Demons: Encounters with the Devil and His Minions, Fallen Angels, and the Possessed
edited by John Skipp
Black Dog & Levinthal (2011)
Darkeva was charitable enough to ship me a copy of this impressive--and weighty--anthology. It's damn-near a tome in trade paperback form. In a sense, it feels appropriate for a book about demons and spectres, things that haunt and oppress, should have some gravity to it. Like a monkey on your back. Oddly enough, that's almost exactly the kind of demon this book starts off with, in the first story, Adam-Troy Castro's "Cherub," about a world in which each persons inner demons reside squarely on their shoulders.
John Skipp has found a near perfect balance of humor and horror with an ensemble of stories from acclaimed authors of the past and today's up-and-comers, a few icons in between. It's pretty hard to find fault with an anthology that not only captures a theme so completely, but provides such a rich variety of stories that shine a light on the idea of demons and the evil inside us all.
There are over thirty stories in this book, closer to forty if I went back to count. Some are brief aperitifs with snapshots of the devilish, and a couple weigh in closer to novella length. A couple are excerpts from iconic novels like that of The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty, and if you're going to throw in a snippet from a novel about demons, you may as well as go with the most infamous novel in the world on the subject.
For me I had as much fun reading the blasts from the past, like Charles Beaumont's "The Howling Man" and W.W. Jacobs' "The Monkey's Paw", as I did reading stories by authors whose work I'd yet to sample, like Maggie Stiefvater's "Non Quis, Sed Quis" and Livia Lliewellyn's "And Love Shall Have No Dominion." The book starts things rolling with quite a few classic demonic tales, which act as a prelude to what the more modern authors have to offer.
One of my favorites is Robert McCammon's "Best Friends," which is a roaring novella that veers into crazytown quickly and only gets crazier as it goes. I mean, it's one thing to feel trapped on a hospital floor with the insane, but it's quite another to wind up like one of them when one patient's delusions come true. I always hear McCammon's name bandied about when it comes to recommendations, so it looks like I need to make one of his books a priority to read this year. Another fave is Weston Ochse's "20th-Level Chaotic Evil Rogue Seeks Whole Wide World to Conquer." That one was just an acerbic treat to read with a protagonist that was utterly disdainful, but ultimately I could still root for the guy--just a little. Alethea Kontis' "The Unicorn Hunter" was a stand-out with its tinges of fairytale elements amid a book full of grotesqueries, though a story involving the hunting and slaughtering of unicorns wasn't without its own share of bloodshed. The ending of that one offered a bit more wistful reaction than the others though, and was a welcome change of pace.
I could go on and on but different stories in this book, but I'll simply wrap this up by saying this is a delicious anthology that should be one every demon-lover's bookshelf. John Skipp also has a couple other anthologies through Black Dog & Levinthal about Werewolves and Zombies, so I'll have to make it a point to see how perfectly he encapsulates those monsters.