Jared Shurin (ed.) – The Book of the Dead

jurassic-bookofthedeadThe Book of the Dead addresses the most fascinating of all the undead: the mummy. The mummy can be a figure of imperial dignity or one of shambling terror, at home in pulp adventure, contemporary drama, or apocalyptic horror. The anthology will be published in collaboration with the Egypt Exploration Society, the UK’s oldest independent funder of archaeological fieldwork and research in Egypt, dedicated to the promotion and understanding of ancient Egyptian history and culture.

This anthology includes nineteen original stories of revenge, romance, monsters and mayhem, ranging freely across time periods, genres and styles. The stories are illustrated by Garen Ewing, creator of The Adventures of Julius Chancer and introduced by John J. Johnston, Vice Chair of the Egypt Exploration Society.

The above tweet might serve as the most adequate and succinct review of Jurassic London’s latest anthology, The Book of the Dead. However, I realise that it’s not really enough to sell those who read my reviews on the anthology, so I’ll elaborate further below. But said tweet is the TL;DR summary of this review.

My dislike terror of zombies is well-documented, but what isn’t as well-known is that I harbour a similar feeling towards mummies. The only reason that mummies are less frightening to me than zombies, is because they are supposed to retain at least some reasoning skills and might be negotiated with, while zombies’ mindless state just scare the heck out of me. So reading an entire book of mummy stories seemed a little risky if I’d planned to sleep at all in the days I was reading it. But, determined not to be chicken and clinging to the fact that I actually find Egyptian ancient history quite fascinating, I took a deep breath and got wrapped up in The Book of the Dead. With the above tweet as a result, because it turned out mummies aren’t as frightening as I’d feared and most of the stories took some unique and not-so-literal approaches to the concept of mummies.

There wasn’t a story that didn’t work for me and I had a super hard time picking my five favourites to talk about in more detail. So before I get to those, I have a few more I want to mention. I have to say that while I love hearing Gail Carriger talk on the SF Signal Podcast and her books always sounded interesting, I’ve never gotten around to actually reading them, but her story about what I assume is her main character’s father has convinced me that I absolutely have to give her books a try, because it was very funny and inventive. Glen Mehn’s Henry, about a digital resurrection was both chilling and endlessly fascinating. Adam Roberts’ Tollund flips the world in an alternate history where the Egyptians are the ones doing the excavating in Northern Europe, instead of the other way around and was creepy and had a completely unexpected ending. And I just adored Louis Greenberg’s Akhenaten Goes to Paris, which shows that weird family dynamics never really change, even after death.

Jesse Bullington – Escape from the Mummy’s Tomb
This story is about a boy who copes with being different and being bullied for his Egyptian descent by pretending he’s a supernatural being, a mummy in fact. His best friend is a werewolf and the werewolf’s girlfriend is a vampire in his internal narration. I loved the point of view in this story and the tone of the Mummy’s voice. He almost becomes a superhero, instead of a ‘monster’. It was rather touching and at the same time I was horrified at what happens to the Mummy, though the resolution of the story was lovely.

Lou Morgan – Her Heartbeat, An Echo
I love Morgan’s novels, but have had mixed experiences with the short fiction of hers that I’ve read. Her Heartbeat, An Echo was an absolute hit. In it we encounter Dave, a night guard at a major museum, which is hosting a special exhibition of a world famous mummy of an Egyptian princess. We see him keeping her company at night and becoming interested in her history and world. Slowly he falls in love with the picture of her he builds in his imagination. It was actually a rather sweet love story, especially given the ending.

Jenni Hill – The Cats of Beni Hasan
Because talking cats and a talking beagle. Not enough to convince you? Well then… How about a series of mysterious disappearances, four lovingly treasured cat mummies, the bond between an eccentric professor and her dog, the love between a boy and his cat, and how humans never tell a story right. Interested yet? I adored this story from the supercilious tone of the cats to the ominous ending. I loved how the mummies never play an active role in the story, but at the same time are at the heart of all that happened.

Den Patrick – All is Dust
With this mummy tale set in the modern day, Patrick proves once again what an enormously talented storyteller he is. I was drawn in from the get go and for some reason his story of a reunion of old university friends gone wrong spoke to me loudly. I really enjoyed reading it and have since listened to the audio version of the story available from Dark Fiction Magazine and only liked it more. Patrick manages to sketch his characters clearly in just a short amount of text and goes on to spin a story made up of equal parts supernatural phenomenon and the uncomfortable experience of reuniting with old school friends out of a sense of duty, not because you actually enjoy spending time together. I loved this story and it’s made me look forward even more to Patrick’s new novel from Gollancz out in March called The Boy With The Porcelain Blade.

Will Hill – Three Memories of Death
A remarkably wistful tale of a high priest of Osiris remembering his time at the temple and his surprising connection to Ramesses II. I loved the way Hill structured his story and the gentle weariness and sorrow that rang through the priest’s narration. It also showed how our perception of death and the necessity of grief changes as we become older. From the almost defiant refusal to grieve when Ramesses is young and the dearly departed old to his genuine grief when burying his beloved wife, we witness Ramesses change his stance on death just being the beginning of the next journey. Hill has written a genuinely moving story and it was the perfect final story in this anthology.

The Book of the Dead is the latest in Jurassic London stellar line-up of anthologies. And I stand by my tweet, this collection of short stories is disgustingly, gloriously good. Jurassic hasn’t yet let me down and I’m already looking forward to their next trick come spring when they publish The Rite of Spring. If you are looking to read some awesome short fiction, you don’t to look any further than The Book of the Dead.

This book was provided for review by the publisher.

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