The Alchemy Press Book of Ancient Wonders
Edited by Jan Edwards and Jenny Barber
“When we think of a wonder, our minds go most often to the great buildings of the past – the pyramids, the Taj Mahal, Stonehenge – but the human mind can make almost anything wondrous. We walk with wonders every day, through the power of curiosity and imagination and our human tendency to make stories about what we fear, what we desire, what we wish to understand. This collection offers new glimpses into the wonder we all feel.” – Kari Sperring
Discover standing stones, burial mounds, ruined castles or sunken cities: the ancient sites that litter our landscapes; the ancient wonders that possess a mysterious appeal that cannot be denied.
Cover painting by Dominic Harman.
- Karri Sperring – Introduction
- Adrian Tchaikovsky – Bones
- James Brogden – If Street
- Shannon Connor Winward – Passage
- Pauline E. Dungate – One Man’s Folly
- Anne Nicholls – Dragonsbridge
- Peter Crowther – Gandalph Cohen and the Land at the End of the Working Day
- Misha Herwin – The Satan Stones
- Lynn M. Cochrane – Ringfenced
- Bryn Fortey – Ithica or Bust
- Adrian Cole – The Sound of Distant Gunfire
- William Meikle – The Cauldron of Camulos
- John Howard – Time and the City
- Selina Lock – The Great and Powerful
- Aliette de Bodard – Ys
“A dazzling collection of stories – all centred around Ancient Monuments or objects: tombs, stone circles, a cauldron, a Folly. Spanning a range of genres and settings – Roman Britain, far-off fantasy civilisations, modern-day here and now. There’s also plenty of scope in the moods and themes of the stories: tragedy, a yearning for better things, flights of fancy made real, political power play and more. Continuing the trend of great collections from this award-winning Press, this is a great collection!” — DJP
“I thoroughly enjoyed this compilation of 14 short stories, which blend modern day reality with myth and magic from different cultures – although with a distinct tilt towards ancient Albion … Each piece has a distinct style and tone. Some lean towards the fantastical, magical or sinister, while a few get to grips in gritty fashion with the rites and rituals of times gone by. The action switches between eerie fields of standing stones to woad-soaked warriors; from meandering students in the 21st century to bronze age burial barrows and worlds that have long since been washed away. It’s not all ancient history, however: one of the best tales takes place after-hours in a New York gin joint in an episode of inspired urban fantasy. Sometimes we meet the gods face to face: in other episodes we’re only vaguely aware of supernatural forces seeping into our existence … Too often, short stories are just tasters which leave the reader unfulfilled – almost all of these contain a complete narrative, a satisfying set-up and resolution (although some intriguing aspects inevitably retain their mystery – as they should!). An entertaining escape into ‘what if’ worlds. I’ll look out for other compilations from this publisher in future. 8/10.” — Rowena Hoseason
.”The introduction says that “the human mind can make almost anything wondrous” and this anthology aims to do just that. The themes are varied, such as the workmanlike writing in William Meikle’s ‘The Cauldron of Camulos’, a sword and sorcery tale exploring Arthurian themes in Celtic and Saxon England. Superior to that is Adrian Tchaikovsky’s futuristic fantasy ‘Bones’, concerning an archaeological dig for some monstrous bones. Two of the better stories of ancient wonders explore what happens when the ancient world impinges on ours. In Pauline E. Dungate’s ‘One Man’s Folly’, during a visit to a tower in Birmingham that inspired Tolkien in The Lord of the Rings, an Asian student glimpses far-off worlds through its windows. This seems to offer her an escape from her strictly religious Muslim upbringing. James Brogden’s ‘If Street’ is set on The Wrekin hill in Shropshire and its historic world impinging on the modern day is that of the Romans. Again the ancient world seems to offer an escape, in this case for a boy with an unhappy home life. Both of these tales are well written and explore their intertwining themes effortlessly. This is also true of ‘Ys’ by Aliette de Bodard, which takes Breton legends for its subject, along with a young woman who has been made pregnant by the goddess, but whose unborn child has a congenital heart defect. But far and away the best tale in the book is Peter Crowther’s ‘Gandalph Cohen and the Land at the End of the Working Day’. Stream of consciousness writing gives this unusual story set in a New York bar a sense of some great and unfolding mystery. Amongst the foibles and anxieties of its disparate characters, the city itself materializes as a player in its own right. Great writing and well drawn characters make this is story you won’t forget in a while. A varied selection of fourteen stories, plenty for the reader of dark fantasy to enjoy.” — DA Sutton
“There’s a little of something for everyone between these pages … despite my own personal preferences, isn’t it a good thing that we can all see something different and like a variation on a theme. I mean I love anchovies but many would turn up their noses; there’s little here to turn your nose up about. Well edited to create a nice balance of differing sub-genres. So when you’re out fishing for a book, cast a line into this pool of tales and just shrug off the one that doesn’t bite and land and enjoy the one that takes your imaginary bait.” — Flatfield
“Being an old alchemist myself who took some time to get over the phlogiston theory, I was intrigued to see what was going on at The Alchemy Press. If you have not encountered them before, I would check out the website. This isn’t a weird and wonderful collection of 1960s hippies with crystals, wind chimes and astrology charts. Nothing like that here! Rather, it’s a site where you’ll find lots of interesting collections of stories and articles which have as a basis our past, our culture and the more mysterious aspects of our lives. I was actually quite impressed!
