Reviewed by Ian Blackwell
This collection of works is based around the idea of human encounters with the Old Ones, who are ancient powerful deities created by the legend H. P. Lovecraft. The Old Ones used to rule the earth and are commonly worshipped by cults. These beings are somehow restricted in their abilities to interact with the human race, yet they’re waiting for the right time to return and rule the world for their own ends.
We have here fourteen stories based at varying times throughout the ages, from 1200 BC to the twenty-first century. We are treated to creative works that are varied in the sense that they are set in many parts of the world. Each work is a glowing tribute to the high standard that H.P. Lovecraft set in stone all those years ago. Although these stories boast of a large array of writing styles, they all have this in common: they tell the tales of beings with unearthly powers who prey upon us humans for their own gain.
Below I have put a few words about my favourite stories from this collection:
‘The Horn of the World’s Ending’ by John Langan: a tale about a Roman officer in second century Judaea who meets an old man who possesses a horn that has the power to summon an army of violent serpent-like men. The swift savagery of this supernatural army is something that must be read to be appreciated!
‘Monsters in the Mountains at the Edge of the World’ by Jay Lake: a story set in second century AD Central Asia around two statues called the ‘Mikuo’ purchased by a colonel on orders from the Celestial Empire. These winged statues have distorted bodies with clawed hands and feet. The colonel and his soldiers are concerned about the location of a group of rival soldiers nearby, but little do they know that they’ve got a bigger battle on their hands. The rising tension in this story is constructed perfectly.
‘Ophiuchus’ by Don Webb: this one is based in England, 1605. It is about a man called Dr. Dee who lives with his daughter. Their lives are interrupted one night by a stranger arriving at their home. The stranger knows of Dr. Dee’s education and requires him to translate a Greek book of spells for him. Dr. Dee reluctantly agrees, only to find that he has let himself become involved with something should have been left alone. The temptation of Dr. Dee to dabble had me hoping that he would stop, but at the same time I wanted him to do it to see what would happen!
‘Smoking Mirror’ by Will Murray: this interesting one is about a religious friar in Mexico, 1753. He tells the story of Jesus to a local Aztec, who claims that Jesus had also lived in Mexico under another name: Quetzalcoatl. With the friar’s persistence, the Aztec eventually agrees to allow the friar to baptize him. But in return, the friar must take part in a ritual of the Aztec’s own . . . This work makes an interesting point about how some of the deeply religious can be misled and how their beliefs can be manipulated.
‘Anno Domini Azathoth’ by John R. Fultz: this grizzly tale is based in Arizona, 1781. It follows Father Francisco Rivera, who decides to seek Father Espinoza, who left to bring Christianity to a disfigured tribe called the Azothi and hasn’t been heard of since. This one is my favourite. The descriptions of the deformities and behaviours of the Azothi are gruesomely graphic and the emotions of Father Rivera are described well. Prepared to be shocked!
Something for everyone can be found in this collection. It contains both happy and not-so-happy endings; sometimes the human protagonist overcomes, and sometimes they meet a terrible end. But many of these tales reflect on the human condition in the sense of how some foolishly try to control something that can only spiral out of control. This book gives plenty of entertainment and consists of many dark layers, all weaved together to provide us with a horrifyingly fun book. It is one that I would definitely recommend if you want to be taken back in time to witness old evils for yourself.