Where All Is Night, and Starless
John Linwood Grant
Trepidatio Publishing (July 9, 2021)
Reviewed by Andrew Byers
While John Linwood Grant was well known to me as the esteemed editor of Occult Detective Magazine and many other fine collections, I wasn’t familiar with his writing. I’m happy to say that, if anything, he’s an even better writer than he is as an editor, and that’s saying quite a lot. Where All Is Night, and Starless is a collection of seventeen of Linwood Grant’s stories grouped into three broad categories: On Mythos, which, unsurprisingly, is comprised of his stories that touch on the Cthulhu Mythos; On Mysteries, a broad category of weird fiction often involving transformations, physical, mental, or otherwise; and On Myth, which brings together a set of stories that revolve around classic folkloric elements, which are at their hearts folk horror as much as anything else.
It’s hard to do justice to a collection as substantive as this one, so let me highlight a selection of my favorites.
I very much love well-crafted tales of the Cthulhu Mythos, and found Linwood Grant’s first selection of such tales a real treat. Two of the best were “Messages,” which takes the perspective of a single mother who just so happens to serve our favorite messenger of the Great Old Ones, and the eponymous “Where All Is Night, and Starless,” set in the aftermath of a WWI soldier’s life-changing encounter with the Mythos during a tunnel collapse under enemy lines in Belgium.
Linwood Grant clearly demonstrates his mastery of the weird in a breathtaking array of stories that can’t be neatly categorized but are nevertheless wonderful. For example, in “Wires,” we visit a traveling circus that is far more than it seems—this conglomeration of feral clowns, freaks, and other performers could serve as backdrop for any number of tales—but here we have an encounter between the young wirewalker Rudi and a man (?) called Lemuel, who is desperate for Rudi’s aerial gifts. In “Marjorie Learns to Fly,” a woman who begins acting strangely and taking on new likes and dislikes manages to turn the tables on those behind her recent changes. And “Records of the Dead” follows the obsessive search for the lost reels of film of an obscure French director and what was contained in the director’s last film. (I will always read any story involving a search for a mysterious film with an ominous reputation.)
Some of my favorite tales in the collection are some of the smallest, in the sense of being stories about transformative experiences or otherwise perfectly ordinary people experiencing extraordinary situations or brushes with the weird. For example, in “A Slow, Remembered Tide,” a man returns to his hometown on the coast and participates in their annual ritual celebrating (or otherwise reckoning with) the dead who have been lost at sea. You can never go home again. In “Sanctuary,” a mermaid (of sorts) comes to another coastal village apparently seeking refuge from others of her kind, who find out that the villagers have not forgotten their folk magic. And in “Hungery” [sic], a bullied little boy encounters a real-life ogre.
I should also note a couple stories that have protagonists that, I gather, Linwood Grant has written other stories about. That’s wonderful news because I very much want to read those. The first is “The Horse Road,” a story so good it hurts. This is the epic tale of a fierce pony named Mr. Bubbles (and the girl who loves him), who fends off the evocatively named Children of Angles and Corners who would invade his home. The second is “At Vrysfontein, Where the Earthwolf Prowls,” which concerns Lt. Redvers Blake, a British officer in the Second Boer War, who learns that the world is a darker place than he had imagined.
Each story is accompanied by a brief note from the author. Linwood Grant’s range—across space, time, and theme—is in breathtaking evidence here. These are dense stories: not in the sense that they are impenetrable or unfathomable, but in the sense that they very much require (and reward) the reader’s careful attention.
What a great collection. I can’t wait for a follow up. Highly recommended.
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