The Mammoth Book of Angels and Demons (#2 of 4), edited by Paula Guran

My Copy: 9780762449378 (image courtesy of amazon.com)

Part 1 review is here.

Reviewing these stories means re-finding the ones I enjoyed the most so far in this anthology. The stories here are even more variable, ranging from quirky to bloody, past and present. Hope you have as much fun reading them on your own someday as I did:

***

“Uncle Chaim and Aunt Rifke and the Angel,” by Peter S. Beagle

Take a look at any Renaissance or religious painting and you usually have an angel in it (or one of those naked winged babies–I never liked those things). But most angels don’t pose for their artists. The narrator is Chaim’s elementary-age nephew who was there the angel came to be Chaim’s muse. He and Chaim can see it, but others cannot…but a few can as time goes on. Chaim doesn’t want a muse, and the angel doesn’t know why it was sent to be one, but they strike up a working relationship as time goes on…and Aunt Rifke becomes concerned enough to bring in their Rabbi.

It’s a quirky story, full of little moments remembered through a child’s eyes, a child that has a part to play beyond simply observing as the story continues. I think a busy, cantankerous person would be a lot like Uncle Chaim in this situation, and would probably change over time. I don’t know much about Jewish tradition, but this story offers an interesting look at some of the mythology and superstitions. I found it worth reading just for that.

Great story and characters–I’m going to look for more.

“Demon,” by Joyce Carol Oates

A boy grows into a man with the sign of the Devil on him, outcast and troubled most of his life. When he sees the sign re-emerge after an absence, he feels he must do something about it, get rid of it for good.

The story is very short, feels like stream-of-consciousness. It’s confusing, rushed and slow, all over the map as flashes of events come and go. Is he a demon-child, or just different and driven to wildness? I’ll let you decide.

“Alabaster,” by Caitlin R. Kiernan

If you’ve heard of the 1998 book Threshold, then you’ve already met Dancy Flammarion. I haven’t heard of it until now, but I’m inclined to take a deeper look after this little story. There are several short stories featuring this character, guided by what she believes to be an angel to kill demons and monsters. However, nobody else seems able to see the angel, and rarely the monsters… so what is she doing? What follows is a setup that takes its time, some intense revelations, and an interesting, bloody climax at a gas station.

I’m definitely going to look for more from this author. This is one of the stories in the anthology that I’m coming back to re-read. More than worth it.

“Sanji’s Demon,” by Richard Parks

When researching mystery writing and great authors, Richard Parks’ name has come up as someone who wrote a series of mysteries set in Japan during the Heian era. His lead is an investigator named Lord Yamada and in this story, he’s out to determine what happened to the family prize: the body of one of the most powerful demons, slain by the clan head long ago. Concern of what other demons might do with the corpse, Lord Yamada, his monk friend, and the new head of the family go to learn the truth.

This is a great mystery, and another story that will keep me coming back to the book–great characters, great action, and it’s got that historical slant that usually keeps me going. I haven’t read any of Richard Parks’ works before regarding his Heian-era private investigator, but I’m going to go find them now…just have to wait to buy, dang it.

Worth reading.

“Oh Glorious Sight,” by Tanya Huff

John Cabot is fitting out a ship for the New World when a friend stops a drunken sailor for beating up a child. Cabot takes the child with them to make a sailor out of him, and much of the story revolves around the crew and the child, who–once he gets used to the ship–ends up being more helpful and more of a light to their lives than they would’ve figured.

This is a great little story, which jumps about a little bit like snippets from a ship’s log, from one sailor and his discussions to another. I’m still wondering what exactly it was that I missed the first time, but I’ll be re-reading it again to understand more about the boy Tam.

I’m a naval nut, anyway, so no hardship (hee hee).

“Angel,” by Pat Cadigan

This is another one of my favorite stories in this collection, because I have to wonder–what would you do if you met an angel, and they basically stuck by you? What would you do if you enjoyed its presence, and then it left you? This is an interesting exploration of a human and the “angel” he met, their life together, and what happens when someone else–knowing of this angel–comes into their lives?

I could get absorbed in what was going on here very easily. The characters were compelling enough and so was the action…and I love how it made me think a little about what we think angels are (or could be).

Worth a read.

“The Man Who Stole the Moon,” by Tanith Lee

I admit, it took me a while to figure where the “angel” or “demon” came into play, but when it got there, I could understand how this story was considered. Jaqir the thief is a charming charlatan, womanizer, and braggart of the highest order. One day his exploits go too far and he’s about to be sentenced by the king to death, but will be reprieved if he can steal the moon within a year. Jaqir accepts, but eventually has to ask for help from a demon, and then things get really chaotic.

It’s definitely a different story than I’m used to when it comes to sci-fi and fantasy. There’s a whole different world here, a multi-leveled Earth with its own mythology to work with. I found it compelling enough to follow and take as it was (the author’s written many stories using this setup, and I’m a bit curious now).

It feels like an old story to be told in the oral tradition, really.

***

All in all, I have to say I enjoyed this segment of the book the most so far. I’m reviewing the others for the next few posts.

Part 3 will be here in a couple of days.

Happy reading!

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