to touch on all of them, so I’ll pick my favourite from each section and point out the ones that didn’t work for me. John Galsworthy’s Quality (Lost) is a haunting story of a cobbler specialising in boots, whose vocation is becoming slowly obsolete and who withers away piece by piece until one day he’s just gone. I loved how Galsworthy slowly severed all of the old man’s moorings until he just couldn’t hang on any more. From the second section, Power, my favourite was the first one included, Mary Coleridge’s The King is Dead, Long Live the King. This is a somewhat more traditional ghost story where the King in the title has entered into a deal with Death and learns about the true shape of his life. Coleridge, great-grandniece of the famous poet, writes of heart-breaking discoveries in a lyrical tone and while I wished the King to live to right the wrongs he’s left behind, I found the ending both fitting and bitter. George Gissing’s Christopherson, which can be found in the Stories section, is a story that any bibliophile can relate to, even if we might never put our books before our loved ones. I certainly can understand the reluctance to give away your books. But at the same time, I loved the narrator, his impatience and exasperation with Christopherson and his determination to help Mrs Christopherson escape her unhealthy situation. Marooned, Robert W. Chambers’ World War I story, was a straight-up horror story, from the claustrophobia, to the sense of isolation, to the final disastrous release of our protagonists’ desperation. And while showing many, if not most, of the emotions of those soldiers sentenced to the trenches, Chambers succeeds in showing us not just what forced inaction does to an honourable man’s psyche, but also gives us an entirely different setting in the Great War. My favourite from the final section, Found, was Amelia B. Edwards’ The Four-Fifteen Express, which is both a ghost story and a mystery. I loved the way Edwards set the mystery up and how in the end everyone gets what they deserve.
Two stories that didn’t really work for me were Calista Halsey Patchin’s The Professor and John Reynolds’ The Prisoners. Patchin’s story just didn’t grab me and the final twist just broke any suspense of disbelief for me, as I thought it would be unlikely for the widow to show up like that. Reynolds’ The Prisoners wasn’t uninteresting, but the fact that Osgood Vance had to edit it to make it readable was clear, as it still felt repetitious at times and for me the story just lost its impact after the third or fourth inmate.
With the exception of the introduction written by Shurin and Perry and the two stories adapted and written by Osgood Vance and David Bryher respectively, none of these stories was written before 1919, with the oldest of them, Benjamin Disraeli’s Ixion in Heaven first published 1853. In spite of their age, most of these stories remain eminently readable, even if at times their prose is a little dated. Taken together, this resurrection of these out-of-print stories makes for a rich reading experience as well as a reminder that love, loss, sorrow and all the other human emotions displayed herein are timeless. With Lost Souls Shurin and Perry have not only delivered another wonderful anthology, but have shown themselves to have a great eye for what makes a good story, be it speculative or not.
This book was provided for review by the publisher.