Monday, 4 July 2016

Review - The Children of Old Leech ed. by Ross E. Lockhart and Justin Steele

I want to get one thing out of the way right from the start.

I am a huge Laird Barron fan. I rank his collections amongst the best I've ever read, and his creation of the Old Leech mythos over those collections has truly been wonderful to behold.

So when I had the opportunity to read and review this tribute anthology I was both delighted yet hesitant. Delighted that I would once again venture into the hungry and yearning dark of his cosmos, and hesitant about whether or not the writers would be able to pull it off without coming across as poor imitators. 

I shouldn't have worried.

The Children of Old Leech not only lives up to hype, it exceeds it in a way that both terrifying and delightful. 

So what did I love exactly? Well, pretty much everything. 

From its outset TCoOL begins in unnerving fashion, with the reader being exposed to a woman's descent into madness following her discovery of artefacts in her backyard (Files' 'The Harrow'). This opening is both poignant and horrifying, and sets the tone for the reader as you are shoved off the precipice into a deep and ravenous hole of storytelling that not only captures the best of Barron, but also adds to it. 

It is common knowledge that anthologies, for the most part, are usually hit and miss. You tend to love some stories, and wonder gloomily why some stories even made the cut. Rarely do you find anthology where every story stands on its own two feet. In the case of TCoOL though every tale stands out, and every tale impresses. From Cody Goodfellow's 'Of A Thousand Cuts' (an insanely impressive piece of storytelling), through to Molly Tanzer's 'Good Lord, Show Me The Way', I was constantly amazed by the originality and the power of the stories being told. There are obvious tips of the hat (wilderness settings, searches for lost individuals, bad rich men, and the darkness beneath our feet) to Barron's work (something you'd expect in a tribute anthology), but the direction that each writer takes those in is truly stunning and enthralling. Every single entry also neatly captures the power and essence of Barron's stories, and in doing so draws the reader into that dark and violent atmosphere that permeates Laird's writing (Stephen Graham Jones' 'Brushdogs' is a wonderful example of this).

The range of stories is also jaw-dropping. You have tales that focus on those nefarious 'Black Guides' (Tremblay's 'A Barn in the Wild'), stories that have close links to Old Leech (Grau's 'Love Songs from the Hydrogen Jukebox'), and yarns that link directly into stories Barron himself has written (Langan's magnificent 'Ymir', a tribute and continuation of 'Hallucigenia'). In fact I was struck by just how much this rich and layered anthology builds upon what Barron has started. The parallels between this and Lovecraft and his circle kept springing to mind as I read. The pace of the stories was also relentless, and I was never lulled into boredom by what I was reading. In actual fact I spent one memorable night on edge as a massive storm ripped its way through our region and I imagined a universe directly looking at me as a predator does with its prey. Every aspect of Barron's carnivorous cosmos is explored, and I took great delight in picking up on all the little nods and tidbits that each author had woven into their particular tale.

I can't really fault this anthology. At no time did it feel like a cheap imitation of Laird Barron's work, but rather a unique and wonderful celebration of all that makes him a wonderful storyteller. TCoOL is a brilliant example of what passionate and talented editors (who have done a great job with this book by the way) and amazing writers can achieve when they come together under the same banner.

The Children of Old Leech is a stellar homage to a man who is literally changing the face of horror and genre fiction with every story he releases. In decades to come I suspect we shall talk about Laird Barron in the same breath alongside pillars like King and Lovecraft. This anthology is superb, with every story a riveting journey deep into the terrifying depths of a universe that is ravenous and mean.

A classic tome that is a must read for every genre fan across the globe.

5 out of 5 stars. 

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