Reviewed by Ian Hunter
The second in the “Out of Tune” series, like the first one, this volume contains stories inspired by folk songs and murder ballads from around the world, collected and edited by best-selling author Jonathan Maberry and featuring stories by the likes of Rachel Caine, Cherie Priest, Dan Abnett, Laura Anne Gillman, David Schow and many other, perhaps, less-familiar writers.
This is a quality tome in production values from JournalStone, starting with a striking cover by Ryan Brown , perhaps showing the Grim Reaper standing in a graveyard, enjoying some downtime, setting aside his scythe and picking up a fiddle instead, possibly to play a lament or a jig to the corpses surrounding him Each story is also accompanied by an illustration provided by artist, John Coulthart, before the tale starts and at the end we have a section telling the history of the song, where it has cropped up in other literary places and also who sang it. Some of Coulthart’s illustrations are particularly striking, particularly those involving the borderlands between this world and the fairy realm (which would have been amazing in colour), and those featuring graves and graveyards and criminal acts, shall we say.
The writers here are too good to simply just take the lyrics of the song and spin a story using the same narrative flow, there are no straight imitations here, and right from the start Allison Pang takes an old Y.B. Yeats poem based on Irish fairy folklore about stolen children and changelings and gives it a very modern twist involving computer games. Part of the fun in reading this collection is seeing how each writer has taken an old Irish Ballad, an English folk song (sometimes transplanted and rewritten slightly to become an American folk song) as well as songs and ballads from Scotland, Wales and even Mexico and turned them into a story, although the end notes do reveal some fascinating origins in real-life stories about jealousy and murder, ghostly encounters, twists in the tale, and a fair dose of revenge. It’s also interesting to see that some of the originals and the stories and events that inspired them almost read like modern-day urban myths. Of all the sources of inspiration in this volume, readers will probably be most familiar with the song “The House of the Rising Sun” and also “The Long Black Veil” which isn’t the old folk song that everyone expects having been written in the 1950s and has been recorded many time from artists ranging from Johnny Cash to The Stranglers.
If you’ve read the first book in the series, you’ll probably want to read this one too, and hopefully a third, and maybe, more in the series, there’s certainly enough source material stretching over the centuries and around the world to provide inspiration for future volumes.