Descended Suns Resuscitate by Avalon Brantley
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I had heard rumors about Brantley, but only read a couple of short stories before getting my hands on Descended Suns Resuscitate thanks to Zagava Books' publication of the collection in paperback. As others have pointed out, she sprang on the scene with 2013's Aornos to immediate acclaim. As one other reviewer states, Avalon seemed to spring forth onto the scene like Athena from the head of Zeus, fully-formed and at the height of her powers . This volume is a testament to the breadth of her writing prowess and a sad vision of what might have been, as she passed away at the age of 36. I have a (again, paperback) copy of The House of Silence, which I am definitely looking forward to reading after having enjoyed this volume so greatly. My only wish is that she had lived longer and that we could have seen the full growth of her substantial talent.
Before the fall of the Roman empire was its decline. We are thrust headlong into this decline in "The Way of Flames," an incredibly-well researched tale of corruption and, ultimately, collapse. The story is immersive, one feels what it would be like to be on the edge of a civilization that is about to be plunged into utter random chaos and oblivion. I now may have learned everything I need to know about Rome.
I dare not reveal too much about "Hognissaga". Though the subject matter might be a subject of which I have lost interest long ago, Brantley has enjindled a flame in me with this story. I was nearly as surprised as the young prince in the tale. But I can't tell you why, for fear of . . . No, I've already said too much, even if in vagiries. Oh yes, the mis-spelling is intentional.
John Dee meets a demon in "The Dunwich Catharsis," but not the kind of Renaissance demon one might expect. The story is a nested framework of letters, books, and conversations about a heretical Christian sect replete with revelations aplenty, both light and dark. A fabulous tale that gives one pause and sends the reader to the history books to peel away fact from fiction, if such a thing is even possible.
Love meets necromancy meets revenge in "The Regretting Pond". But what is the emotional toll of one who weaves such a web of vengeance. Can satisfaction ever come from justice's answers to tragedy? Or are some festering wounds, no matter how ill-deserved, best left to rot? Moral ambiguity abounds in this tale of love lost. Who is justified in their taking from another? There are more questions than answers here.
"The Last Sheaf" is a folk horror story with all the expected tropes. Not as evocative as the other stories thus far, it is still "effective". Had I not read a fair amount of folk horror lately, I might not be as jaded about it. It's very well-written, with enough twists to set it apart from many stories of its ilk. But nothing spectacular. Still, I'm glad I read it.
"The Window Widows" is a Scottish ghost story par excellence. Perfectly told, when it needed to be, and perfectly untold at just the right moments. Brantley paints with a chiaroscuro-heavy brush here, and it works amazingly well. This is the kind of short story writers of the "weird" should aspire to. A perfect economy of "weird" and "eerie" in a credulous, if sublimely-poetic, voice.
Take, for instance, this description, which sets the absolutely spectral undertone for this chilling tale:
The day that followed was hardly fit to be called so. Heavy clouds blanketed the close tangles of leafbare trees nearest the house, turning the world into vague shapes and textures, and when the wind rose up it seemed to rip shreds of the fog and send them fleeing across the world, like ghaists in flight from a greater ghaist ,or perhaps born therefrom.
Brantley assumes the persona of an avatar of the dread goddess Kali in "Kali Yuga: This Dark and Present Age". It's a piece of social existentialism bordering on despair for modernity and its paramours. The voice is beautiful, with echoes of Beckett and Burroughs, with all the darkness engendered in the same names. But it is clearly Brantley's own apocryphal tale which, like Beckett and Burroughs, no one will heed.
An afterword by Brantley gives the provenience of each story. She lays out the influences for each story and gives some insight into her writerly process. A valuable scrying stone into the work of a writer who was taken from the world far too soon.
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