Editor – Margrét Helgadóttir
Pages – 181
Format – Paperback
I was kindly offered a review copy of one of the books in this interesting series by the editor, Margrét Helgadóttir after being recommended by another blogger. I chose Pacific Monsters. Thankyou to Margrét and Fox Spirit books for this review copy – I’ve now bought and added the South American edition to my collection too!
HERE BE MONSTERS!
They lurk and crawl and fly in the shadows of our mind. We know them from ancient legends and tales whispered by the campfire. They hide under the dark bridge, in the deep woods or out on the great plains, in the drizzling rain forest or out on the foggy moor, beneath the surface, under your bed. They don’t sparkle or have any interest in us except to tear us apart. They are the monsters! Forgotten, unknown, misunderstood, overused, watered down. We adore them still. We want to give them a renaissance, to re-establish their dark reputation, to give them a comeback, let the world know of their real terror.
Pacific Monsters was a really interesting and enjoyable collection of stories that the editor has expertly put together to really capture the personality, history and cultures of Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands (there is a story set in Antarctica too!) and all written by ‘authors who are from, have lived in or have a strong connection to the region.’
One reason I chose Pacific Monsters as my first in the series is that I know very little about the region – perhaps the least out of any continent or region on Earth and hadn’t really heard much about the folklore or history. Margrét herself actually writes in her introduction of the difficulties she faced in accumulating many stories for this volume and I suspect the folklore is not as widely known in Western culture as European or Asian folklore. Margrét also writes about getting the feeling she was “at the end of the world…surrounded by the vast ocean” and that’s also something I felt and was my other predominant reason for being intrigued by this book, having a fascination with the undiscovered oceans and what resides within.
Perhaps for these reasons noted above, many of the stories had a surreal sort of vibe that diverged from what you might call a traditional monster story; some even where you might be unsure if the physical monster exists; if it is a metaphor or something psychological.
A couple of the stories I had to re-read and admittedly I did get the feeling a couple of times of not quite understanding what was going on – this isn’t a criticism, it is due to my own approach to the book and ignorance of the folklore and culture. Western readers will need to adapt somewhat and accept that you are entering a world that belongs to other people, experiencing their stories that may be based on things you are unfamiliar with.
Because of this, the book was actually much more of an educational and thoughtful read than the light entertainment you might expect from a collection of monster stories; it’s a lot more in depth and enlightening than that. On doing a bit of research past my own reading for example, I discovered that The Hand Walker actually touches on themes of how white Australians treated the Aboriginal population. When first reading because of the light entertainment approach I took, I didn’t pick up on all the nuances and metaphors but you definitely get a lot more out of it if you start the book with the impression that this isn’t just a monster book, it’s an exploration of culture and folklore in which you will learn and be taken into a world in which you might be unfamiliar.
Of course, important themes or clever metaphors don’t necessarily always make a good story – some are better than others, which you will get with any collection – several stories I enjoyed a lot and others weren’t for me.
However I would say as a collection, the quality is of an objectively high standard that everyone will be able to appreciate to some extent.
One highlight was All My Relations by Bryan Kamaoli Kuwada. It has a lot of folklore references and follows a Shark spirit who has taken the form of a man in order to subdue his man-eating tendencies during a 200 year long agreement amongst his kind not to harm humans in the seas around O’ahu, Hawaii – where the story takes place. When a young boy tries to befriend him and they enter the ocean together, he has to make a decision on his stance when the boy is shown to be lacking a bit of respect for the ocean life.
Another highlight was The Weight of Silence by Jeremy Szal, author of the recently released and highly acclaimed Stormblood. Arachnophobes may want to skip this one which features giant spiders that have taken over Sydney!
A final point I wanted to mention is how well illustrated it is – there are illustrations for each story and some of them are beautiful, or horrifying – or both!
I’m really glad I got the opportunity to read my first book in this series and am looking forward to starting American Monsters (the South American one) soon! The whole collection would look amazing on the shelf as well as to read of course, with the covers going together so nicely.
Thanks for reading!