Publisher: Sigel Press
Publication date – May 2007
In The Shadows is a nice looking book, it is a good size to fit in a decent sized pocket and has a weight that implies quality. The cover picture is of a good quality and captures the feel of the book well. Even though I understand Sigel to be one of the growing number of ‘small presses’, I see none of the faults normally associated with these companies. On opening the book and beginning to read I am presented with paper and printing of a quality I normally only see in textbooks, not in paperback collections of short stories, the repeated gargoyle motif does not look much like Justin, (despite his assertion to the contrary) but it does serve as a lovely motif that captures the feel of the collection. So far I am impressed.
The first story, Arthur’s Tavern, is a classic fantasy tale set in a mythical pseudo-medieval world and draws on the Arthurian tales for its background. Justin does well to create believable characters, though his treatment of Lancelot is possibly a little harsh. If this is the way the book is going to progress, then I know I am in for a treat.
Dotted Line has a completely different feel. It is a modern tale that starts at the end and finishes at the beginning. It feels modern and snappy yet still captures us with one of the oldest themes of all time. The question I am left pondering is whether this was a flash of inspiration or simply a retelling of an actual event.
Monumental Words for me is the weakest of the stories. It is considerably slower in pace, and oddly this is its best feature. This hints at the depth of talent of the author, but the story itself feels forced and at its conclusion, somewhat incomplete.
The Taurutor takes us back to a fantasy world, as we follow a great warrior on a quest to rescue the woman he loves. Of course, as you would expect, things are not quite as simple as they first appear. This story is enjoyable and after the last one I feel cheered and enthusiastic about carrying on. If I had to find a fault with this it is that it is too short. This story could have been a full-length novel and although it is one of the longest tales in the collection it leaves me wanting more.
700 words is a delightful, whimsical look at a person and a noise in the dark. It is one of those rare tales that make me kick myself for not having written it myself. It is fresh, it is funny and not to put too fine a point on it, I love it.
Choices is a dark look at human nature and love. It leaves you wondering somewhat nervously whether it could really happen. Time travel at its best.
Monkey Puzzle is possibly my favourite story. Despite the fact that it is about apes, not monkeys, and that I guessed the twist early on, I thoroughly enjoyed it. This lets us see just how good Justin is when he writes at length. The characters are believable and, more importantly likeable, though the twist at the end adds a somewhat dark feel to what would otherwise have been an uplifting tale.
The Only Constant follows an everyday guy as he descends rapidly into madness. Is this how it would feel? It worries me, as I’m sure some of those things have happened to me in the past…
The Medium is the Message was, I’m told, inspired by an actual dead pigeon related incident. It is a well-worked exploration of exactly how clear hindsight can be, and how it differs from person to person.
The Talk is a fantasy tale about a prince who wants to be a warrior. It never really gets going and we don’t have any time to get to know the characters before the tale is finished. It has the feel of a section of a longer work and to be honest suffers because of it.
It’s Good to be Back starts (and finishes) in Hell. We experience the full range of emotion as we follow Lantol, a failed sorcerer, as he makes the most of the kind of opportunity that appears only once in an eternity.
Alan’s Beacon is a classic ghost story, set against a background of Clan warfare in the highlands of Scotland. A nice retelling of a familiar tale.
Soundtrack is an odd snapshot of a very unusual life. Knowing Justin is a musician, I have to wonder whether this is how he gets his musical inspiration or simply wishful thinking?
In The Preparation Man a career criminal tries to escape his fate. There is a large time leap in the middle that feels a little clunky, but it works well all the same. A well polished and well executed story.
The Persecution of Jed made me laugh out loud as the unwitting protagonist fails repeatedly to kill himself; of course, I stopped laughing when I found out why.
Where’s my Motivation shows us a Demon out of his league in the world. Again, it is too short and feels like a section of a longer work.
Worms feels almost like an exercise in creating a character as distasteful as possible whilst still writing a compelling tale. If so, then it should rate A+.
The Comedian takes us back to Faust. However, this time we learn a little more about the consequences of the deal and how the next poor fool is drawn in.
The Doorman follows a bouncer as he starts to work for some very odd characters. This feels like it could benefit from a little more explanation, at the risk of repeating myself yet again this feels too short. Less is not necessarily more.
Footsteps is not a short story, but the prologue to Justin’s forthcoming fantasy novel. As with many fantasy tales, I immediately dislike the names of the characters, but I am drawn in regardless and although I feel I know where certain aspects of the plot are heading I am left wanting more. It is too early to draw conclusions, but I will certainly buy this book.
In conclusion, this is an excellent collection of well-polished stories that share a common darkness. If I had to pick one overall fault it would simply be that Justin seems to be at his best when he is writing longer pieces. The shorter ones don’t seem to work as well, though 700 words is clearly the exception. This would seem to bode well for Footsteps. Justin has an almost chameleon-like ability to sound like David Gemmell when he writes fantasy, John Wyndham when he writes SF, and Neil Gaiman when he shows us the dark side of our own world. He is clearly a force to be reckoned with, and I for one believe Justin Thorne will be around for some time to come.
M J Austwick
SFFWorld, May 2007