Bloomsbury, h/b, 480pp, Â£12.99
Reviewed by Stewart Horn
Neil Gaiman says in the introduction to this book that one of his favourite places as a child was the NaturalHistoryMuseum, but he always wished he could visit the Unnatural History Museum.Â So thatâ€™s the theme of this anthology: what creatures would be in such a museum?
Neil Gaimanâ€™s own style is a mixture of the epic and the personal, stories like folk tales or religious myths but with real human characters at their heart.Â The most striking thing about this anthology is that many of the authors featured seem to share his approach.Â So if youâ€™re a fan youâ€™ll find some names to investigate later.
It is a childrenâ€™s book, and a few of the stories seem childish and shallow; some hint at more serious themes.Â But all can be enjoyed as beautifully crafted fairy stories.
Gahan Wilsonâ€™s opener, whose title is a squiggly graphic, sets the tone nicely: creepy yet darkly comic.Â Next up, E. Lily Yuâ€™s The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees can be read as a sly political satire, but is more fun taken at face value.Â Frank Stocktonâ€™s the Griffin and the Minor Canon is a cautionary tale.Â Oziama the Wicked by Nnedi Okoraf is a lesson on how we treat outsiders.Â Gaimanâ€™s own Sunbird is about circular destiny, but mainly about his splendid characters.
It goes on in this tone â€“ well-written and engaging fables that can be enjoyed by bright eight-year-olds, right up to people my age and beyond.Â Some tales are magical, some scary, others full of adventure.Â Itâ€™s exactly the kind of book I would have loved as a boy, a book to be treasured and reread many times over and finally passed down to the next generation.
And itâ€™s for charity, so why not?