Myths & Monsters
There’s a lot for a reader to unpack in the Myths & Monsters Anthology by William Meikle. Firstly, it offers up thirteen of his previously-published stories, all carefully curated to be based around the titular myths and/or monsters and taking place in a variety of time periods and geographical locations. There’s also an introduction by no less than Jim McLeod, one of my favourite reviewers and the man who runs the famous Gingernuts of Horror review website, detailing why he loves Mr Meikle’s body of work and still enjoys reading him to this day. And finally, last but by no means least, there are also thirteen separate black and white illustrations, one for each story, as drawn by the illustrator Mr.Markzilla, who is also responsible for the fantastic piece of cover art – one of the starkest and ominous-looking skulls that I’ve ever seen grace the cover of a fiction book. Put them all together and you get an anthology that is, quite frankly, fantastic value for money; the stories alone are some of Mr Meikle’s best, while the illustrations are worthy of being displayed on their own such is their quality.
Let’s start with that introduction. It’s quite short but also quite charming, revealing how Mr McLeod discovered the author’s work nearly 15 years ago in an Edinburgh Waterstones (since sadly lost to history) and has been a fan of his work ever since. A lot of what Mr McLeod says about Mr Meikle echoes my own thoughts on why I love his work so much, including this key sentence: “Meikle’s writing has the power to captivate and put a smile on your face. It reminds you of a time when life was so much simpler, when you still had that sense of adventure.” That captivation and sense of adventure are fully on display in the thirteen short stories that follow on from that introduction, and in the process we get to see some of the author’s favourite characters and locations, as well as many of the overarching themes that run through his works. The collection is bookended by two adventures featuring Augustus Seton, an ageless Scottish warrior-occultist (for lack of a formal title) who roams 15th Century Scotland, fighting occult creatures, cultists and occasionally acting as a trouble-shooter for various occupants of the Scottish throne. In the first tale, Cold as Death, we get to see Seton visit a remote Keep in order to try and save his best friend from a fate they had set in motion decades ago; it’s got some cracking action seqeuences as Seton makes use of his magical sword to try and fend off the sinister figure of Death, but also a sobering tale, as we find out just how Seton has escaped the same fate as his friend, and the effect that his occult bargain has on him. The second Seton tale, The Silent Dead, is shorter but packs a powerful punch, as the Scotsman investigates an isolated, haunted castle and discovers the horrific secret behind the cult residing there that cleverly ties into a famous period in Scottish (and English) history; the artwork accompanying the story is also rather unsettling, with ghoulish cultists leering out from underneath their cowls.
Frankie, Dracula and the Wolfman is a short but darkly comic tale that plays into the wry, often dark, humour that sometimes features in Mr Meikle’s work, highlighting the cost to pay for dealing with the devil; and The Hair Belt is an 18th Century tale of a group of Redcoats sent into the Canadian wilds, only to encounter a trap involving werewolves and a vicious price to pay for survival. There’s also a genuinely funny tale in the form of The Dragon’s Bargain which inverts the old trope of the Dragon that lurks in a cave and had me chuckling by the end. There’s even an appearance by Professor Challenger and Carnacki the Ghost-Finder in Professor Challenger: The Cornish Owlman which brings the two classic characters together in an adventure to hunt down a mysterious magical messenger, with a disconcerting twist at the conclusion to the tale.
But while some of the stories contained in Myths & Monsters are action-orientated, displaying Mr Meikle’s keen eye for a good fight scene and some genuinely terrifying monsters, others display his penchant for more psychological horror. The Siren’s Song is a story about one man’s encounter with a mermaid that genuinely left me squirming with discomfort by the end of it, while Ghost Nor Bogie Shalt Thou Fear suddenly made me very aware that I work in a hospital for a living, and keeping an eye out for tall, black-clad figures that might be lurking in the corners of my eye. For my money, however, the best story in the entire collection is Wee Robbie, which brings out the best of Mr Meikle’s writing – it is incredibly atmospheric, slow-burning and features an innate tension that is slowly but surely built up until the final few lines, which are genuinely disturbing. A fantastic and nicely varied collection of incredibly well-written and entertaining stories, accompanied by some outstanding illustrations, Myths & Monsters is a perfect collection, one that suits both those who might only be encountering Mr Meikle’s works for the first time, as well as a veteran fan such as myself.