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Tuesday, June 30, 2020

The Best of British Fantasy 2019 review



NewCon Press Official Website
Read our interview with anthology's editor - Jared Shurin
Pre-order TBoBF here (USA) or here (UK)


Editor: Jared Shurin has edited or co-edited over two dozen anthologies of original fiction, including The Djinn Falls in Love, The Lowest Heaven, The Book of the Dead and The Outcast Hours. He is the co-founder and editor of the award-winning pop culture website Pornokitsch and the not-for-profit publishing house Jurassic London. He has been a finalist for the World Fantasy, Shirley Jackson, Locus and Hugo Awards, and he has twice won the British Fantasy Award. 

FORMAT: The Best of British Fantasy 2019 is 416 pages long and it contains twenty-three short stories. Published on June 30, 2020, by New Con Press it's available in an e-book, paperback, and limited hardback edition format from most retailers.


The Best of British Fantasy 2019 contains twenty-three stories. And not just any, but the best Britain has to offer. We can debate what makes the story the best, but I think I have found the key to Shurin's choices. You simply need a title longer than the story itself (like, say, Why Aren't Millennials Continuing Traditional Worship of the Elder Dark? or Birds Fell From the Sky and Each One Spoke in Your Voice).


On a more serious note, all stories are reprinted and showcase a wide variety of speculative fiction written by British authors - citizens, residents, or expatriates. They show a remarkable range of ideas, styles, and tones but most of them lean toward the literary and contemporary end of the fantasy genre's spectrum. I found most stories serious, introspective, unsettling, and realistic. There's little lighthearted material here. The quirky cover looks great, but it can mislead readers looking for another sword&sorcery fix. 


The arrangement of the stories impressed me - each is different from what came before it, whether subtly or completely. As a result, the stories never start to feel "all the same" or repetitive. As readers, we get a diversity of voice, subject, and form as well as a balance between new and established voices. Additionally, most of the stories contained in this volume are literally short - you can read them in 5-8 minutes. It makes BOBF a great lunch or a break from work companion.

As for the stories themselves, I found most of them intriguing. There were, of course, a few that did not appeal to me or that I flatly disliked. With more than 20 stories, there's zero chance of a reader loving everything, though. 

The ones that stood out for me include Birds Fell From the Sky and Each One Spoke in Your Voice, which follows relatable protagonist unearthing long-buried memories from a tragedy that blighted his childhood.  Tom Offland's A Few Things I Miss About Skeletons is absurd but wildly entertaining. Its narrator examines things he misses about his skeletal structure in a world where, for unknown reasons, skeletons were abducted.

Why Aren’t Millennials Continuing Traditional Worship of the Elder Dark? uses satire to show how the unwillingness to change in older generations ends up backfiring. It tackles Lovecraftian ideas, weaving together the mythology of gods of madness with humor and social commentary. Quality stuff here.

My favorite story, Sin Eater by Chikodili Emelumadu, is dark and engrossing. A normal young woman finds out that her first roommate, Nchedo isn’t exactly human. Nchedo reveals to the narrator the darker aspects of life. It turns out sinners, of all sorts, walk the streets looking for victims. Normal justice doesn't serve its purpose and sometimes you just need to use jaws to cleanse sins. A brilliant mix of humor, horror, and discovery.

As for the weaker stories, Dem Bones by Lavie Tidhar didn’t click with me. It wasn't my least favorite story in the anthology but I mention it here because I usually love everything Tidhar writes. Not this time, though. It's weirdly engaging but lacks a satisfying resolution. A pity as he's the most established author in the anthology and some readers will buy the book just for him.

As a whole, I recommend The Best of British Fantasy 2019 to readers wanting to keep up with the industry and actively looking for new voices. Plenty here for fans of the uncanny. 

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