BOOK REVIEW: Book of the Dead Edited by Jared Shurin

REVIEW SUMMARY: Another anthology from Jared Shurin’s Jurassic London imprint satisfyingly takes on yet another unexpected subject.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Mummies get their due in an anthology with strong stories from Paul Cornell, Gail Carriger, Maria Dahvana Headley and more.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Mummies! A wide range of tone, subject, and style gives something for every taste; good use of illustrations.
CONS: A couple of the stories don’t quite reach the high standard of the real highlights.
BOTTOM LINE: A solid and strong anthology of stories in an underexplored corner of the fantastic.

Supernatural beings lurking in the shadows (or not so lurking) are a staple of urban fantasy. Werewolves ranging across forests and stalking urban centers. Vampires of all stripes, from the sparkly to the sewer-dwelling. Zombies, by all that is holy, zombies everywhere, from the shambling undead to the virus-ridden speedsters. To say nothing of the Fae, or the recent rise in Godpunk, or even mermaids.

Mummies, however, rarely get their due. Although mummies have been found from Peru to the Gobi Desert, the popular conception of mummies is tied firmly to Ancient Egypt. Perhaps it is that myopic focus on one place and time that has kept them from getting their due in fantasy fiction. Book of the Dead, edited by Jared Shurin of Jurassic London (and the UK book blog Pornokitsch) seeks to redress this imbalance with 19 stories that feature Mummies as antagonists and protagonists alike. Its a strong lineup:

  1. Ramesses on the Frontier” by Paul Cornell
  2. “Escape from the Mummy’s Tomb” by Jesse Bullington
  3. “Old Souls” by David Thomas Moore
  4. “Her Heartbeat, An Echo” by Lou Morgan
  5. “Mysterium Tremendum” by Molly Tanzer
  6. “Tollund” by Adam Roberts
  7. “The Curious Case of the Werewolf that Wasn’t, The Mummy that Was and the Cat in the Jar” by Gail Carriger
  8. “The Cats of Beni Hasan” by Jenni Hill
  9. “Cerulean Memories” by Maurice Broaddus
  10. “Inner Goddess” by Michael West
  11. “The Roof of the World” by Sarah Newton
  12. “Henry” by Glen Mehn
  13. “The Dedication of Sweetheart Abbey” by David Bryher
  14. “All is Dust” by Den Patrick
  15. “Bit-U-Men” by Maria Dahvana Headley
  16. “Egyptian death and the afterlife: mummies (Rooms 62-3)” by Jonathan Green
  17. “Akhenaten Goes to Paris” by Louis Greenberg
  18. “The Thing of Wrath” by Roger Luckhurst
  19. “Three Memories of Death” by Will Hill

The illustrations by Garen Ewing are simple, clean and are a nice touch to the stories they adorn. The collection also opens with an essay by Egypt Exploration Society Egyptologist John J. Johnston.

Of particular interest and delight in this lineup of stories for this reviewer:

  • “Ramesses on the Frontier” by Paul Cornell opens the collection with a humorous look at an Egyptian Pharaoh who has to cross an unexpected afterlife–Modern America. Cornell gets some digs in on America, and shows right off the bat that a Mummy story can be funny instead of tragic.
  • “Tollund” by the ever erudite Adam Roberts goes right into alternate history with the tale of a set of archaeologists from civilized, powerful Egypt, investigating a burial site in Scandinavia. The role reversal of the location of the mummy and the cultural identity of the archaeologists is only the start of the story. Even so, the story takes an unexpected turn into an ending I didn’t see coming.
  • Readers of the Parasol Protectorate novels or the Finishing School novels already know the charms of Gail Carriger’s writing. In “The Curious Case of the Werewolf that Wasn’t, The Mummy that Was and the Cat in the Jar”, she takes us to Egypt in the universe of her work. There are no supernatural creatures in Egypt. Or are there? Just why are there archaeologists, templars and more bumbling about Luxor? It’s enough to ruin one’s appetite.
  • Den Patrick’s “All is Dust” is set in the modern day, with doings of uncomfortably reuniting college friends, theft, recreational drugs, and canopic jars. It’s a sharp story, excellently written, and a universe of questions and possibilities hovered for me between the penultimate and last paragraph.
  • What does honey-flavored candy, a lesbian romance and mummies have in common with each other? “Bit-U-Men” by Maria Dahvana Headley manages to triangulate these disparate threads into a story as sweet and satisfying as the best candy.

The Book of the Dead covers its topic satisfying well, and I recommend it to anyone remotely interested in the use of Mummies in genre fiction, especially in unexpected ways.