A collection of short speculative fiction showcases a hugely popular author.
Nineteen previously published fantasy, horror, and science-fiction stories are here grouped loosely by theme and united by deft characterization and virtuoso worldbuilding. Their tones range from creepy dread to grisly violence to poignant heartbreak to wry humor (sometimes within the same tale!), and they exhibit Nix’s favorite tropes: absent or abusive parents, found families, conflict and combat, sacrifice for the greater good, and the dangerous fluidity between animate and inanimate, the living and the dead. Unusually for this author, almost all the protagonists are male, and many are middle-aged or elderly. Three stories (the most noteworthy being the title novella) stand as prequels to earlier novels, and another three explicitly borrow iconic characters from other genre writers; while clever and occasionally moving, these will probably work best for readers already familiar with the sources. The independent tales, while still drawing liberally from pop culture and pulp literature, take fresh vitality from their atmospheric subtleties, unique twists, or striking characters—most memorably the bully-defying role-playing gamer in “The Quiet Knight”; the downtrodden yet determined student witches in “A Handful of Ashes”; and the broken, weary occultist in the dreamlike “Ambrose and the Ancient Spirits of East and West.”
Not a necessary purchase, but a tasty buffet for Nix fans and a comprehensive sampler for new readers. (Fantasy/horror/science-fiction short stories. 12 & up)