I admit it, I’m a sucker for tales of legendary creatures. I think I’ve watched every episode of the TV show Boogeymen, which could spin a compelling yarn about nothing more than an oversized otter. How much more fun is a cryptid legend when imbued with the dramatic structure that fiction allows?
I think what really makes this collection so strong is how easy it is to relate to the characters in every story. Engelhardt makes sure never to forget to make them interesting, even when it might be easy to rush to the bit about the legendary creatures.
It’s hard to review short story collections because you can’t necessarily discuss the stories without also spoiling all of them. So, let me borrow a technique from H.R.R. Gorman, and quickly discuss my favorite, least favorite, and the most memorable stories from the collection:
Favorite: “Serpent in Paradise.” This is a story about two monster hunters who visit a resort where they hunt for a sea monster. I really liked this story; it has a good balance of characterization and plot, and all of it is very economically done. The dynamic between the two main characters helps ground the story in reality, which is important when telling a tale of the outré and bizarre.
Least Favorite: “How Jackrabbit Got His Antlers.” Let me clarify that just because it’s my least favorite doesn’t mean it’s a bad story. It’s not at all. It just felt more like a fairy tale than the rest of them. There’s nothing wrong with that; it’s just not my thing.
Standout: “Oh, the Places You’ll Hide: A Brief Guide for the Library Specialist After the Undead Uprising.” A mock-scholarly treatise on the changing role of the librarian in a post zombie-apocalypse world. The funniest story in the whole book.
The collection is almost perfect. The only thing it is missing is, of course, the greatest cryptid of them all: the Mothman. I’m always up for a Mothman story. I wouldn’t mind seeing the two monster hunters featured in the first and last stories in this collection take him. Just an idea.
Still, lack of Mothman aside, this collection is a fantastic tale to read of an October’s e’en. Highly recommended.