a review of ‘a bottle of storm clouds’ in international speculative fiction # 4

Sean Wright the Bookonaut reviews my first collection, A Bottle of Storm Clouds, in the fourth issue of International Speculative Fiction.

Issue 4 of International Speculative Fiction is out featuring yours truly’s review column. In which I cover some of the recent works of independent self publisher Rabia Gale and the award winning Eliza Victoria.  But of course I shouldn’t be the only reason you pick up a copy of this FREE publication in one of its multiple formats (mobiepub orpdf).

It’s free! Do download a copy to read the entire issue. Many, many thanks to Sean Wright. Such kind words.

Eliza Victoria’s, A Bottle of Storm Clouds, makes me yearn for closer writing relationships between the Australian and Filipino speculative fiction communities (considering our relative geographical closeness). Here is a writer that many Australian fans of the weird, of the dark and edgy modernization of folklore, would love.

This collection brings together short stories published over the past five years, a number winning awards and a significant number being regularly shortlisted.

Similar to Gale, Victoria has the ability to turn genre to her own ends. The work has a local focus, but is accessible, the prose poetic, not purple. The majority of the collection has the naive quality of folktales, a lack of artifice. Victoria lets the stories tell themselves, making the act of telling stories seem effortless—a sign of good craft, you will agree. The stories that are more structurally complex, that diverge from this pattern, are also very well done.

My favorite, “Sugar Pi,” won third prize in the 11th Amelia Lapeña-Bonifacio Literary Awards in 2005. A beautiful tale of love and maths. A tale that I will not spoil because it is wonderfully constructed and revealed. A tale that should be read as naively as possible. It’s also one of the lightest stories in terms of tone.

Victoria has a delicious darkness to some of her other stories that would enthrall fans of Margo Lanagan or Kaaron Warren. “Once In A Small Town,” rounds out the collection and could almost qualify as flash fiction, being just shy of two pages. It delivers, however, an uncompromising emotional punch and leaves the reader questioning what we love our about those dearest to us—their memory or their reality.

“The Just World of Helena Jimenez” imparts an imagery so vivid I can still see and hear the Wardens as they deal out justice. The sound of ball and chain moving through the air and impacting flesh and skull. It’s a dark tale of justice, fantasy spliced with the very real occurrence of racial hatred and violence. We are treated to the Gothic imaginings of a victim of crime, whom the system has failed. It begs the question, I think, as to whether justice is the best form of treatment.

Out of all the dark fiction, though, I probably enjoyed “Monsters” the most. We are presented with a doting father unable to leave his daughter alone, caring to the point of being suffocating. We come to learn that the daughter has survived some terrible incident, something that requires them to live away from family and friends, safe in the obscurity of the city. The story tugs strongly on themes of family and on one’s true nature and whether you can escape it. It also cleverly realizes ancient folklore in a modern context.

“The Storyteller’s Curse” and “Reunion” deal with religion or belief, and being non-religious I find neither story patronizing or discomforting. Stories with a biblical allusions, or theological questions, can be very enjoyable when done well and Victoria does so here. “The Storyteller’s Curse” is possibly the most structurally complex story in the collection and she uses the temporal shifting of scenes to great effect, building anticipation, weaving a story within a story, with skill.

A Bottle of Storm Clouds is a collection I will try and find time to return to. Reading for review places certain time pressure on the reviewer and does not always allow a story to get under your skin. With A Bottle of Storm Clouds, Eliza Victoria is almost always leaving us something to think about, asking a question of the reader. It deserves to be experienced in a relaxed manner.

The collection is currently available in paperback form and in ebook format. Grab a copy.

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