Fearsome Creatures is a collection of five shorts by Aliya Whitely (perhaps best known for her bizarre feminist body horror novel The Beauty) each focusing on a different creature or monster to tell a weird and wonderful tale with a horror bent. The book serves as both my introduction to the author and to publisher Black Shuck Books and their Black Shuck Shadows line of books. I can safely say it won’t be my last experience with either.
The opening line of the first story, “Day of the Dog” gives you a pretty strong idea of the kind of story you’re in for. “The afternoon the mayor plugged in the world’s largest air-freshener I was in a bar with Petie, drinking orbitals.” It is an unusual one, featuring killer dogs, clandestine special ops and a very unlikely apocalypse, and I loved every second of it.
“The Lovers That Lie Down in Fields” is the shortest of the five and was perhaps my least favorite. A story of two young lovers who are returning home from a dance decide to take a detour through the local wheat field, with unexpected results. It was both well written and entertaining, with some intriguing developments, let down merely by the fact that it doesn’t stand out in comparison to the other four shorts on offer.
“Luisa Opines” successfully mixes the mundane and the fantastical, taking the classic Red Riding Hood fairytale and throwing in a seemingly normal man conducting door to door surveys, it is as offbeat as it sounds and this tale was particularly effective in building up the tension by way of the unexpected inclusion of this canvasser in an otherwise fanciful world. It gives the whole story a menacing undertone that pays off in unexpected ways come the grand finale
“Wrapped” takes a less bizarre and more straightforward approach, telling the story of an intrepid female Egyptologist and makes a life-changing discovery of what appears to be evidence of a female ruler from Ancient Egypt. The parallels between her life and this mysterious pharaoh become sadly apparent as her find, and sanity is gradually taken from her. This was an immensely entertaining tale with real-world historical significance and serves as a more accessible tale than some of the more unusual offerings in Fearsome Creatures.
“A Very Modern Monster” features a less well-known, but definitely underappreciated creature, taking us to the Exmoor forest for a story about a broken family, and a man obsessed with a creature that supposedly roams the wilds of Devon. This one was packed full of menace and was a killer ending to an excellent collection.
Fearsome Creatures features a wide cross-section of genres, each centered around a different monster, and all tied together in a weird and wonderful style that really makes Whiteley’s work stand out. While it may make these tales something of an acquired taste, I thoroughly enjoyed this book and look forward to reading more of the author’s backlist.
Fearsome Creatures by Aliya Whiteley
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A series of micro-collections featuring a selection of peculiar tales from the best in horror and speculative fiction.