The world of Mark Howard Jones is a bizarre place. This is a land inhabited by mechanical houses, giant ice sculpted horse prisons ...oh and singing spiders. It's also a world of dark despair, dreams and deep emotions. It's the world we all share but it's a slanted, tilted place slightly off balance, a terrible place to live but a wonderful place to visit.
These twenty-five tales transport us to various parts of that world and allow us share fragments of the life taking place there. Many of these stories are indeed fragments, small shavings from a much bigger carving which we will never get to see, we can only speculate on its form. As such they are often perplexing but that offers them a mystique which keeps them fresh.
Ranging from a few sentences to a few pages the stories here cover a wide variety of styles. We have the quasi- steam punk fantasy of Heart Is Where The Home Is, high fantasy of The Ice Horse, SF in Token Blonde and the emotional horror of Hunt/ed. Holding all the stories together, however, is a rich emotional thread. All the stories are driven by emotion whether it be tragedy such as Trackside, the eroticism of Lovebox or the deep despair of Window.
The stories are almost impossible to summarise in a traditional way as they become as much about the readers own emotions as the writers. This produces some stories which fail to meet the mark for me but also some which resound so deeply they will remain in the memory for a long time. For me, the less successful tales were those rooted in reality such as Backseat Ballet or Muse. The best tales are those which transcend reality to hint at much deeper and often darker places such as the poetic Shards From The House Of Glass or the eponymous Songs From Spider Street.
It should also be noted that the hits vastly outnumber the near misses. This is one of the strongest collections I have read for a while. It is original, intelligent and highly imaginative without being impenetrable or too obscure. It's not easy to draw neat comparisons with other writers, but there are hints of the nightmare worlds of Ligotti or Samuels without the weighty nihilism. The stories are probably closest in tone to early Ray Bradbury managing to retain a connection with normality whilst firing the imagination with intense fantasy.
A highly recommended book and an author to watch in the future. Songs From Spider Street is simply stunning.
- Colin Leslie