#41 “The Mammoth Book of Angels and Demons” edited by Paula Guran. Part Two.

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  1. Divergent – Veronica Roth
  2. Insurgent – Veronica Roth
  3. Allegiant – Veronica Roth
  4. Not For Glory, Not For Gold – Keith Miles
  5. The Mammoth Book of Angels and Demons
  6. Last Night at Chateau Marmont – Lauren Weisberger
  7. The Green Mile – Stephen King
  8. Tiger Men – Judy Nunn
  9. The Rosie Project – Graeme Simsion
  10. The Rosie Effect – Graeme Simsion
  11. The Bane Chronicles  – Cassandra Clare et al
  12. Moriarty – Anthony Horowitz
  13. The Picture of Dorian Gray – Oscar Wilde

I am embarrassed by how long it has taken me to finish this book. I mean, I actually had a few things going on this week, so it was hard to find time to review each and every story in between that annoying thing called reality. Still no excuse, really. But here we are, and I’m finished! Here is Part Two of The Mammoth Book of Angels and Demons.

Elegy for a Demon Lover by Sarah Monette
Yes! A story about incubi and humans that isn’t hetero! Thank you, Monette, for expanding on a legend that is almost exclusively boy/girl. Well, from what I’ve read. And there was no song and dance about the fact that Kyle, our protagonist, was gay. It made such a nice change!
The story was unexpected. You can usually predict how a story will end when an incubus is involved. But not this time! I love that.

And the Angels Sing by Kate Wilhelm
The main point of this story, I think, was to see that there may be some decent journalists in the world. Our protagonist, Eddie, essentially runs a small time newspaper. When he finds an otherworldly creature during a storm, Eddie saves the creature, takes it home, and calls up his second-in-command at the paper, Mary Beth. But the story doesn’t end how you think it will.
I feel like this story was written for a sci-fi anthology but was included in this book because the creature had wings. And could sing. But that could be my cultural expectations talking!

The Goat Cutter by Jay Lake
Well, then. Lake’s story was completely unexpected. Nothing about this story went the way I thought it would. And that thing with The Devil, right at the end? Whoa. I also enjoyed the voice. It was consistently Southern the whole way through. Sometimes those kinds of voices waver and change, get more intense and the dribble off a few pages later, but not this one. I was impressed.
The title? It works on so many levels. I envy people who can create titles like that.

The Spirit Guides by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
Angels working through people is something that hasn’t really been explored in this anthology yet. But Rusch did an amazing job. We see a man who solves murders because an angel gifted him second sight so that he can see all the led up to the victim’s death. A great concept, told beautifully. But then there’s a twist at the end that you just don’t expect that allows Rusch to utilise repetition in a way that makes the final scenes more vivid. I’ve always tried to use repetition in my own writing but it never works out. Some people are just more adept at making prose sound fresh no matter how many times they say it. Rusch is one of those people.

Demons, Your Body, And You by Genevieve Valentine
Now this is how you write YA fantasy! No exposition, just throw us straight into a world where demons are a thing, everyone knows about them, and getting pregnant by them is just commonplace enough to be scandalous. Valentine made this whole thing, a teenager getting pregnant by a demon, into the totally everyday discussion about the morality of teenage sex and abortion. She made the outrageous totally ordinary. And all without any ridiculous infodumping! Kudos, Ms Valentine, kudos!

The Monsters of Heaven by Nathan Ballingrud
Oh. My. God. The foreword of this story talks about how angels aren’t necessarily good and how demons aren’t necessarily bad, but this was the first story to really explore this. I was afraid of the angel in this story and the effects it had on the people surrounding it. People usually associate angels with peace and beauty, but Ballingrud just turned this completely on its head.
The last scene made me sick. It was unexpectedly taboo and disturbing and dark. Beautiful turns of phrase but the content of this story? Pretty much the epitome of grotesque.

Come To Me by Sam Cameron
I’ve always admired stories where the author can come up with an extraordinary reason for mundane events. Or events we believe are mundane. Like how Doctor Who comes up with sci-fi explanations for historical events. So the fact that the controversial software used by the TSA in the US to scan passengers is used to find demons in this story is amazing. And what’s more amazing is that Cameron created a conspiracy within a conspiracy. I really wish this were a novel because I would love to learn more about Lisa-Marie and Elsa’s adventures.

