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One of the best anthologies of weird-horror fiction I’ve ever read. It’s a must-read for fans of Thomas Ligotti but even if you haven't read any Ligotti the stories stand on their own and are all quite impressive. It's quite difficult to pick favorites in an anthology this good, but a few of the standouts are the opening story—“Furnace” by Livia Llewellyn, Michael Cisco's “The Secrets of the Universe”, Cody Goodfellow's “The Man Who Escaped This Story”, Michael Griffin’s “Diamond Dust”, Scott Nicolay’ “Eyes Exchange Bank”, John Langan’s “Into the Darkness, Fearlessly” and Gemma Files’ “Oubliette”. All the writers in this anthology capture Ligotti’s sense of being stuck in a dream with menace lurking just at the periphery—or his nihilistic universe or his creepy puppet imagery—quite well. All of the stories manage to be unique and have led me seek out their respective writer's works. You don't have to take my word for it, there's a reason this anthology won a Shirley Jackson award.
Note on Kindle version: The formatting could use some polishing up. The “sguiggly” line separating sections could—should—be centered with some space above and below it. The formatting flaws are especially annoying in Gemma Files’ story which is a told in an almost epistolary style so everything just flows together, section into section. That said the Kindle version is still very good. Would give the Kindle a 4-star review but I'm not an a-hole. ;-) Worth getting!
The Grimscribe’s Puppets is like a fantastic cover album. The writers have taken some style and form from the original artist, but have put their own unique takes on the material. And the result is fantastic. Normally when I review an anthology I discuss the stories that stood out for me. Here they were all excellent. I just finished reading it, and I feel like I could read them all again, though “Where We All Will Be” by Paul Tremblay may be one of my favorite short stories I’ve read.
In some ways I prefer this anthology to reading a Ligotti collection. Whereas with one of Ligotti’s collections I feel like I want to read a story then put the book aside to come back to later, this anthology of stories inspired by his work is a great read cover to cover. Part of this is credit to the writers, but much of it I think is due to the often under appreciated art of the anthology editor in choosing the order to put the stories in. The flow of this anthology from one story to the next is seamless.
I read the bulk of this anthology in the air on various flights, sandwiched between the latest Patterson and Cussler. Now, I confess this isn't the ideal environment in which to read a book strongly inspired by Ligotti and his predecessors. Despite this, I was sucked down into the worlds between the covers of The Grimscribe's Puppets. Maybe it was enhancement by contrast, or maybe it was that these writers did indeed tap into the same deep vein that keeps the nightmare factory running.
These are all nightmares worth having, and they are all diabolically unique. Whether dark fantasy in uncertain worlds or a trip to a town that could be on your way home; a claustrophobic prison made of shadows or the subtle menace of the shadows in your shrink's office. You will only recognize these visions in parts drawn from what you can understand, but they lead to things that no one wants to understand.
Each story is a sort of lexical rorschach, so the effects will be as individual as the reader. The stories which lingered with me are parts abstract, experimental, "meta" and visceral. "The Xenambulist: A Fable in Four Acts" (Robin Spriggs), a Book of the Dead as imagined by an amoral H. Bosch, "Pieces of Blackness"(Michael Kelly), a tale of parenthood driven through with an obsidian stake, "20 Simple Steps to Ventriloquism" (Jon Padgett), a meta-tale that winds a horror trope into a barbed knot puzzle, "After the Final"(Richard Gavin), which gives us the Macabrist, "Eyes Exchange Bank" (Scott Nicholay), a terror where the world you recognize is rend into total collapse, "By Invisible Hands" (Simon Strantzas), a demonic tale of puppetry suspended by embalming thread, and "Oubliette" (Gemma Files), a cinematic tale that takes the light away like a rusted jail door.
This is dense and heady stuff, probably not for the casual or shock horror fan. The shadow of Grimscribe falls long and wide across the entire book, but thankfully homage never slides into parody or imitation. Many of these stories could fit as well in a literary anthology, and I mean that as a compliment. I believe this is overall a vision of horror at its most artful. So, it is easy to understand that while my neighbors slept with their noses in their paperbacks, I stared out the window at the endless dark and wished for a comforting dream.
A well-conceived and skillfully executed anthology in tribute to dark weird master Thomas Ligotti. None of it reads exactly like TL, and that is as it should be - each of the 22 authors herein give their own spin on TL's signature tropes and/or themes. This book is crammed with a diverse array of stories conveying different tones and moods, but there is not one story I wasn't glad to read.
I have only read a few of these authors in any depth; as I expected, Richard Gavin, Joel Lane, and Simon Strantzas all turn in spectacular tales filled with nods to the man they name as a large influence. I am only slightly familiar with the works of John Langan, John Padgett, and Cody Goodfellow, (hey, I'm working on it) but all three now hold hold multiple places on my Amazon Don't Forget To Read This Stuff list. It was also nice to get to finally experience something by Eddie M. Angerhuber.
Of the authors who are basically new to me, I was most impressed with Michael Griffin (whose "Diamond Dust" is a contender for my favorite story in the book), Livia Llewellyn, Paul Tremblay, Scott Nicolay, Nicole Cushing, and Gemma Files.
Michael Cisco gets his own category. I have so far only read a few stories in different anthologies, and had trouble really grasping them. His story here, "The Secrets of The Universe," is deep and weird. I have heard his writing compared to jazz a number of times, and that sounds about right. I was merely intrigued, until I saw him read another story at NecronomoiCon recently. The intensity and surety of his delivery (more of a performance than a reading) hooked me, and "The Divinity Student" has been pushed to the upper echelons of my bedside book stack.
Those names comprise barely 60% of the authors represented here, and no slight is inferred to the others - again, these are all effective and worthy stories. This book would stand on its own without the Ligotti thread tying it together, it is that good. Recommended for any lovers of the truly dark, as is anything written by Ligotti himself.