The Double Shadow. (Book Review)

Charles De Lint

The Double Shadow, by Clark Ashton Smith, Wildside Press, 2003, $15.

Let me get my carps out of the way first: The Double Shadow has, hands down, one of the worst covers it's been my misfortune to run across in years--and trust me, I see some bad ones. I can't imagine the cover inviting anyone to pick it up in a bookstore, except perhaps to show it in disbelief to a friend before hastily shelving it once more.

Less important, but still aesthetically displeasing, is the inside layout: the text has the appearance of being double spaced, making it look like a manuscript, rather than a finished book.

They're unfortunate choices because neither element will attract most readers, especially not contemporary readers accustomed to more attractive packaging and design who might not be familiar with Smith's work.

The good news is that these six stories are fine examples of Smith's exotic storytelling talents. They're full of strange names, curious landscapes, and convoluted plots, all decked out in a prose that might seem overwritten, but is actually quite charming in the same way that a good print of an old black-and white film can be. You enter the story slightly amused at the quaintness of it all, but the storytelling soon pulls you in and you forget everything but the events that are unfolding.

These stories originally appeared in a limited edition pamphlet, self-published back in 1932, and most of them haven't seen print since--certainly not in the author's preferred text. Although "The Maze of the Enchanter" has been subsequently reprinted in an edited version, the other stories aren't familiar to this reader who was introduced to Smith's work through Lin Carter's series of fantasy reprints, the wonderful classics that appeared from Ballantine under the Unicorn banner in the early seventies.

If you're interested in the history of the field, and aren't familiar with Smith, this slim collection makes an excellent introduction to his writing. For a touchstone to Smith's work, you could say that his stories fall into those borderlands where the books of Lord Dunsany and H. P. Lovecratt might meet.

The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, June 2004 v106 i6 p34(2) COPYRIGHT 2004 Spilogale, Inc. Reprinted by permission of the author.

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