For my first book review of the year, I thought I would do the book that started it for me, BEGINNINGS. This anthology features one of the first short stories I ever wrote, and was the first time I had anything published, so it’s pretty special to me.
The thing I love most about this collection is the diversity of genres and writing styles. It features sci-fi stories set on distant worlds, tales of the paranormal, alternative history, horror, magical realism and fantasy. While there may be a few sci-fi or fantasy stories, each one is unique and takes you on a different journey. This diversity allows the reader to dip their toes into different genres outside what they may normally read. For example, I’ve never really been interested in the paranormal/supernatural genres (witches, werewolves and vampires), yet two of my favourite stories in ‘Beginnings’ are about witches – ‘The Morrigan’ by Maddie Jensen and ‘Dealt in Sin’ by Sasha Hanton. And, despite both being about witches, the two are vastly different tales. ‘The Morrigan’ is set in a world like ours, but with covens of witches and other supernatural groups hiding beneath the surface. The Hunt, a government-sanctioned group, is determined to bring them all down. It tells the story of Cassidy, who becomes the Morrigan following the suspicious death of her mother. Whereas ‘Dealt in Sin’ is the story of Morgan, a witch who goes to dangerous lengths to find a coven in her small town.
Being an anthology by Aussie Speculative Fiction, all the authors are from Australia or New Zealand, so several of the stories are set – if not in our own backyard – places that we may be familiar with. Stephen Herczeg’s ‘Bus Trip’ is about a student taking the bus home from Canberra to Adelaide for the Christmas holidays, and what Australian can’t identify with a ride on an endless highway between cities? Belinda Brady’s ‘Break the Spell’ gives the familiar imagery of Melbourne’s Royal Arcade, ‘When the Lights Went Out’ (Lachlan Walter) is an intriguing sci-fi piece set in the Victorian countryside, and Rebecca Dale’s ‘Bugles Bred & Bugles Born’ centres around an unbelievable event at one of Sydney’s Westfield shopping centres. ‘Bugles Bred & Bugles Born’ is one of the most unique stories in the anthology, and honestly I don’t know how to define or describe it, but the ending just sends shivers up my spine.
The theme of ‘Beginnings’ is explored in a variety of ways through the stories, from starting life over (‘The Edge’ by Alanah Andrews), starting again on a brand new world (‘Portals’ by A. A. Warne) and in the transition from life to the afterlife (‘Next Journey’ by Chris Foley and ‘The Beginning of the End’ by Carolyn Young).
Amongst a collection so diverse, it should be hard to pick a favourite. But to me ‘The Inheritance Experiment’ by Kel E. Fox is an absolute standout. It’s the story of an Austrian girl, stolen from her family home and subjected to horrible experiments, before being flung into the carnage of World War One. It’s a compelling story, and – like every good short story should – it leaves the reader wanting more.In conclusion, this is a thoroughly enjoyable collection of diverse short stories. There’s something in there for everyone, and many of the stories are so good they’re worth re-reading.
This year I hope to share reviews more regularly, which also means I will need to read more books. I am never short of a book to read, but if you want to suggest a book for me, or request I review one of your books, feel free to get in touch via twitter (@AustinPSheehan) or facebook.
- Originally published January 2020