by Allyson Bird
Published by Dark Regions Press, 2010.
Allyson Bird’s previous collection, Bull Running For Girls won the British Fantasy Society Award for best collection in 2009. Wine And Rank Poison is a collection of ten weird tales focussing on revenge. It is also a curious mix of modern society, ancient myth and folk tales from across the world. As Joe R. Lansdale says in his glowing introduction Allyson Bird has been able to take “simple ideas and turn them into unique stories that defied classification”.
The Black Swan and The Twelfth Chair are linked stories from Odessa in the Ukraine which really failed to engage me. They both seem more concerned with the Eastern European setting than the plot itself which runs like a very thin thread through the tales. Vulkodlak manages to mix the genocide in Srebrenica with werwolves. A more succefull story given the weight of horror emanating from Serbia and the ongoing cultural divisions in the region, but the real horror and darkness here lies in the actual atrocities rather than the authors inventions.
Atalanta and Beauty And The Beast are both heavily infused with ancient mythology. Of the two, the first is the more succesfull tale, a rich and inventive story of an oppressed wife’s quest for escape. The Convent at Bazzano is one of the few stories in the book to allow the supernatural in. Unfortunately, I felt the threat was diluted by the authors need to recount a travelogue of holiday locations and the supernatural threat was never fully explored or explained.
The Legacy was one of the better stories here with some great imagery and a thrilling plot, but unfortunately, I found the last paragraph which attempts to link the previous action with some kind of religious apocalypse somewhat contrived and unnecessary. The Last Supper works well as it explores relationships in a dysfunctional family unit. Finally, Coney Island Green and For You Faustine, are another pair of linked tales where modern society meet ancient folk tale. They are both good stories but marred by rather stilted dialogue and fairly insubstantial plots.
I found Wine and Rank Poison a strange experience. The book never really drew me in, and that may be as much about my preference for a more supernatural threat as it is about the writing. I did feel that many of these tales missed the mark though. Full of rich, inventive and intelligent ideas but often not executed in a way which engages the reader. Stylistically Allyson Bird is working in the same territory here as Reggie Oliver but he seems to be able to connect the ancient past with modern myth in a much more realistic and hence more engaging fashion. The connections here seemed too forced to be real and consequently the stories did not have the depth of emotion I felt they needed or that they were aiming for.
Rating 3 out of 5