Book Review: The Ink Slingers Guild Presents Into the Abyss (2013)

January 22nd, 2014 12:20 pm by Kelly Garbato

“Do you sparkle?”

three out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review through Goodreads’ First Reads program.)

A group of writers who come together for “support, inspiration and the occasional kick in the arse,” the Ink Slingers Guild has published two anthologies of its members’ work to date. Into the Abyss features ten essays (and one poem) based on one of the writing exercises performed at every ISG meeting. The authors were given three words – gravity, innocuous, and perilous – and directed to create a story that touches upon each concept. The result is an eclectic mix of noir (“The Scarab”), fantasy (“The Scarab,” “Sending Sally Home,” “The Heart of Ballion,” “Beginnings”), science fiction (“The Room,” “Revelation”), supernatural horror (“Jimmy,” “Complications,” “Rain”) and young adult fiction (“Jimmy”).

The Scarab – 1929, England. A PI discovers a strange, beetle-shaped amulet that transports him to ancient Egypt – and helps him unlock his destiny.

Sending Sally Home – A sweet fantasy romance in which a young woman, mistaken for a distant royal relative, is transported to another world where she falls in love with the wizard tasked with keeping vigil for her. From the title to the whimsical setting, the tale has a vaguely Whovian feel to it.

The Heart of Ballion – Ballion is a world created by men, not gods, as a safe haven for refugees. Forced to flee their own worlds by the genocidal Overlord, people from the worlds over are welcomed to Ballion by the Sorcerers, who open the Border at the direction of the Tower. But Ballion is also under attack: the Blackfire Riders have found a way in and are systemically destroying the Keystones, the heart of Ballion. Sorcerers Thryn and Aliell must transform Ballion in order to save it.

Jimmy – A suicidal teen befriends a ghost child while recovering from a overdose in the hospital. But what of those implants?

The Room – A gritty piece of science fiction about an evil, tentacled doctor; a genocidal madman; and two not-quite-friends who are searching for their best friend-slash-lover.

Beginnings – An elfin girl rescues a condemned man from the gallows and the two set off on a quest together. A somewhat charming tale, even if there’s not much to it. (It almost feels like a prequel to a novella.)

Revelation – The Foo Fighters (the extraterrestrials, not the band!) transport a soldier involved with Project X from 1944 to 2012, in order to stop the army from developing an electromagnetic weapon capable of capturing or even killing them.

The Quarter – A child receives a lesson in economics in the most unlikely of places.

Complications – Three friends find themselves caught up in a vampiric lover’s quarrel. It’s from “Complications” that I borrowed the title of this review.

Rain – A woman who can see ghosts returns to her family’s homestead in Oregon after the loss of her baby. Newly divorced from her abusive husband Jimmy, Loretta’s solitude is shattered when the local sheriffs swarm her property in search of an escaped felon. She doesn’t know him, but he seems to know her – he’s carrying a picture of Loretta in his wallet. But why?

Anthologies almost always run the risk of unevenness, and Into the Abyss is no exception. A few of the pieces would have benefited from heavier editing; for example, italicizing characters’ internal thoughts in “The Room” would make for an easier read, and missing punctuation abounds in “Revelation.” Some of the stories seem to suffer from interesting idea/poor execution syndrome – I just couldn’t get into “Revelation,” and “Jimmy” takes an unexpected and rather dark turn, the meaning of which I’m still struggling with (it almost seems pro-suicide, but that can’t be right!). And “The Quarter” just feels out of place, given the fantasy/scifi bent of most of the other stories.

On the plus side, “The Room” is a highly enjoyable read, and “Sending Sally Home” is straight-up adorable. (Oh, to have a magical paramour who is willing to bend time and space for you!) Though I’m not super-into fantasy, “The Heart of Ballion” and “Beginnings” both held my attention.

The real gem of this collection, however, is “Rain” – a truly enchanted tale that on its own is worth the price of admission. (Also, bonus points to the author for her most creative use of the three exercise words!) Normally I regift used books in some way, particularly if I don’t foresee reading them a second time – but Into the Abyss has a permanent place on my bookshelf, thanks in no small part to “Rain.” It really does sparkle.

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

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