Review: Beyond The Pale, edited by Henry Herz


Genre: Fantasy/urban fantasy | Format: eARC | Publisher: Birch Tree Publishing | Publication date: July 7th 2014 | My rating: 4/5

Beyond the Pale is an anthology of fantasy, urban fantasy and paranormal stories that skirt the border between our world and others. Was that my imagination, or did I hear something under my bed? What was that blurred movement in my darkened closet? There is but a thin Veil separating the real and the fantastic, and therein dwell the inhabitants of these stories.

Beyond the Pale contains eleven dark fantasy, urban fantasy and paranormal short stories by award-winning and New York Times bestselling authors:

  •  “Hooves and the Hovel of Abdel Jameela” by Saladin Ahmed (author of Throne of the Crescent Moon)
  • “The Children of the Shark God” by Peter S. Beagle (author of The Last Unicorn)
  • “Misery” & “Shadow Children” by Heather Brewer (author of Vladimir Tod)
  • “Even Hand” by Jim Butcher (author of The Dresden Files)
  • “Red Run” by Kami Garcia (author of Beautiful Creatures)
  • “Pale Rider” & “The Adventures of Lightning Merriemouse-Jones” by Nancy Holder (author of Wicked)
  • “Frost Child” and “South” by Gillian Philip (author of Rebel Angels)
  • “A Knot of Toads” by Jane Yolen (author of Owl Moon)

The noun “pale” refers to a stake (as in impaling vampires) or pointed piece of wood (as in a paling fence). “Pale” came to refer to an area enclosed by a paling fence. Later, it acquired the figurative meaning of an enclosed and therefore safe domain. Conversely, “beyond the pale” means foreign, strange, or threatening. You are about to go Beyond the Pale.

I have a soft spot for urban fantasy, and for scary or creepy stories. So when the chance to read this anthology came up, naturally it pushed all my buttons and therefore I jumped at it. It certainly didn’t hurt at all that one of the stories in the lineup is tied into my favourite urban fantasy series! Jim Butcher’s “Even Hand” is among my favourite of his Dresden Files short stories, and despite having read it before I enjoyed it just as much upon re-reading as I did the first time. Being told from the point of view of John Marcone doesn’t hurt it much either – he happens to be one of the supporting characters I like most. So, this definitely helped to sell me on reading the rest of the book!

For the most part, this sales pitch paid off. As with any anthology, I think, there were hits and misses for me, but thankfully the hits outweighed the misses. The first story out of the bag, for example, was one by Saladin Ahmed. He may only have one novel under his belt so far but if you’re the sort of reader who likes their fantasy formed outside the ‘traditional’ mould, do yourself a favour and seek out his stories.

Kami Garcia’s “Red Run” is another story that stuck with me after I’d finished the book. It has more of a paranormal feel to it than strictly urban fantasy, and is one of the shorter stories in the lineup. It’s also not particularly ambitious; as paranormal stories go the plot is pretty familiar, at least in its bare bones, but for all that I still found it an enjoyable read.

Another pair of stories that I knew would be worth the read were Gillian Philip’s contributions, “Frost Child” and “South”. As with “Even Hand” I had read “Frost Child” before (and, in fact, reviewed it!) and it’s a short story I absolutely didn’t mind coming back to. I love Gillian’s writing, and this prequel novella for her Rebel Angels series is a personal favourite. “South”, likewise, was a pleasure to read. This one isn’t tied to Rebel Angels, but it has much the same flavour to it – the coastal Scottish wilderness of the setting is so very present I could practically taste the air, the thread of local mythology is teased out in the story rather than tangled up in it, and the stark, striking impact of Gillian’s prose is also present and accounted for.

And in the “pleasant surprise” category for this anthology, there’s Jane Yolen’s “A Knot Of Toads”. This one also has the Scottish/mythology angles covered, but beyond this it’s a very different affair. I’m familiar with this author but hadn’t read any of her work before reading this book. Thanks to a couple of friends and a meetup at a recent con, however, that can now be remedied – and thanks to this story, I’m pretty eager to get remedying. This is a pretty dark tale, in terms of its tone; not an unwelcome thing, as I like me some creepy on occasion. I admit I had never really thought of toads as being creepy before, but good grief, I do now…

Where did I put that book…

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