A Minor Malevolent Spirit
A Minor Malevolent Spirit and Other Tales is Drew Karpyshyn’s first short story collection. It presents ten stories ranging from characters like an undercover cop infiltrating a crime syndicate to a king claiming his right to rule in a wizard’s tower. Each story has a fantasy twist to it, be it a supernatural element or outright classic fantasy setting. There is also author notes for all of them so readers can get a behind the scenes look at how the story came about and Drew’s thoughts on each one. If you’re a fan of Karpyshyn’s storytelling, this is definitely a book you’ll want to check out.
All of the stories included in the collection were written previously, but not all of them were published and even the ones that were are hard to come by. On top of that, Drew touched some of them up in order to present the best stories for the anthology. Here’s a look at the stories and what you can expect.
“A Minor Malevolent Spirit” is a fun tale about a guy, a gremlin and bad choices. It’s a great pick to lead off the collection and it really stands out. Part of it is the novelty of placing it in a normal modern day setting. A guy walks into his basement and sees a gremlin huddled in the corner. What would it be like to meet a gremlin? What do they do? Are they evil? Through the story, you find out as the main character hires the gremlin for a job.
“It’s a Living” follows an assassin who is out to kill a wizard. This one is very much a typical fantasy type setting. However there are elements to it that make it unique and enjoyable. The assassin winds up in a blizzard, has to deal with his wife who is also an assassin, and runs into a turn of bad luck.
“Monster” is set in Croatia and captures the feel of the Bosnian War in the early 90s. There’s a guy called a Hunter who goes through the war torn city in search of Feeders. It’s never clearly stated what the feeders are, but they’re kind of like bestial vampires. They’re extremely hard to distinguish between normal humans, and it’s the Hunter’s job to find them and kill them. Yet the story isn’t just a simply vampire slayer story. Instead, it cranks up the morality factor by pressing the question of children. How do you handle the element of children who are vampires? What must it be like for the poor, sorry individual who has to hunt down those kids who have been turned into blood sucking vampires? Making it even more difficult, what happens when it’s not always easy to tell which kids are normal and which kids are the Feeders? It’s an interesting idea and one I wouldn’t mind Drew coming back to for a longer story format.
“Dead Men Usually Tell No Tales” starts out like a cop/gangster story. An undercover cop infiltrates a crime syndicate. He witnesses a murder and has all the evidence he needs to put the bad guy away. However the bad guy isn’t any normal gangster. He’s into the occult. Demons, spirits and gruesome battles for survival ensue as this story goes from normal to supernatural.
“Paradise Lost” is an intriguing look at the story of Adam and Eve. It has a different spin to it that throws the entire thing in a new light. What if the apple wasn’t the first sin, but the first test to see if they could overcome ignorance and fear? By doing so, the roles of Adam and Eve become reversed.
“Hydra” and “Us and Them” are two stories that both tackle the same idea. They’re included in part for the stories, but also as an insight into the creative writing process. “Hydra” was written first and explores the world of spies, memory conditioning, and the idea of a triple agent. Unsatisfied with the story, Drew tried writing the story again with “Us and Them”. The second story is very different. There’s more description of the setting, more connection with the character, and a change in settings. However the core idea of spies, memory conditioning and triple agents is still there. In the endnotes, Drew talks about how even with the second telling of the story, he still wasn’t happy with the way it turned out. By reading both stories and the author notes, you get a cool glimpse into Drew’s head and his creation process. You get an idea of the story elements he’s thinking about when his writing and the issues he’s struggling with in turning out a good story. Of all of the items included in the anthology, this one pulls the curtain back the most in showing what goes on behind the scenes.
“Castles and Kings” is another fantasy story. It follows a young man named Eric who is riding out to fulfill his claim as the rightful king of the land. Fighting bandits and waging wits with a wizard, he must prove he’s worth of the task. This leads him to playing a game of Castles and Kings which is kind of like a mix between chess, Stratego and Risk. The game is more than just moving pieces around as you have to roll dice which introduces an element of chance. Upping the ante, there’s a wizard’s glass mirror which allows the players to see the carnage of their game played out as if it were a real war being waged for the land. For the characters, this adds a human element as they have to watch their game pieces die. For them, it’s not just a faceless bishop being knocked off the board, but a trusted advisor and lifelong friend being killed on the battlefield. The end result is a neat story.
“Feast of the Gods” is the only true comedy in the book as does a good job of capturing humor. It’s a tale of the Aztec gods gathering for a feast to please Quetzalcoatl. Each god brings a dish as they compete for his favor. I won’t spoil the fun, but it’s a great addition to the collection touching on the colorfulness of the Aztec pantheon but telling it in a way that’s very down to earth and humorous. I really enjoyed it.
“Volsung Blood – A German Folk Tale” is the retelling of an Old English story. As Drew comments, it’s not a literal translation of the story, but it captures the brutal, shocking elements of the original tale. It follows a cast of characters caught up in marriages, alliances and racial purity as the Volsung and Goths struggle with each other. While I wouldn’t go so far as to say the story is enjoyable as some crazy stuff happens that makes it hard to relate or like the main characters, it’s definitely an eye opener to the kind of tales they told back then.
With story collections, you usually get a grab bag of different settings, characters, twists, turns and payoffs. More often than not, there will be a few duds in a short story anthology, and the number of good stories versus duds will determine if it’s a good book or not. However, A Minor Malevolent Spirit and Other Tales pulls together ten stories that are all worth reading. Even the weaker stories in the collection are made memorable by the author notes Drew Karpyshyn included which give an inside look as to what went into the story and why it turned out the way it did. Thus readers can get two levels of enjoyment out of this collection. On one hand, you get a bunch of fun stories to read. Some dive into the realms of horror, others play in the worlds of fantasy, but all of them offer something to enjoy. On the other hand, the stories and the notes give you a deeper understanding of the author. If you’re a Drew Karpyshyn fan, that’s a big payoff as it’s not often readers get to see that side of the stories. While it won’t take you long to read this collection, it’s definitely worth picking up. I give A Minor Malevolent Spirit and Other Tales a five out of five metal bikinis.
Reviewed By: Skuldren for Roqoo Depot.