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Shadow Atlas: Dark Landscapes of the Americas
Joshua Viola, Carina Bissett, Hillary Dodge, Owl Goingback, Josh Malerman, Lee Murray, Marge Simon, Christina Sng, Tim Waggoner, Jane Yolen, E. Lily Yu
Few fiction anthologies boast as irresistible a hook as Shadow Atlas. A series of ersatz letters, memos, and other (occasionally redacted) intelligence agency documents establishes the premise: for centuries, the field agents of the secret society Umbra Arca have traveled the globe to “bear witness and record the ‘shocking truths’ behind various myths and legends,” truths assembled at scriptoriums into “shadow atlas”es, secret tomes that resist giving up their knowledge even if you somehow happen to come across one. With bursts of poetry, ace illustrations, and the feeling throughout of paging through a forbidden government dossier, Shadow Atlas compiles stories and visions of indigenous folklore from across the Americas.

Blending horror, secret history, and a spirit of adventure, this delicious collection showcases creatures of American myth like the xtabay, a Mayan demon from the Yucatán Peninsula in a standout story from Julia Rios, but also digs deep into character and the present, as in Christa Wojciechowski’s piercing “Blood Sisters,” a Colombian misadventure in which tourists, lit up on aguardiente, brush up against something ancient. The playful, engaging framing device of a Pathfinder-like ancient society is at productive odds with the searching, sometimes pained feeling of the stories themselves, many of which—like Juliana Spink Mills’s “Moon Under Mangroves,” which centers on a “crab prince” in a Brazilian national park—find tourists adrift in our contemporary existence and then either shaken further or curiously emboldened by an encounter with the uncanny.

Others take the perspective of their cryptozoological subjects: “Patriarchy held my head beneath swirling silt-rich waters / demanding submission,” opens Kathryn Reilly’s poem “Iara,” about a Brazilian mermaid siren whose song lures sailors to their death. “Scenting males, I sing, luring lust to the river’s edge.” Dead serious in its horror, yet delightful and inviting in its design and conceit, Shadow Atlas is a rare, beguiling treat, a collective fantasy with teeth, vision, and grounded in urgent, ancient truths.

Takeaway: This dazzling anthology finds fresh horror, adventure, and mystery in the indigenous folklore of the Americas.

Great for fans of: David T. Neal and Christine M. Scott The Fiends in the Furrows, Shane Hawk’s Anoka.

Production grades
Cover: A
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: A
Editing: A
Marketing copy: A