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The Minotaur in Pamplona,
Books I and II

edited by Neil Ayres


Review by Nick Jackson

Tcover scanaking its title from a wonderful reworking of the Minotaur myth by Rhys Hughes, this collection weaves the fabric of myth and legend into modern day scenarios. The best stories succeed in fusing the classical tradition with the concerns and perceptions of contemporary society in an inspiring way bringing magic to the mundane.

The collection opens with a curiously nostalgic poem, "Monemvasia", by Brian Aldiss, evoking the lost world of classical Greece. In "Dancing the Labyrinth", Lisa Granville eschews all sentiment in a reflective study of a disintegrating marriage which propels its female character into an affair with a god-like Cretan. Superficially predictable, this is a memorable story, which convinces by its deft handling of mythical themes and perceptive analysis of relationships and the need for self-belief.

Andrew Hook's story succeeds in compressing cover scana phoenix-eye view of history into a few pages and makes the bird's odyssey a rich excursion through a landscape of symbols--ancient and modern, culminating in a genuinely moving dénouement. This mingling of the fabulous and the commonplace is superbly handled in Rhys Hughes' title story, which transforms the myth of the Minotaur into a study of contemporary alienation. Hughes writes with such confidence that his man/Minotaur figure stands out, despite the brevity of the tale.

Another brief but satisfying story opens the second volume: Lavie Tidhar's enigmatic portrayal of a one-eyed sextant based on the legend of Polyphemus. The bitter irony of his trade is brought out with gentle comedy and the piece leaves a lasting impression.

"Ascent Is Not Allowed" by Catherynne M Valente gives us an angry lament in the words of a group of sculptured goddesses from the Parthenon who rail against the hordes of godless tourists. Male violence against women and its tacit acceptance by society is at the uncomfortable heart of these beautifully written monologues. In "Circe's Choice", Steve Redwood composes a similar series of first person monologues to retell the tragedy of Circe. At times confusing, this story could have done with some signalling of the different characters speaking, but the language is evocative, reaching to the core of all tragic love stories.

The collection closes with Kara Kellar Bell's "The Mermaid's Song", a slightly disappointing retelling of the 'seduction-of-sailors-by-mermaids' legend, which fails to transcend its well-worn themes.

Overall, this is a super collection: varied and original with some brilliant writing. For me, the accompanying artwork does little to complement the stories effectively and, with one or two exceptions, even detracts somewhat from the imagery.

Small reservations aside, this collection is thoroughly commendable, containing some miniature masterpieces of innovation, and deserving of a place on the bookshelves of all fantasy lovers.

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