I first became interested in Richard H. Fay’s short stories due to comparisons to two different authors. I didn’t know the exact titles at the time. I knew reviewers compared him to Lord Dunsany and Sheridan Le Fanu. That was enough to send me off to Amazon, where I purchased Four by Fay, a collection of four previously published fantasy stories.
The stories are “An Evil in Carnlinton,” “Vengeance of the Alpe,” “Father Ryan’s Fright,” and “Sing the Bones Alive.” Over the past few days, these stories have provided my daily short story.
“An Evil in Carnlinton” is a straightforward story of a knight seeking justice for a bandit. Of course, this is no ordinary bandit but a half-ogre who has murdered a virgin and desecrated a church. In this quest, he must enter the haunted ruins of Carnlinton, a city abandoned before his birth, in pursuit of the villain. The evil he finds there and his fight to overcome it are a satisfying tale.
“An Evil in Carnlinton” is the story that drew comparisons to Dunsany. That was obvious early on in the language that opens the account. Unique and medieval word choices in vital locations gave the story the kind of combined savory and sweet flavor I associate with foods from SCA feasts. Lyrical descriptions provide a strong sense of place. The language does have some clunkers, perhaps more apparent by the more lyrical prose surrounding them, but you pass over them without them jarring you out of the story.
“Vengeance of the Alpe” is a simple “evil wizard curses a woman who rejects him” tale. Again, there is a lyric character to the language, which creates a fairy tale atmosphere. The story is not as strong as the prior one, however. It is a short tale, so the weaker story is enough to sustain it.
“Father Ryan’s Fright” is the other tale compared to an earlier author, this time the ghost story writer Sheridan Le Fanu. For me, it had elements of M. R. James. That it evokes, both authors’ styles could be due to Le Fanu and James being ghost story writers of the second half of the 19th century. This short tale, the shortest in the book, feels like a Victorian ghost tale. It tells the story of an Irish priest unhappy with his parishioners continuing to believe in the old stories of fairies. Its emphasis on a faerie ring, as opposed to a ghost, gives it a Celtic feel and fits the Irish setting. Perhaps this argues for a Le Fanu as opposed to James feel.
“Sing the Bones Alive” ends the collection with its best story. The singer is an angry wizard on the hunt for an ogress. I don’t want to say anymore because the story does an excellent job of telling about the resolution of two causes of anger. The ogress hunt is a straightforward story, but the internal story to go with it sneaks up on you. The language is not as flourished here, but the prose still has a lyrical quality. The idea of singing spells, so common these days, is executed subtly. This contrast to the modern magical bard is refreshing.
A common feature of all the stories is an Irish or general Celtic setting. That dreamy feel so much Celtic influence fantasy tries to capture comes across. Language, of course, is a vital part of this feeling.
One final note is the structure. Even though a collection of four short stories that aren’t even 20,000 words total may not need good structure, it will benefit from it. The two strongest tales book-end the collection. The order of the internal two isn’t as important as it might be in a book of ten, but have the weakest story second is a good choice.
I enjoyed reading these tales. For the price, it was an excellent buy. I recommend it to fans of Dunsany, old ghost stories, and fantasy outside of the two major modern modes, epic quest or gritty swords and sorcery.
7 out of 10.