Monday, May 1, 2017

Hero Lost: Mysteries of Death and Life review


Synopsis:
What if Death himself wanted to die? Can deliverance be found on a bloody battlefield? Could the gift of silvering become a prison for those who possessed it? Will an ancient warrior be forever the caretaker of a house of mystery? 

Delving into the depths of the tortured hero, twelve authors explore the realms of fantasy in this enthralling and thought-provoking collection. Featuring the talents of Jen Chandler, L. Nahay, Renee Cheung, Roland Yeomans, Elizabeth Seckman, Olga Godim, Yvonne Ventresca, Ellen Jacobson, Sean McLachlan, Erika Beebe, Tyrean Martinson, and Sarah Foster.  

Hand-picked by a panel of agents and authors, these twelve tales will take you into the heart of heroes who have fallen from grace. Join the journey and discover a hero's redemption!


Review:
Anytime I read a short story collection, if I find even one good, entertaining or thought-provoking story, I consider that collection a success. I’m happy to say Hero Lost: Mysteries of Life and Death is well ahead of the curve. The Insecure Writer’s Support Group has no reason whatsoever to feel insecure about their story-telling chops. In Hero Lost, they serve up an even dozen of stories that remind us we can’t escape our myths, our internalized ideas of what saviors and heroes ought to be—knights who slay dragons, gods who carry out their lofty tasks uncomplainingly, kings who always make good decisions.

These ideals aren’t wrong. Sometimes, we do need a guy in shining armor to rush in and protect the villagers. But more often, heroes are something entirely else. It’s the other heroes these stories celebrate, such as a homeless girl trying to help a fellow street person or siblings protecting one another against a cadre of cruel overlords. In two stories, characters refuse to cave to societal pressures—in “The Silvering,” the culture demands that people wear gloves to prevent their hands from turning to a magical alloy. In “The Art of Remaining Bitter,” a little girl living in a Giver-type dystopia clings to her negative (but authentic) emotions before they are siphoned out of her by some arcane medical procedure.

Sometimes, a heroic act can have dramatic and far-reaching implications, like the queen risking everything to rescue her royal husband in “Mind Body Soul.” Other times, it’s those small actions that make a crucial difference, like the boy who learns to believe in himself in “The Last Dragon.”
Certainly, heroes are capable of mistakes. In the title story, Death grants immortality to his beloved, who does not requite him. In “The Wheat Witch,” a man, believing he has committed a heinous crime, returns to his hometown in Kansas, where a witch holds sway over his family farm. (Being from the Midwest, I was pleased to see an Old World legend brought to the Heartland.) His tie to the land evoked the Fisher King; his penance to the witch brought to mind Hercules’ tasks and Psyche’s trials. I’m a sucker for re-tellings, for writers who find fresh ways to connect us to our past beliefs, thereby capturing something universal.

There were only a few stories in this collection that left me cold, but if there is a sin that several of them committed, it’s that they left me wanting more. “The Silvering” definitely felt like it was laying the groundwork for a fantasy epic, which I would really love to see fleshed out.

I particularly enjoyed “Memoirs of a Forgotten Knight,” an interesting intersection of old school fantasy and technology, also superbly written. “The Witch Bottle” was a unique take on witchcraft in colonial America, and the most morally ambiguous of the bunch—it was a classic horror story in the sense that no one is good and the bad guy gets away. I’m not sure how that ties into the hero theme, unless one considers everyone is a hero in his/her own mind?

But, hands-down, the standout for me was “Sometimes They Come Back,” (not to be confused with the Stephen King story/film, and not a reference to it either—at least, not as far as I can tell). It’s the tale of an Einherjar (soldiers out of Norse mythology) who now goes by the Caretaker, servant to a mysterious Grande Dame in a shadowy underworld that exists uncomfortably close to our own plane of existence. Other gods and mythological creatures make appearances, but his closest companion is a humble mouse that rides around in his pocket. This story was brilliantly written, and by turns fascinating, funny, and disturbing. I was a bit disappointed that it turned into a run-of-the-mill love story—I could spend a whole book just hanging out with the Caretaker while he tends to his dark duties.  

If these writers are insecure, I can’t wait to see what they’ll be like when they gain a bit of confidence. 


Hero Lost will be available May 2 on Amazon