My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Neil Gaiman has been fascinated by unnatural creatures since he was a boy, and this long harboured interest has resulted in a collection of some of the best short stories I’ve ever read.
Comprised of 16 stories in total, each with a small introduction by Neil Gaiman, Unnatural Creatures is a blend of very well known authors (such as Diana Wynne Jones and E Nesbitt) with much loved old tales and newer, modern writers (such as Megan Kurashige and Nnedi Okorafor) with brand new stories.
Usually when reviewing a book of short stories I concentrate on two or three that particularly stood out to me. However, Neil Gaiman has caused me some real difficulty here- every story he has chosen for this collection is outstanding in its own individual style.
Although they all have the same theme in common, a lot of versatility can be found within these stories. Some of the tales read as serious folk myths with important morals. Perhaps the best example of this is Okorafor’s “Ozioma the Wicked”, about a young girl who is believed to be a witch and is vilified by her village because of this until one day an unnatural and unwelcome visitor arrives and the community turn to her unusual talent to save them.
On the other end of the spectrum are also some completely silly, humourous, plain wicked fun stories! Gaiman’s own short story in this collection is perhaps one of the most amusing. Written as an eighteenth birthday present for his daughter Holly (without a doubt the best present I’ve ever heard of) “Sunbird” follows the epicurean society’s quest to eat one of every kind of animal known to man. Feeling as though they have already exhausted all of the delights Earth has to offer, the society are delighted when one of their members suggests they journey to feast on the rarest creature of all, the sunbird (also known as the phoenix). This story is packed with Gaiman’s usual wicked humour and droll dialogue.
I truly loved all of the stories within Unnatural Creatures, but if I was forced to choose a favourite it would have to be “The Compleat Werewolf” by Anthony Boucher. So much is packed into this story. At 78 pages it is the longest in the collection, but also in my opinion the most action packed and flawless. In tems of what this story is about, it has it all: ridiculous humour, real magic, Hollywood glamour and an American German professor called Wolfe Wolf who happens to be a werewolf (who’d have guessed that?!). With his academic career in decline, Wolfe Wolf hatches a cunning plan to woo back the love of his life, an ex-student and current Hollywood star. The only problem is his plan depends on him assuming his werewolf form and relying on his magician friend to assist him in his transformations. Boucher’s writing stays on the right side of farcical whilst still being outlandishly silly and entertaining,
Finally, it’s well worth noting that the sales of Unnatural Creatures will benefit the not-for-profit organisation 826DC. 826DC is dedicated to helping and supporting children aged 16-18 with their writing skills. More information can be found at 826DC.org, but suffice to say it’s a good deal to be able to support such a worthwhile cause and receive such a fabulous book in return.
This review was first published on Nudge-books.com and Goodreads on 18th June 2013.