I’m particularly fussy about fantasy as I have no doubt said time and time again. Yet there is one name I know I will always want to read: Neil Gaiman. Though no story in this collection has his name to the title, I felt confident in this, a collection of stories specially chosen by the master of contemporary fantasy, would be on a theme for anyone who already enjoys his work.
The theme is, as the title suggests, stories about weird and wonderful creatures, the unnatural, the paranormal and the supernatural. Tales of creatures you have never encountered before and some you may have heard of and the people that encounter them. Some are light-hearted and fun, others dark and mysterious with a touch of the gruesome.
The first (with a title you can’t pronounce or even write) is about a strange ink blob that first appears on and then outgrows a piece of paper as the master of the house and his butler look on in astonishment. The second features map making wasps of an ancient land. You’ll also meet within these pages werewolves and sunbirds, mermaids and manticores (oh my!).
The stories are delightful yet occasionally dark, looking back to a time of dark fantasy when children liked to be mildly scared/ It’s an ideal read in the run up to Christmas and though it is not deliberately festive, the magic of the stories is just right for this time of year. You may recognise some of the author names too; Gaiman introduces each of the stories with an anecdote of when he first read them or first met the author. Some of these stories are old and some are quite new, having been written for the volume at Gaiman’s request. This was also my first introductions to the writers Diana Wynne Jones and E. Nesbit so my fantasy reading waistline just went up a notch.
The best thing about the volume is that most of them feel like the sort of thing Gaiman himself might write, and that’s no bad thing, because it means you know what you will be getting. He knows his audience and this volume is not a cheap attempt to cash in by slapping a familiar name to a volume of unfamiliar stories and (some) unfamiliar writers like so many are and have been in the past. Though it wasn’t intended to make me feel festive, it certainly did that.