Book Review: Above Ker-Is

Walton, Evangeline. Above Ker-Is and Other Stories (Kindle Edition)

Evangeline Walton is one of those writers who wrote for the pulps, wrote novels, and disappeared from bookshelves for far too long. She is probably best known for her Celtic fantasy tetralogy based on the Welsh Mabinogion, which is how I found her when I was on all all-things Celtic kick many years ago. Even in that fantasy, I sensed hints of darkness. That darkness is here, in this short story collection with tales ranging from dark fantasy to horror.

Above Ker-Is draws on folklore and mythology, some familiar, others not so much. Walton draws on the other Celtic legends, setting stories in Brittany, Greece, Russia, and the US. Setting plays important roles in many of these tales, the sea mists and waves of Brittany, the old, dark forests of Russia, and shadowy corners of Greece just after WWII. Walton’s fantasy is a cold vision, of powers beyond and above the ken of mere humans for the most part, curses that linger, saints that kill, and Fair Folk forever wild and cruel in their own ancient ways. Her vampires and werewolves terrify, never seduce. There’s a Lovecraftian edge to several of the stories, drawing them closer to horror than straight fantasy.

I got the collection assuming it was fantasy. Instead I found myself having to stop, take deep breaths, remind myself that I was not being chased through the woods, and then go back to reading. Yes, they are good, very good, just not the lighter fantasy I’d anticipated. The horror is psychological, not blood-n-guts, and sex is implied, not on-screen. I still wouldn’t give this set to younger readers, however.

As you would expect from stories written for pulps, these are tight, with well sketched characters and fast-paced plots. Walton wastes no time pulling the reader into remote Brittany or impoverished rural Russia just after the Revolution.

My one complaint is that the book is a little expensive ($6.99 Kindle, $15.00 paperback). There is a nice introduction and notes at the end.

Above Ker-Is is not what I thought I’d be getting, but it was a fantastic set of short reads and despite not being a horror fan, I enjoyed the stories.

FCC Disclaimer: I purchased this book for my own use and received no remuneration from either the author or publisher for this review.


5 thoughts on “Book Review: Above Ker-Is

    • I wonder if there are rights problems, because none of her longer works are available, aside from the Mabinogion tetralogy. Some of her historical fiction sounds fascinating, likewise Witch House.

    • She wrote a lot in the ’30s-’40s, but was a little too early. The fantasy surge in the ’70s brought her works back to attention and she published several novels then, fantasy, historical-fantasy. She wasn’t part of the NY scene, and she was competing (so to speak) with Mary Renault and Mary Stewart, as well as MZB, without their marketing push and quantity of output. I really enjoyed the Mabinogion, BUT I’d read the original and was ready for the sustained strangeness. Sometimes she plays with the “lost powers of women” theme that MZB and others use as a hammer, but Walton didn’t preach and the characters fit the world she’d built.

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