Book review – Flashing Steel, Flashing Fire, a short story collection by Matthew Quinn

I have been introduced to Matthew Quinn’s writing some time ago through a very enjoyable Lovecraftian homage of “Beast on the Bosphorus”, and was therefore highly intrigued by this collection, which gathers ten of his short stories into a single, easily accessible package. While the stories themselves range from dystopian alternate history of “Coil Gun” to high fantasy adventure of “Lord Giovanni’s Daughter” and straightforward horror of “Melon Heads”, the standard of storytelling remains consistently high throughout. At times, the stories are nothing short of chilling, as evidenced by “Coil Gun” and its description of apocalyptic global conflict through the eyes of the participants, who are presented as having real human concerns and emotions no matter what side of the conflict they find themselves on. “Picking Up Plans in Palma” is set in the same universe, and is a thrilling spy romp through that story’s quintessential “evil empire”, again adding humanity to the characters who in the hands of a lesser author might have become one-dimensional villains. Here, the characters have depth and are interesting to read about.

The same qualities surface once again in “Nicor”, an imaginative (and quite unique) story inspired by legend of Beowulf, set in the era of Norse raids against the shores of Britain. The protagonist here is not a fantasy stereotype of all-conquering warrior, but a frightened youth on his first raid, full of doubt and fear even as he tries to present a strong façade in front of his fellow raiders. The author once again displays his gift for humanizing the characters in “Illegal Alien”, which is a peculiar play on words in the context, and a very solid story to boot.

“I am the Wendigo” stands out a bit from the other stories, as it provides the titular monster with a viewpoint, while “Lord of the Dolorous Tower” is another high fantasy story with some post-apocalyptic leanings. As the author notes, it was written as a prologue to a longer work that never got finished, and as such, the ending feels a little abrupt, but the world it created is captivating, and it made me wonder what that longer work would have been like. “The Westernmost Throne” is a different kind of a dark fantasy tale, wrapped in a modern setting, and ends the collection on a high note.

Overall, “Flashing Steel, Flashing Fire” is an imaginative collection which provides a good representation of this up-and-coming author’s writing. The stories are diverse, well written, and play well to Quinn’s strength of writing likeable, relatable characters throughout. My favorite would probably have to be “Nicor”, but all of the stories are enjoyable and worth reading. Highly recommended!

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