Inverarity (inverarity) wrote,

Book Review: Ghost Days: An Anna O'Brien Collection, by Asher Elbein

Like Harry Dresden if he were a woman and lived in Appalachia in 1900 and lost a leg and... okay, not very much like Harry Dresden.

Ghost Days: An Anna O'Brien Collection

Campanian Press, 2019, 200 pages

Southern Appalachia, 1900. Anna O'Brien had a home, a husband, and a future. Now, cast out by tragedy and strange magic, she wanders the countryside on her wooden leg: living by her wits, settling spirits for her work, and never, ever looking back. There are plenty of horrors ahead. Ancient things stir in the woods, awakened by the belching locomotives and logging cuts. Dark things yearn for a terrible savior on a remote hill. A bank heist runs afoul of an undead curse. Two women find themselves tormented by a relentless suitor. An omen of death dogs Anna's heels. And deep in the land beneath mountains, a forgotten god offers a difficult gift. Anna O'Brien's got a lot to learn. If she's going to survive, she'd better learn fast... A collection of linked short stories illustrated by concept artist Tiffany Turrill, Ghost Days is road trip through a world on the brink of massive upheaval and ecological collapse, a world of old traditions and remnant powers.

This is an indie-published book that I backed on Kickstarter, having an interest in American-based fantasy. Anna O'Brien is an Appalachian "conjure woman" in the tradition of Manly Wade Wellman, with which the author blends influences from Cherokee legends and H.P. Lovecraft.

Anna's tale is told in a series of short stories, illustrated with very nice pencil work by the artist, Tiffany Turrill.

Night on Bald Mountain

This collection takes Anna from her origins, as a new bride who made a terrible bargain to try to bring back her dead husband, through the first four years of her career, in a series of stories that are roughly chronological but mostly independent of one another. Anna learns to banish ghosts and haints, encounters hags, bog hogs, and even the Raven Mocker and old gods, but the most awful monsters are often human.

There's an authentic mountain folk vibe, as the author claims to harken from that region. Anna is clearly meant to support a series, but so far there's just another novella available.

Although the writing had a mood and was particularly evocative when conjuring ancient terrors in the woods, it was a little unpolished. It could have used more editing, and the scattered nature of Anna's stories left me disconnected with the character. She might be a less grim and puritan Solomon Kane. She wanders around, encounters random monsters, occasionally helps someone in trouble, and seems to be propelled through life on a supernatural path she was pushed onto. There's not much sense of continuity, and her personality could best be described as "salty." She is quite different from the usual urban fantasy protagonist, though, and there's almost no romance. (Even her brief, bittersweet marriage seemed more a matter of practicality than sentiment.)

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