By Pamela K. Kinney
Stephen Jones. Visitants: Stories of Fallen Angels and Heavenly Hosts. Ulysses Press, 2010. 400pp. ISBN-13: 978-1569758380.
Fallen angels and heavenly hosts – what better subjects for a genre anthology of short stories? There are plenty of collections with stories about vampires, werewolves and demons out there, but this is something different, something fresh. So, when I got Visitants in the mail, I dove right into it.
Visitants has a variety of stories ranging from angels found in the Christian Bible and Hebrew works, to those spiritual beings from the Qur’an and the Kabbalah, and even New Age mysticism. Some stories are of the supernatural kind, others fantasy, while some are of a darker bent. There’s even a Celestial murder mystery. The editor has assembled a fine balance of humorous, poignant, and terrifying stories.
Neil Gaiman’s “Murder Mysteries,” has an angel investigating Heaven’s first murder. The Heaven in this tale is a world you might find in a Raymond Chandler novel. It is a seedy place, where every angel seems to have something to hide.
Jane Yolen’s fable, “An Infestation of Angels”, reworks the story of Moses and the Hebrews escaping from the Egyptians by the parting of the Red Sea. The ‘angels’ here are no better than vultures preying on the peasants below. Even more interesting, the ‘Moses’ in this story is female.
“Plague Angel” by Yvonne Navarro is a darker story that I enjoyed. Ms. Navarro’s angel spreads the plague and is an expert at killing and maiming. He is walled up in a room so he can never escape and do harm again. The story really begins in modern times, when a young woman, Jenelle, gets a job at Warwick Castle, dressing up as a medieval jester leading people on an eerie tour of the place. It is she who notices something odd about a part of a wall while lunching with her fiance, Robbie. Of course, Robbie, doesn’t see anything, just a wall. Soon, Jenelle is feeling ill.
“Snow Angels” by Sarah Pinborough is both a chilling and yet sad tale, told in first person. Children with conditions that lead to death, including cancer, are living in a small private sanitarium called the ‘House’. The protagonist meets a pretty girl called ‘Amelie’. One day, both kids sneak outside. It is freezing cold. Amelie says she sees something. The hero glimpses flashes of purple and blues glittering, dancing on the dark, frozen surface of the river he and Amelie sit by. Dark shadows hide behind the brightness. Is what Amelie seeing truly good and beautiful?
“Things I Didn’t Know My Father Knew” by Peter Crowther starts off Norman Rockwell in tone, switching to more Twilight Zone-like. Bennett Differing wakes up one morning, as his wife prepares to meet her sister for shopping. Christmas is coming and, as Shelley points out, “You can smell it in the air.” But when she is gone, Bennett wonders if that was Christmas she smelled or the mist that is rolling in, thick and frightening. The newspaper the paper boy threw at his door has an insert in it, telling him he won a visit from his father. But his father has been dead for 27 years.
“The Bowmen” by Arthur Machen tells of how English soldiers during WWI are saved from the Germans by angelic bowmen. It reads like a legend told in non-fiction ghost books.
The last story I want to mention is “Basileus” by Robert Silverberg. This tale has a computer geek, Cunningham, programming and cataloguing angels on his computer. When one of his angels, Harahel, calls him God-like in his actions, Cunningham feels uncomfortable.
Swooping in from both Heaven and Hell, Visitants has enough stories for a long winter’s read, or during the summer while relaxing on the beach. These ultimate bad beings, capable of both immense destruction and heavenly acts, will captivate fans of this new paranormal fiction phenomenon.