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Billzilla

The Gaki and Other Hungry Spirits Review

Posted on June 20, 2011 by Billzilla


Available from Dark Regions Press

    The Gaki and Other Hungry Spirits
    A short story collection by Stephen Mark Rainey
    Dark Regions Press
    170 pages

    Being an aficionado of folklore, I was intrigued by the title of this collection, The Gaki and Other Hungry Spirits, which refers to “hungry ghosts” of Japanese legend. While the stories themselves are decidedly Western in nature, they are no less interesting. A number of the tales do feature hungry spirits, so points to Mr. Rainey for holding to his theme.

    This collection starts off with the title story, “The Gaki” in which we have a tale of a man searching for something to fill his life. He finds intrigue at a clandestine gathering of people by the Copper River, and what follows will lead him down a path he never knew existed. Ultimately, he finds what he seeks, but it isn’t what he expected, and it requires a high level of devotion from him in exchange.

    On first hearing the title of this book, I immediately looked it up. I was surprised to find it only available in hardcover at that time, and in premium hardcover – signed, numbered editions – at that. The price tag of $40 for the signed hardcover put me off a bit, so I wrote an email to ask when the trade paperback would be available. The publisher responded quickly, noting the trade paperback was still some months away, and cleverly offered me a discount coupon which I then used to purchase Gaki and two other intriguing horror titles as well.

    “Terror From the Middle Island,” written by Mr. Rainey with Durant Haire, tells the story of a Christian preacher attempting to bring his faith to the new frontier of the fledgling United States. He finds a challenge greater than he could have expected in a vengeful spirit, and the choice he makes will affect the area for generations to come. This was one of my favorite stories in the collection, dealing with themes of choice, consequences and American history.

    It’s rare to find a short-story collection where the reader will like every story presented. While that was the case with me reading this book, I only found two of the 17 stories I didn’t care for – and six that I liked quite a bit – a commendable achievement.

    “Abroyel” reads like a hard-boiled detective story, and adds magic and extra-dimensional creatures to form a fine, tasty broth. Possibly more fantasy than true horror, it was a captivating tale regardless, and one of my favorites from this collection. The ending is tantalizing, and frankly I’d love to see Mr. Rainey develop this into a novel; with the current popularity of urban fantasy I think it could do quite well.

    These tales are an interesting mix; most are traditional short stories, a few verge on being flash fiction, and at least one is clearly meant to be part of a novel. They hold together as a group fairly well, and the variety of formats adds a bit of spice to keep the reader from getting bogged down.

    “Demon Jar” and “Field Dressing” are both wicked tales with surprising endings; to say much more would give it away, but I enjoyed them both a great deal. Both are short – “Demon “Jar” is only seven pages in length – “Field Dressing” only two.

    Available now in trade paperback format as well as hardcover, I highly recommend The Gaki and Other Hungry Spirits for even the casual fan of horror. The mix of styles and themes is refreshing and the tales themselves are well-crafted. I’m satisfied that the cash outlay to acquire the hardcvover was money well spent. This book is only available directly from the publisher, Dark Regions Press, but their web site is filled with interesting fiction to tempt you, including free sample stories from a number of their authors. Stop by for a look, and be sure to tell them Flames Rising sent you.

    review by Bill Bodden

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