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CLOH-cover-smallAs the title suggests, Cranky Ladies of History is an anthology of short stories revisiting some of the great women of history. Those facing adversity and refusing to be bowed by it. Some of these women – Elizabeth the first, Elizabeth Bathory, Mary Wollstonecraft – are easily recognizable. Others are less well known but no less noteworthy. Penned by an array of brilliant authors, including multiple award-winning authors Garth Nix and Juliette Marillier, this is a collection to be savoured.

For several months I’ve been following the blog, Rejected Princesses. Devoted to telling the stories of girls and women who don’t fit the mould Disney would require for its princesses, it has some amazing tales of women from myth and history. These women are violent, brave, stubborn and demanding, but never dull. Therefore I was delighted to find that many of the stories I’d read on the blog have also been included in the pages of Cranky Ladies of History. Many other stories are new to me, and some are tales that most people know set in a perspective not often used.

While all of the stories in the anthology are fascinating, two in particular stand out. Sylvia Kelso’s Due Care and Attention, and Joyce Chng’s Charmed Life. Both of these stories are remarkable in that they portray women being women. Rather than trying to toughen up to fit into a man’s world, the central characters in these stories focus on improving the daily lives of those around them. Their stories are of creation rather than destruction.

In Due Care, Dr. Lilian Cooper uses her medical knowledge to serve the people in her community – particularly those who cannot afford medical attention. Like all the women in this collection, she has a temper – but her ire rises when local laws seek to keep her from offering timely medical aide.

In Charmed Life, Empress Leizu laments the idleness of her life until she realizes that she might be able to make a difference in the lives of her people and, in the process, lighten the workload of the women around her.

Both tales focus on relationships between women, reinforcing the point that women have always fought the restrictions placed on them.

The supernatural element in Cranky Ladies is the only thing that weakened an otherwise wonderful anthology. It didn’t occur in more than one or two stories, but putting in events that were so obviously mythology rather than history fuels doubt of the veracity of all of the stories. And there have been enough amazing women doing fantastic things that adding magic isn’t necessary for a good story about them.

Most of these stories are gems, some featuring well-known historical women, though many not. It was the lesser known figures that sent me on searches of the bits that the story left out. Having been introduced to so many amazing historical figures in this anthology, I only wish it had been longer.

 

Cranky Ladies of History – ed. Tehani Wessely

 FableCroft Publishing (March 2015)

 ISBN: 9780992553456

luckhurst_zombiepicZombies: A Cultural History

Roger Luckhurst

224pp Reaktion Books November, 2015

Professor in Modern Literature at Birkbeck College, University of London, Roger Luckhurst has written and edited a broad range of publications on horror, film, sci-fi, pulp fiction, and gothic literature.

Comprising eight well-arranged chapters, the book kicks off with an introduction to the world of zombies, offering the reader some general context before honing in on specific aspects of their complex evolution.

The first chapter, From Zombi to Zombie, outlines the zombie’s early origins in Caribbean and particularly Haitian folklore and its conceptual migration to U.S popular culture during the final years of the Haitian colonial occupation of the late 1920s and 30s. In describing the transference of the Vodou religion from its spiritual home in Benin, Africa, to the Caribbean via the slave trade, Luckhurst acknowledges the origins of the new Haitian national identity – one which sparked the imaginations of 19th-century travel writers and which was to become inextricably linked with the politics of race and slavery during the American Civil War. Luckhurst describes the early brand of ‘Colonial’ Gothic, firmly establishing the zombie’s place in that literary mode early on in the text and elaborating on this in subsequent chapters.

The zombie of pulp fiction is examined, including early work by HP Lovecraft, JC Henneberger’s influential Weird Tales series, and the famously melodramatic tales of Henry St Clair Whitehead, which were informed by his ethnographic background and fascination with local superstition.

Delving into the rich tradition of zombie cinema, Luckhurst presents the reader with a well-researched and judiciously condensed history and sociocultural analysis of everything from 1932’s White Zombie, Tourneau’s 1942 masterpiece, I Walked with a Zombie, and George Romero’s famous contributions, through to more recent, post-millennial offerings, such as World War Z and The Walking Dead TV series. Luckhurst draws on prominent, respected researchers to back his well-considered, lucid overview of this culturally pervasive figure.

In the final chapter, the essence of current zombie discourse is distilled into a compact summary, highlighting the trope’s multi-layered, politically charged, and significant presence in global popular culture. For anyone seeking a definitive yet succinct history of the zombie, this book is an absorbing, accessible introduction.

 

Lenehan_vhasThe golden age of fantasy produced some of the greatest works of fiction in a century: mighty heroes, roving barbarians, sword and sorcery, and epic quests galore. Drawing from this incredible pool of genre classics, new generations produced works that were both epic in scale and story, but also able to reflect the social changes in the real world.

Warriors of Vhast: Intimations of Evil, the debut novel by Cary J. Lenehan, is one of these incredible recent productions.

Set in a land both fantastical and familiar, Lenehan has created a world in which the sorceries of classic fantasy live side-by-side with the cultures and religions of feudal earth. Here Catholics and Christians ward themselves against undead hordes with miracles and holy writ; Hindus and Muslims battle alongside dwarves; and nomadic tribes hold true to historical traditions while venerating a mighty dragon that protects them from evil.

Intimations of Evil is a classic initial chapter in the “voyage against evil” story-type. Here the many heroes of this series are introduced to the narrative: some from noble backgrounds seeking adventure or glory, others from far humbler of origins questing only to find their place in the world. Each character is finely worked with back story, motive, and means that bring each to life and set them apart from each other. This layering of story upon story, adds wonderful depth that draws the reader to identify with their favourite protagonist.

Of course where would a sword and sorcery tale be without the great evil? Lenehan has interwoven each character masterfully into a complex narrative of prophecy and action against an evil that seems to want to draw the world into darkness. Only by combining their abilities could this seemingly random collection of heroes and zeros hope to defeat this unknown menace.

Warriors of Vhast: Intimations of Evil is fantastic proof that first-time authors have a lot to offer in terms of fresh ideas and new perspective. Cary J. Lenehan will definitely be a name to follow when it comes to great Australian fantasy fiction.

 

Awards

davitt-award  aurealis-award   logo-curtin-university

Peacemaker - Aurealis Award
Best Science Fiction Novel 2014

Curtin University Distinguished Alumni Award 2014

Transformation Space - Aurealis Award
 Best Science Fiction Novel 2010

Sharp Shooter - Davitt Award
Best Crime Novel 2009 (Sisters in Crime Australia) 

 

 

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