Margrét Helgadottir and Jo Thomas (eds) – African Monsters

They lurk and crawl and fly in the shadows of our mind. We know them from ancient legends and tales whispered by the campfire. They hide under the dark bridge, in the deep woods or out on the great plains, in the drizzling rain forest or out on the foggy moor, beneath the surface, under your bed. They don’t sparkle or have any interest in us except to tear us apart. They are the monsters! Forgotten, unknown, misunderstood, overused, watered down. We adore them still. We want to give them a renaissance, to reestablish their dark reputation, to give them a comeback, let the world know of their real terror.

African Monsters is the second in a coffee table book series from Fox Spirit Books with dark fiction and art about monsters from around the world. 

Myth and legends are universal. Every people has their own myths, whether to explain why sometimes the sky makes this really loud rumbling noise, where they came from, why sometimes people just die, or who that one guy — you know the one from three houses down? Yeah, that guy — sometimes suddenly starts talking to even if he seems alone. Humans use myths to makes sense of their world. But it is not just people, each place has its own legends too. And while those myths and legends may differ in the telling, there is a remarkable overlap in their nature and subject matter.

This goes for the nature of monsters as well. Every culture has an iteration of the shapeshifter, the undead, vengeful spirits, or beings that feast on human life force or blood. Yet they are all unique—none of them work exactly the same. Despite the wealth of monsters out there in the mythical world, literature not only seems to gravitate to the same monsters again and again, but to Western monsters at that (vampires and werewolves I’m looking at you). Fox Spirit Books is trying to bring more of them into the spotlight and, more importantly, to bring a more global and diverse array of monsters to the stage. In the second instalment of the series Jo Thomas and Margrét Helgadottir have curated a marvellous selection of stories about monsters found on the continent of Africa.

Of necessity, the area of the African continent visited in the stories is limited, because Africa is huge and you cannot even visit half of the countries of the continent in the sixteen stories included in this volume. But what we see is amazing and I loved how the different languages shone through the text. While all of the stories are in English, we get snippets and words in the different languages and some of the dialects’ speech patterns.

With sixteen stories there are always some you’ll like more than others, so it is no surprise that I have some favourites. The least surprising of those is probably Sarah Lotz’s That Woman. I love Lotz’s writing and the fact that That Woman is something of a crime story/mystery doesn’t hurt either. I loved this story’s look at how rumours can shape a community’s fears and how law doesn’t always equal justice. Plus who can resist a witch? Another cop story, but one of a completely different stripe is Dilman Dila’s Monwor. It’s titular monster is a succubus-like creature, whose true nature was rather surprising. But in this story the monwor wasn’t the true monster, the patriarchy and the corporations are. Joe Vaz’s After the Rain features something resembling a traditional ghost story and some really scary dogs. It was the visuals of this story that remained with me the strongest after finishing the collection. My final favourite was Vianne Venter’s Acid Test. This story felt more SF than fantasy and its themes of environmental pollution and resource scarcity felt immensely relevant and timely. I loved the unreliability of the narrative and the twist at the end.

African Monsters doesn’t just contain prose stories, it also has two graphic stories and numerous illustrations. The art is gorgeous and certainly suits the somewhat eerie atmosphere of many of the stories. Overall, I really enjoyed the collection Thomas and Helgadottir brought together. The anthology was very entertaining and I loved meeting all the different kinds of monster. If you are looking to discover a broader set of monsters than your run-of-the-mill vampire or werewolf, African Monsters certainly provides the ticket for that journey.

This book was provided for review by the editor.

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