London is very much a literary city. Many cities are famed for a great many things, but London is as entrenched in the written word as any city could be. Charles Dickens (whom this compendium is inspired by), Arthur Conan Doyle, and even the great playwright, William Shakespeare, all lived and wrote in London at one point in time or another. Its captured the minds and pens of wordsmiths for centuries, a “living, breathing creature: the steaming, heaving, weeping, stinking, everlasting Smoke.” The last part of the blurb accurately captures that city, especially in the Dickensian era and it sets the stage for the nineteen short stories/not really sure in some cases.
I have never reviewed a compilation and I’m not entirely sure on how to proceed. Normally I’d prattle on about the quality of storytelling, the characters, the flow of language, and concept. But Pandemonium: Stories of the Smoke is nineteen of those things, each different and if I decided to break the review up into nineteen full length reviews I’d never get any sleep. So firstly I’ll give my general thoughts and then give a ‘play by play’ set of sentence-reviews on the stories I found myself particularly attached to.
Altogether, Stories of the Smoke is a cohesive, well-written, and tightly put together compilation. The theme of London/Dickens flows over well from story to story, with that ghostly presence that seemed to always lurk, either in the fore or the backdrop of Charles Dickens work. Many of the stories share that fascination with death incarnate that Dickens was so famed for, and it benefits strongly for that. I wouldn’t say there was any one story that stood out as bad, but I found my personal tastes lent interest to particular stories that were exceptionally written.
“Inspector Bucket Investigates” by Sarah Lotz
Fascinatingly strange with an interesting concept, Inspector Bucket Investigates is a very strong point early in the anthology.
“Uncle Smoke” by Archie Black
With a distinctive voice and a great quirk, Uncle Smoke tours the time and space of London with a breathless vigor.
“A Dance of Life and Dust” by Aliette de Bodard
A curious piece of science-fiction, A Dance of Life and Dust moves through a second-person story with dreamlike desperation.
“Victory Year” by Alexis Kennedy
A variety of ‘Londons’ and an organization dedicated to controlling the flow of information between them creates an intriguing backdrop for Victory Year.
“Necropolis” by Jonathan Green
A captivating and somewhat disturbing story.
“The Unkindness of Ravens” by Glen Mehn
A strongly written story that kept me guessing as to its purpose.
“The Pickwick Syndrome” by Kaaron Warren
The piece that the cover art evokes is a clever little story about pigeons and deep sleep.
“The Hound of Henry Hortinger” by Michelle Goldsmith
I feel I must mention that I am of a rather biased mindset when reviewing The Hound of Henry Hortinger as it is written by a good friend of mine and co-founder of this site. I saw the story in its fledgling state and watched it refine and evolve into an excellent story that manages to be equal parts eerie, amusing, dark, tragic, and vivid in its snapshot of Dickensian London and a ruthless businessman within it.
“The City of the Absent” by Charles Dickens
This particular piece was most fitting and quite well placed within the anthology and I feel I need not introduce it so much.
“A Brief History of the Great Pubs of London” by Lavie Tidhar
This one, while straining at the bounds of classical story telling, still manages to be one of my favorites. It’s exactly as the title says, giving a set of stories and information about a number of famous pubs in London, the good with the bad, the infamous and the famous alike. It’s written with a quick and sly wit and makes me desperately interested to visit some of the places named.
I received a copy courtesy of Pandemonium.