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by Lauren Halkon

(Prime Books, $29.95, 224 pages, hardback, published June 2005, ISBN: 1894815726. Also available in trade paperback.)

Review by Chris Butler

cover scanChrysalis is a collection of short fiction by Lauren Halkon. It includes twenty-four stories, five original to this collection and the remainder previously published by the likes of Realms of Fantasy, Darkness Rising, Roadworks and Ideomancer.

My favourite story here is "Horizon", in which a field surgeon, whose gift is more for taking life than saving it, accompanies a band of mercenaries headed for battle. In the past she had been a lord's mistress and endured a "drug-blurred hell" in the eastern brothels. But she remained young while those close to her always died. There is no dialogue in the story, for what point would there be in talking to people who will soon be dead? The bloodshed of the battle is the catalyst for transformation.

Broadly speaking, Halkon's fiction falls into the dark fantasy category, but with excursions into horror and SF. The collection has a theme of death, transformation and rebirth. What marks these stories as unusual, aside from the quality of the writing, is the intensity of emotion underpinning them. They are often heartbreaking to the point of being unbearable, yet they are luminescent at the same time.

In "Siren" a young girl, Katie, encounters the ghostly presence of another girl. The character of Katie is beautifully and meticulously drawn, and all too believable. The ghost seems to want to take her away from her family, and shares Katie's dislike for her new step-Dad.

In "Waiting for Angels" a hermit, haunted by his past and living in a snowy mountain wilderness, encounters a woman and her dog. Cautiously they reach out to each other, but can there be anything more than a cold death waiting for each of them?

Some of the stories have reasonably straightforward narratives, while others are more abstract and harder to grasp. Almost always the story depends on empathy and understanding of human nature. Story resolution is likely to come from a poetic sensibility, rather than a simple resolution of plot.

"Spinner" takes us into a nightmarish futuristic maternity ward. The protagonist has little understanding of her situation, but has the courage to seek to escape.

In "Automota" Millicent discovers whether she is more or less advanced than the other automata.

In "Dreamer" Bly is the first to greet the Dreambird on its return to Earth. She sees the Dreambird as a source of power, as do others in her village, but one should not expect power to come without a price.

Halkon's writing concerns itself with the search for hope in cruel worlds. It takes you to very bleak places, but still the overall message seems to be one of hopefulness. Chrysalis is darkly imaginative, and really quite brilliant.

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