John L. French & Danielle Ackley-McPhail
(NeoParadoxa, December 2021, pb, 208 pp.)
“Far From The Knowing Place” by James Chambers
“Let’s Make A Deal” by John L. French
“A Bluebird From Aspen” by Robert E. Waters
“World-Wide Wings” by Jenifer Purcell Rosenberg
“Bringer Of Doom” by Christopher J. Burke
“As Ye Seek, So Shall Ye Find” by Michelle D. Sonnier
“On The Side Of The Angels” by Danielle Ackley-McPhail
“Unguarded” by Keith R.A. DeCandido
“The Dog Listener” by Christopher J. Burke
“Irradia’s Gauntlet” by Russ Colchamiro
“Seven Ravens” by Michael A. Black
“Fear To Tread” by Patrick Thomas
“The Bionic Mermaid vs. The Sea Demons” by Hildy Silverman
“Duality” by John G. Hartness
“Neverending” by Christopher J. Burke
Reviewed by Victoria Silverwolf
Fifteen original tales of angels and demons appear in this anthology, ranging from gruesome horror stories to action-packed adventures, with more introspective works thrown into the mix as well.
“Far From The Knowing Place” by James Chambers begins with the search for a young boy, the only survivor when his father murders the rest of his family. The investigators on the case discover both natural and supernatural explanations for the killings. Fans of crime thrillers are likely to enjoy this story, although the combination of demonic and mundane premises is somewhat awkward.
In “Let’s Make A Deal” by co-editor John L. French, a supernatural being offers the patrons of a bar the chance to make their wishes come true, in exchange for performing a service in the future. The main appeal of this story is its clever twist ending, which puts a new spin on a very familiar theme.
The protagonist of “A Bluebird From Aspen” by Robert E. Waters has her car break down on a lonely highway. She gets a ride from an elderly lady, only to discover that the old woman is not what she seems to be. For the most part, this is an effective horror story, but a sudden change in the main character’s identity near the end contradicts everything we knew about her at the start.
In “World-Wide Wings” by Jenifer Purcell Rosenberg, an angel takes the form of a human being in order to run an Internet company. Her task is to offer uplifting content, while fighting against the dark side of the Web. She is also able to actually enter the Internet, and change people’s lives directly. She eventually battles with one of the demons who spew hatred across the Internet.
The author raises an important theme, pondering whether the angel’s actions, intended to help humanity, violate their right to free will. Unfortunately, the story fails to really come to grips with the question.
A demon is the title character in “Bringer Of Doom” by Christopher J. Burke. A little girl accidentally summons him to Earth, where he learns something about innocence, and deals with a family tragedy. The story has emotional appeal, but some readers may find it overly sentimental, and a bit too cute.
The protagonist of “As Ye Seek, So Shall Ye Find” by Michelle D. Sonnier is an angel whose function is to answer the prayers of those seeking for things they have lost. He becomes involved with the king of the fairies, who is seeking his daughter, lost in the human world during a game of hide-and-seek. This story’s mixture of Christian and pagan fantasy does not always work smoothly.
The narrator of “On The Side Of The Angels” by co-editor Danielle Ackley-McPhail relates how she became recruited into a secret organization of demon hunters. At the end, the reader finds out to whom she’s been telling her story. How much you enjoy this tale may depend on how you feel about the narrator’s sarcastic way of speaking.
In “Unguarded” by Keith R.A. DeCandido, a woman who investigates supernatural happenings tries to figure out why the four guardian angels of a Muslim boy are unable to protect him. This story provides an interesting variety of fantasy themes, but perhaps too many for its otherwise realistic setting. The presence of a tiny pet dragon, for example, seems too silly.
The narrator of “The Dog Listener” by Christopher J. Burke suffers an accident that causes him to hear the thoughts of canines. These are ordinary and uninteresting, until a demonic dog shows up, and he learns what it’s after. The premise is an intriguing one, but the plot is very simple. Much of the story deals with the narrator’s early life, and the history of the town where it takes place. These parts of the narrative seem like irrelevant padding.
“Irradia’s Gauntlet” by Russ Colchamiro takes place in a place between Heaven and Hell that resembles a rowdy poolhall. An angel and a demon, both of whom used to be human beings, play games for high stakes, eventually battling for whether God or Lucifer will control the universe. During the conflict, we learn the back stories of the two opponents, and why both of them are not entirely suited for their fates in the afterlife. This aspect of the characters is more interesting than their dueling. Readers may or may not appreciate the raunchy, rock ‘n’ roll atmosphere of the setting.
In “Seven Ravens” by Michael A. Black, brutal murders on an Indian reservation lead to a bloody fight between law enforcement and a legendary monster. Fans of violent horror films are likely to enjoy this vivid tale of a supernatural menace from Native American legend. The story also raises serious issues about the proper use of Indian lands, but does little with this theme.
The main character in “Fear To Tread” by Patrick Thomas saves a woman from an attack by a gang of hoodlums, but suffers a severe beating for his altruism. He meets a man claiming to be an angel in a bar while recovering from his wounds. The fellow teaches him about nonviolent ways to combat evil when the hoodlums show up, ready to finish the job of killing the protagonist.
The author creates three-dimensional characters, making the angel as believable as the human beings. The story’s realism strengthens the impact of its spiritual lessons.
The title of “The Bionic Mermaid vs. The Sea Demons” by Hildy Silverman provides a clue that this is going to be a wild adventure, something like a combination of a comic book and an old-fashioned monster movie. The mermaid has her real tail replaced with an artificial one, which can change into legs at will. She works for an international agency that monitors the oceans. What seems at first to be a case of illegal whaling leads to an apocalyptic battle with the title sea demons, as they seek to unite the scattered body parts of an ancient goddess of the ocean.
Those willing to go along with the plot may get a kick out of the story’s outrageous events. Others may find that suspending their disbelief requires too much effort to fully enjoy this tongue-in-cheek rollercoaster ride.
An angel and a reformed demon are unlikely partners in “Duality” by John G. Hartness. They work as investigators for a demon hunter. (The story’s subtitle indicates that this is one of a series of tales about the demon hunter, but he plays a very small role in the plot.) He sends them on a mission involving vandalism at a church, including a genuine demonic symbol painted on the wall. Their investigation leads to a meeting with a naïve teenager and the demon who is using him as a catspaw.
The characters are interesting, and the notion of a demon and an angel as supernatural detectives has potential. The final conflict with the enemy demon is somewhat anticlimactic.
“Neverending” by Christopher J. Burke takes place in a heavenly garden, one of many ethereal places, inhabited only by a single angelic groundskeeper. A demon pays him a visit, in order to inform him that the battle between their kinds is long over, and there is no reason for them to remain in their solitary realms.
The story has a wistful, elegiac mood, unusual for this kind of fantasy. It ends the anthology in a quiet way, which may appeal to some readers more than others expecting an exciting climax.
Victoria Silverwolf wonders if she is angelic or demonic.