As an avid reader and person with strong opinions, I’m always open to reviewing self-published or indie novels. I never actually seek out self-published authors, preferring to stumble upon them in random online conversations, but when I find someone with a book, I offer to read/review it. I get a free story; they get some publicity. Everyone wins.
Over the last four months, I’ve had three or four indie authors send me review copies of their first novels, happy to have someone look at them and spread the word. Of all of them, Aidan Moher is the only person who wrote something actually worth reading from start to finish.
Tide of Shadows and Other Stories is a collection of short stories that spans multiple styles and genres, covering gritty fantasy, dystopian science fiction, a fairy tale, and military science fiction. There are stories in first person, there are stories in third person, and there’s even a story with a quirky, charming omniscient narrator. Tonally too, they’re all different, ranging from the dark, aftermath of a battle won at heavy costs to the light-hearted rescue of a princess from a dragon.
It’s a varied collection of tales, and I never knew what I was going to be getting when I started the next story.
At first, I wasn’t sure if I liked this level of variety. The only short story collection I actively read these days is my giant H.P. Lovecraft tome, and all of his narratives are very similar in tone, style, and subject matter. It’s cohesive, and the only mysteries are the ones within the stories themselves. But the more I think about Moher’s collection, the more I like its somewhat-random approach to organization. Going from the emotionally-charged “The Girl with Wings of Iron and Down” to the bubblegum world of “Of Parnassus and Princes; Damsels and Dragons” was jarring at first, yet enjoyable too.
I appreciate that Tide of Shadows and Other Stories never once retreads the same ground.
I’m not going to go in depth on every story within this collection because we’d be here all day, but I will give each one a quick rundown on what I liked and didn’t like.
“A Night for Spirits and Snowflakes” kicks things off on a very, very high note. The story follows around the final survivor of a small battle as he buries the dead and thinks about life, the world, and war in general. It jumps between characters and tenses often, seamlessly working in world building and character development in a very tight confinement.
“A Girl with Wings of Iron and Down” is probably the best story of the collection, even if it’s a quintessential short story. All of the characters are mysteries, what’s going on is a mystery, the world is a mystery, and the tale ends with more questions and almost no answers. Yet it works. It’s a brilliant piece of writing, beautiful and surreal, and a story I’ll probably return to now and again. I hope Moher returns to it as well, because there’s a novel to be found in that world.
“Of Parnassus and Princes; Damsels and Dragons” is the aforementioned fairy tale and my favorite story in the collection. It starts off somewhat typically, with a spoiled prince off to save a princess from a dragon, but quickly spits in the face of every expectation you might have. It’s charming as hell and damn funny too. It ends perfectly.
It’s these first three stories that I think sell the collection.
“The Color of the Sky on the Day the World Ended” is a piece of flash fiction, somewhere in the 700-word range, and I don’t have much else to say about it. Given its wonderful title, I had expected more than what was delivered.
“Tide of Shadows” finishes the collection off, and given that it’s the name on the cover, I had pretty high expectations for it. The story is military science fiction, focusing on one soldier as he prepares for the large battle ahead. As a short story, I get it: hyperfocus on one element and make us care, but when it comes to military science fiction, I want big battles. There isn’t one, and while I liked everything present, I also feel like the story ended about ten pages too soon. I wanted to see the characters, monsters, alien planet, and motivations physically smash into each other, but they never do.
Following each story are author notes, where Moher discusses his writing approach and other aspects of writing in general. As a writer, I’m a big fan of author notes; I love learning how projects are built and finished. These serve well in that respect, though a few come off as a bit too pretentious.
Honestly, my biggest gripe with the collection itself is its length. The .PDF I received is only 80 pages long, which is about a night’s worth of reading for me. I’m a fan of big books, and if I’m looking at a collection of stories, I want a thick one.
That all being said, the first three stories really are wonderful and worth reading, and the two that follow certainly have their merits. Tide of Shadows and Other Stories is a good collection and one that gets my stamp of approval. I’m glad there are writers like Aidan Moher who are raising the standards of self-published books, because given the state of disarray many indie books are in when they show up in my inbox, we really need a higher bar.