Jan Edwards & Jenny Barber (eds) – The Alchemy Press Book of Urban Mythic

edwardsbarber-urbanmythicThere is magic on the urban streets. The Mythic are alive and creating chaos in a city near you. Fourteen fantastic fables by weavers of wonder: Adrian Tchaikovsky, Kate Griffin, Mike Resnick, Gaie Sebold, Christopher Golden, Alison Littlewood, Jaine Fenn, Jonathan Oliver, Graham Edwards, Anne Nicholls, Ian Whates, Joyce Chng, Zen Cho and James Brogden. Here are tales of magic and horror; ancient curses and modern charms; strange things in the Underground; murder and redemption; corporate cults and stalwart guardians; lost travellers and wandering gods; fortune tellers and urban wizards; dragons, fae and unspeakable beasts.

There is nothing I like more in my urban fantasy than a dose of magical London of the sort found in Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, China Miéville’s Un Lun Dun, Ben Aaronovitch’s The Folly series, Tom Pollock’s The Skyscraper Throne series, and Rosie E. Best’s Skulk, to name but a few. So to be offered a chance to explore more of these magical metropolises (metropoli?) in The Alchemy Press Book of Urban Mythic wasn’t one I was about to refuse. And by no means are all of these stories set in London, and even more surprising most of my favourites from the anthology weren’t even set in London. 

Urban Mythic’s first volume – the second has just been announced – contains a strong set of stories. What I really loved was the diversity contained in the stories; from the settings to the ethnicities portrayed to the mythical underpinnings, the anthology travelled the globe in every direction. There are Chinese dragons, American wizards, djinns, banshees and some supernatural beings I couldn’t even name with certainty. All of the stories were quite enjoyable but there were five that stood out to me.

Graham Edwards – A Night to Forget
A Night to Forget is a curious story of a young woman who is still dealing with the consequences of an acid assault and after a number of years finally learns the truth about what happens that night. It asks the question whether sometimes it is better, or perhaps the better term would be preferable, to forget or remember certain facts, especially if they are painful and allows our protagonist to make her own choice. I like the emotional overtones of the story and there was a twist I hadn’t seen coming.

Anne Nicholls – The Seeds of a Pomegranate
I loved the diversity of the characters in this story and the djinn. All of the characters in the story are people on the outside, different because of who they are. Nisha and her husband are immigrants, Zoe is a recent transplant from Rutland to London, and Bosh is – well, he’s Bosh and what makes him truly different isn’t the fact that he’s gay, but the fact that he is a techno wizard and bonded to a magical spirit in the form of a dog. But by the end of the story there is a sense of homecoming that is almost palpable. I really loved these characters and I would love to see more of them in the future.

Adrian Tchaikovsky – Family Business
I loved the tone and setting for Family Business, which in some ways rather reminded me of the Guy Ritchie film Snatch. It also seemed only an outtake from a larger story; at the end of the story there remained several questions I’d love to be able to get answers for, such as who is the Other, where did Tarrant, Winston and their siblings come from and what would happen if they went back? It’s also convinced me that I want to read more of Tchaikovsky’s work as I really enjoyed his writing.

Zen Cho – Fish Bowl
This story might seem to be about a magical fish, but it seems to me far more about the pressures placed upon teenagers these days by their parents, often with the best intentions, but harmful nonetheless. I really loved the tragedy of this story and I’m still not sure whether the fish was a malicious entity or not. In addition, Zen Cho’s sense of place and her ear (pen?) for dialogue are exquisite. Fish Bowl was a quietly impressive story that will remain with me for a long while.

Jonathan Oliver – White Horse
Jonathan Oliver’s story resonated deeply with me as it is about a woman trying to reach the love of her life who is depressed and closed off to the world around him. Her feelings of helplessness and frustration at not being able to fix things for him were all too recognisable to me, having been on both sides of the divide. I loved how Imogen realises through the story that she can’t fix things for others, but she can be there next to them while they do it themselves. All of this is woven into a narrative involving the White Horse of Uffington, past lives and dream horses in a way that was infinitely attractive to me.

I really enjoyed The Alchemy Press Book of Urban Mythic. It was a great collection of stories, none of which disappointed really. If you’d like to discover more flavours of urban mythic and some wonderful stories, The Book of Urban Mythic is a good one to pick up. I’ll be very much looking forward to see what the editors include in their second volume.

This book was provided for review by the publisher.


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