Edited by Carina Bissett, Hillary Dodge, and Joshua Viola
Shadow Atlas: Dark Landscapes of the Americas is an anthology of short stories, poetry, and artwork loosely connected by the tale of an underground society, the Umbra Arca. Sam and Dean Winchester would have belonged to the Umbra Arca, as would Indiana Jones and Peter Venkman and Abraham Von Helsing. I say this not to minimize or ridicule, but to give an idea of the manner in which the editors’ fictionalized-scholastic approach combines academia with spine-tingling creepiness and absolutely riveting adventure.
The setup is thus: the Umbra Arca Society is an association of historian/adventurers who travel the world looking for the truth about local legends. The Society is broken into four groups (one for each cardinal point of the compass) and each group “had but one purpose and mission: to explore ‘hidden realms’ that apparently exist all around us, and to bear witness and record the ‘shocking truths’ behind various myths and legends.” Each historian reports back to archivists in their home office, who preserve the information in their quadrant’s Shadow Atlas. One postulant has gone rogue and reported the Society to the FBI, and their transcripts – as well as editorial e-mails and letters pro- and con- various mythoi from various scholars – round out the book.
But it’s the stories that are the real treasure here. From relative newcomer Christa Wojciechowski’s simultaneously creepy and hilarious “Blood Sisters” to the illustrious Jane Yolen’s densely-packed “The Shadow Atlas” poems, the reader arises, dazed, from the depths of one tale only to fall headlong into the chasm of the next one. Special shout-out to Mercedes M. Yardley’s visceral “Sand and Salt,” which is going to have me listening closely to the shrieking wind for years to come.
It is my fervent hope that Bisset, Dodge, and Viola are already working on Shadow Atlas: Europe. This was a splendid ride.