One Saturday Night, with Angel by Peter M. Ball
This story is set in a Nite Owl, which made me think that the author was Aussie. We have Nite Owls all over. So I checked and I was right! Ball is an Aussie. An Aussie author in the same anthology as Neil Gaiman? That’s awesome.
Anyway, the coolest thing about this story is that it’s about judgement: the big Judgement Day and the ordinary judging that people do on a daily basis. Mixed in are little flashes into the Arrival, when the angels who stand in judgement over humanity first arrived. No infodumping! Gotta love that.

Lammas Night by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro
In an anthology made up of every kind of angelic and demonic influence you can think of, it was refreshing to have a story where the supernatural being was a lie. It was almost like Yarbro was commenting on the demonic hearts of humanity. Where the truth of human nature is more demonic than any being our protagonist could have summoned. I enjoy that symbolism. People sometimes forget, when writing fantasy, that the reality of humankind is darker and more twisted than anything that one can imagine.

Pinion by Stellan Thorne
The angel in this story was more stereotypical. Beautiful, misunderstood by humans, and helpful. The angel gets arrested for stealing, but he maintains that he was protecting the owner from the evils of his possessions. Then the angel watches over our police protagonist. Why? Well, we can only really guess. Thorne’s metaphorical language leaves these reasons to our imagination. Is this a good thing? Well, there are any number of things in our lives that we may need protecting from, so I thought it worked. Of course, that’s just my opinion.

Only Kids are Afraid of the Dark by George R. R. Martin
This was the first thing I’ve ever read by Martin. His writing style is a lot different from what I was expecting of a man who brutally murders his characters over and over again. Then again, this story was written a long time before A Song of Ice and Fire so maybe Martin’s style has changed. The descriptions in this story were almost lyrical. Impressive since this story was incredibly dark.
However, I didn’t buy the dialogue between our Lord of Darkness, Saagael, and his light counterpart, Doctor Weird. The conversations were too stilted and self-important to be believable. Maybe this is a comic book thing, given that this story got turned into a comic book, but I’m still not convinced.
And what about that name, Doctor Weird? The bad guy gets this epic, majestic name and our good guy gets one of the leftover names of the comic book world? Not to mention that Doctor Weird had half a dozen different names and it wasn’t always clear that these names were referring to him.
The plot was OK, but for me, this story wasn’t anything special.

Murder Mysteries by Neil Gaiman
If short story anthologies are like music festivals, then Neil Gaiman was the main event, the headliner, the one that everyone waited all day to see. This includes George R. R. Martin. So that’s all you really need to know about Gaiman’s talent.
Gaiman may be the only writer I know of who could tackle stories like the creation of the universe and Lucifer’s fall without sounding condescending or disbelieving or in any way athiest. Gaiman did not try and make Creation sound ridiculous or to make Lucifer into some kind of hero. Instead, he took biblical canon and put his own stamp of the facts that we’ve been given about biblical folklore. It’s really very impressive.
Not to mention that Gaiman somehow gave this story a believable cyclical structure. I will always be in awe of Gaiman’s abilities. For one thing, the majority of this story was told as a conversation between our first protagonist and a stranger he meets in the park. How did Gaiman do this without confusing the hell out of me? Was it the sporadic cutting back and forth between the stranger’s story and “reality”? Or was it just that Gaiman’s writing is so on point that the only way you could possibly feel confused by his writing is if he purposefully wrote the story that way?
What a way to end a brilliant anthology. Guran must have really known what she was doing.

In any collection of stories, there are some stellar works and some that just don’t quite work. Overall, though, this collection was well-edited, well-structured, and the authors managed to present many different ways of looking at all that is angelic/demonic.

★★★1/2

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About Bec Graham

Bec Graham, 24, was born on the wrong continent. Everything from her burns-like-paper skin tone to her inability to cope with the slightest hint of a hot day suggests she should have been born under the gloomy skies and mild sun of the UK. She hopes writing will get her to her rightful home one day. Failing that, she scans the skies for a spinning blue police box, hoping to catch a lift back to the motherland.
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