Rating out of 5:
H.P. Lovecraft may be the most iconic horror writer to ever live and breathe on this earth. His Cthulhu Mythos made “cosmic horror” a household phrase, pushing the bounds of science fiction and fantasy past mankind’s ability to reason. The operative word, of course, being man.
In addition to fairly frequent modern allegations of racism leveled against Lovecraft’s work, misogyny is often added to his catalogue of narrative sins. Both are valid if rarely clearcut critiques, and problems that Silvia Moreno-Garcia and Paula B. Stiles set out to rectify in their new anthology, She Walks in Shadows, a collection of poetry, artwork, and short stories by and about (often minority) women, set against the backdrop of Lovecraft’s great and terrible fictional world.
As with any anthology, particularly one so closely tied to a specific author’s distinctive style and setting, some stories are bound to be better than others. Present company does not escape mixed quality, especially given that most of the authors are new/relatively unknown. While some pieces have a tendency to blur into each other, overall, the collection’s refreshing take on Lovecraft’s Mythos carries it far—well past the pitfalls of gimmicky territory. Among the best entries are “The Eye of Juno,” Eugenie Mora’s disturbing trip to the outer borders of Roman Britain, and “Cypress God,” an alternate history coming of age story by Rodopi Sisamis.
Much of the poetry seems extraneous. On the other hand, Sara Bardi’s light-hearted, pop-art illustrations bring welcome levity to the surrounding prose.
The anthology’s tone is thoughtfully varied. Some stories are tongue-in-cheek, some sobering, a few truly scary. Die-hard Lovecraft fans are likely to get the most out of the book, but if you’re rusty on the difference between Shub-Niggurath and Yog-Sothoth, or wouldn’t know a shoggoth if it bit you on the nose, there are several enjoyable stand-alone pieces as well (such as Jilly Dreadful’s lovely “De Deabus Minoribus Exterioris Theomagicae”).
The women (and generally similar beings) represented defy easy categorization. Sometimes they win and sometimes they lose. Sometimes they are recognizable Lovecraftian characters in their own right and sometimes they merely encounter them. Some are monsters and some are victims, though more often, both and/or neither.
She Walks in Shadows has garnered itself a well-deserved World Fantasy Award nomination for Best Anthology. We’ll have to wait till October to hear the verdict…. In the meantime, Innsmouth Free Press’s other recent projects and publications are definitely worth checking out: http://www.innsmouthfreepress.com/blog/.
-Brigid Ehrmantraut ’18