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Shapeshifters (Fox Pockets 2) published by Fox Spirit

Forget everything you know about the big bad wolf.

It’s not that simple any more. Here are werewolves, skin walkers, demons and unknown dangers. Nothing can be relied upon, not species not shape, not gender.

In this second Fox Pocket collection of short flash fiction we explore what happens when nothing is what it seems.

You’ll need more than a red hood this time.

The idea of this collection immediately appeals. It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of weres and shapeshifters. Hell, I‘ll even go so far as admit I was a devotee of Manimal back in the day (oh yeah, I went there). The promise of an entire book full of shape-shifting tales is just too good to pass up. Fifteen stories from fifteen different authors, each promising insight into the animal within.

Here are some of the standouts –

Carlos by K.A. Laity – Poor old Carlos. Everyone deserves the chance to indulge in the thing that they love, but the life of a shape-shifting rodent isn’t always a happy one. This rather beautiful little story ends on a pitch perfect bittersweet note.

Eigi Einhammr by Rahne Sinclair – Harald has been caught poaching the King’s land and faces three full days and nights in the stocks for his crime. A hungry predator watching from the edge of the forest has other ideas. This particular tale has the notable honour of featuring a scene that made me make that special “Euuuww” sound that I reserve for when things get properly icky. I always enjoy dark historical fantasy especially when it comes with a properly gruesome edge.

Bultungin by Joshua Reynolds – On the streets of Lagos, John Dollar works for the violent gang boss Macumbe. He dreams of escape. Perhaps the hyenas can show the way? This story does a good job of effectively blending together elements of traditional African mythology with a modern crime drama.

Reliquary by Rob Haines  – Malik visits the Shifting House, willing to give away everything he owns just for an opportunity to face the ghosts of his past and grieve for them. A shapeshifter provides the window for Malik’s grief. The premise of this story works very well.

A Cloud Like a Bunny by K C Shaw – Airships, piracy and a cloud that is far more sinister than it first appears. Jo and Lizzy aren’t the best sky pirates in the world but they do know how to take advantage of a situation. A complete change of pace from anything else in the collection. More an overt fantasy with a steampunk flavour. This reads like an episode of a much larger story. I think I could happily read an entire novel of Jo and Lizzy’s adventures.

Javier Reborn by Alec McQuay – Javier is brought back from the brink of death by nano-technology. His tiny guardian angels will use anything they can to rebuild him, even when some of the ingredients aren’t strictly human. Javier is about to discover what it means to be next-gen. I really liked this science fiction take on shape-shifting. The story work was a real highlight. I always like it when a short story leaves me wanting more.

Metamorphic by S. J. Caunt – Over the course of sixty days Henry becomes Alice and Jess becomes Harvey. Rather than focussing on changing species this tale takes a look at changing gender. What are the emotional implications of discovering the person who lies beneath your skin?

That’s just a little less than half the stories in this anthology. There are another eight gems from Margret Helgadottir, Fran Terminiello, Michael Pack, Fiona Glass, Jonathan Ward. Emma Teichmann, Jenny Barber and Den Patrick. There is everything from metaphorical sheep to rookie serial killers and much more besides. As I said before, I loved it all.

Where else are you going to find so many different genres co-existing so harmoniously? Traditional horror rubbing shoulders with steampunk, dark fantasy and science fiction, I felt spoiled for choice. Fox Spirit have left the submission themes for the Fox Pocket series deliberately ambiguous and this ambiguity has paid dividends. All the stories are loosely Shapeshifter related but every author has managed to stamp their own unique interpretation of the theme on their fiction.

This book also made me realise something else about short story collections I hadn’t ever spotted before. I much prefer anthologies that feature multiple authors. Knowing that each new story will come from a new voice makes for a far more dynamic reading experience.

I’m looking forward to the next Fox Pockets anthology already. Bring on the Guardians!

Shapeshifters is published by Fox Spirit and is available now in paperback, and will shortly be released electronically

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