This particular collection contains 14 stories which have as their basis our history, sometimes with archaeological connections and stone circles with Celtic beginnings. You’ll be travelling back to ancient Rome, New York and even an Ithaca in space. However, the main link between all the stories is the quality of the writing which is very good. In selecting the works, the editors must have looked to readability as a major facet. They are all certainly very readable.
To give an example, “If Street” by James Brogden is all about a couple of childhood friends living near the site of a Roman settlement in Britain. As boys who investigated everything, they were intrigued by an old Roman road. One of the characters disappeared, to come back many years later. He had been living in the past as a Roman soldier fighting against invaders.
Bryn Forley’s “Ithaca Or Bust” is a parody of the legend of Troy, only the characters are vastly different. Taking place in a stellar empire, the beings have two heads, four arms and legs and are about five metres tall. Much of the conversation is between the two heads, one logical and thoughtful with the other forthright and adventurous. It makes for interesting reading.
It would be difficult to pick out a favourite story from out of the 14 available due to the fact that they are distinctly different despite having a common theme as their basis. Alchemy Press seem to have a large number of anthologies and according to their website, they are actively looking for new writers. This may represent a good opportunity for aspiring and established writers. I’m not sure what terms and conditions apply, so it would be best to make enquiries first. They do, however, have a comprehensive list of writing requirements.
This volume was produced in print format a few months ago and now it’s available in Kindle and other formats. Being available from Amazon, it should probably sell reasonably well. It’s a sort of book you could carry about and dip into at any time and if you like this type of fiction, it represents a good purchase and one to recommend.” — Rod MacDonald./ SFCrowsnest
“This is another one of those reviews that has taken a lot longer to get round to than I had first imagined. The reason for this is I think that ancient wonders contained within its pages were conspiring to make my life difficult. During my time reading this anthology the book decided to disappear. I hunted high and low looking for this book, and both times it mysteriously appeared on a book shelf that I checked at least twice. Trust me, there are strange and wondrous powers working within this book.
With a title like this, you would hope that the stories contained within are ones that will elicit a feeling of joy and wonder, and perhaps a few that are tinged with a slight darkness. Thankfully, the anthology does this with great aplomb. The stories on offer are of an extremely high standard in terms of the quality of writing but more importantly they have that magic edge that makes them special. That ability that brings a wide-eyed smile to your face. A lot of the stories have similar themes, of time travel, the ancient world impinging on ours, and the legends of old, but each story lives out it’s own fabulous world in the anthology.
The opening story, “Bones” by Adrian Tchaikovsky, is a brilliant story of an archaeological dig for some monstrous bones, and that has a fabulous and subtle twist to the tale. Adrian packs a lot into this story, to the point that you get a real feel for this futuristic society of… Well you’re going to have to read the book to find out what they are.
Following on from this is perhaps my favourite story of the anthology: “If Street” by James Brogden. This story will strike a perfect chord with every male reader; don’t lie, I know everyone of you dreamed of being a Roman soldier as a kid, and probably still do. “If Street” reads like one of those classic Sunday afternoon dramas: there is wonder, danger, sadness and the loss of childhood innocence. It’s also full of great ideas, such as what happens to the Romans when they make the journey across the veil into our world. Excellent stuff.
William Meikle’s “The Cauldron of Camulos” is a rip-roaring take on Arthurian England, told with Meikle’s spectacular gift to entertain the reader.
Peter Crowther’s “Gandalph Cohen and the Land at the End of the Working Day” is one of those unusual stories that in theory shouldn’t work, but somehow manages to be one that is just pure genius.
The Alchemy Book of Ancient Wonders is one of those anthologies that really does live up to the title. This is fourteen stories of pure magic, that will whisk to lands full myth, magic, and adventure.” — Jim McLeod / Ginger Nuts of Horror