A shapeshifting compilation
Reviewed in Germany on September 29, 2021
This anthology was a no brainer buy for me, there were some obvious Author “crowd pleasers” included in the anthology, and some names I hadn’t a clue about, and that’s what anthologies are all about for me, discovering new voices and feeling all warm and comfortable with the names and styles of the authors I know. With just short of 30 authors represented here, I was expecting a range of penmanship and storytelling, and honestly, to cut to the chase, that’s what I got.
Were Tales aims high – I have to agree with S.D.Vassallo, in his introduction, that shapeshifting is a trope I love – the more painful the better. That idea that something buried deep inside you can overcome you (be it with your allowance or against your will) and overtake your body, to make that body extend and crack, ripping the old self into something new and horrific – well – let’s just say that it gets this Austrian going. The whole damn thing is sexy as hell. So with that basis, what were 30 odd authors going to come up with to surprise me?
Quite a lot, truth be told. There were some familiar were-shapes – werewolves being obvious, but there were a whole range of shapeshifters, from were-spiders to were-skunks, were-cows to were-bears. A wide range of bases to build on. So, how were the stories? As wide-ranged as the shapeshifters themselves.
There were a couple of stories that I loved - Clara Madrigano, absolutely spellbinding in her wonderful short Wife to the Wild, her voice so immersive and the situation she painted so brilliantly clear, the fear of the mother and the narrative voice of the storyteller made the damn thing all so real.
Trouble’s Braids by Jonathan Mayberry was given extra room to deliver and deliver it did. I shall be checking out his series in the near future. When the night swallows was my kind of nasty, a great switch of focus away from the actual were-thing, focusing on the creature’s helper, and powerful for it. Great work, Gabino Iglesias.
Laurel Hightower’s The Travellers was as tight and raw in emotion as you would expect, fantastic clarifying ending line. Stephanie Ellis’ Snowbound, Bloodhound provided a winter chill and thrill to her changeling, the violence and shifting distant, the emphasis on the mystery of it all. In contrast, Kev Harrison’s Refuge focused on the bodily damage and reasoning behind the violence. Who doesn’t hate Nazis? Only right that we should see them get mauled. Catherine McCarthy’s The water horse presented a fairy tale, her voice once more descriptive and rooted in folklore and legend, doing what she does so well, like Beverley Lee and her revenge were tale, Just Deserts, description and emotion-fueled, no room for anything but empathy for the creature.
The poetry included in the anthology was kept short, but most of the pieces delivered, Cindy O’Quinn, Shane Douglas Keene, Cina Pelayo, and Sarah Tantlinger all impressing me.
Cindy O’Quinn’s moving Lagniappe, putting into words one of the moments of her life, presenting a deeply personal trauma – one can only say thank you, the eloquence of the piece and the respect I felt towards you for sharing that moment, well, it was the perfect ending to the book, though at such a cost. We all become shapeshifters in such moments, as something deep inside us staggers out and takes over, makes our bodies function when we cannot.
There were misses for me, pieces that didn’t hit, or which I felt started with a great idea but fell somehow along the way, a piece I just couldn’t understand, despite trying. It was a mix, as is any anthology, and this time I felt it was about 50/50 for me. So, I’m calling it a 3 ⭐review. I enjoyed my time in it, and have some new names I will be investigating.
Cindy - my deepest condolences to both you and your sons. Having had Covid, having been vaccinated, I’m standing beside you in your call to everyone to get vaccinated. Let’s not lose anyone else.