Monday, May 02, 2016

The Insignia Series :: Book 3 Southeast Asian Fantasy

I've seen the Insignia series floating around on digital releases (Book 1 'Japanese Stories' in 2013 and Book 2 'Chinese Stories in 2014), but never bothered about it. Now that cavalock has a story inside, I downloaded this 2016 anthology of seven short stories- 'Insignia: Southeast Asian Fantasy (The Insignia Series Book 3)' edited by Kelly Matsuura. (Purchase for £1.40 on Amazon Kindle, or Smashwords at US$1.99.)

Set in Southeast Asia, Book 3 holds seven fantasy stories themed in two parts. Part I Adventure / Folktales sees stories written by Celestine Trinidad 'Horse Feet'Sheenah Frietas 'The Third Eye'Eve Shi 'Interlude', and Melvin Yong 'The Island'. Part II Adult / Literary Tales and Joyce Chng 'Running from Shadows'editor Kelly Matsuura 'Never Seen', and Eliza Chan 'Spirit of Regret'. They're fairly enjoyable, more so when I read them deep into the night with eerie shadows thrown by the reading lamp.

Melvin Yong's 'The Island' is the longest story of all. It also wraps up Part 1. Grinned as I read about protagonist Mark Yeo and his quest which arose from the discovery of his late grandfather's old letters. The author is obviously a fan of H.P. Lovecraft and his Cthulhu Mythos. The story references fish-like humanoids, and the Esoteric Order of Dagon, nicely meshing the worship that oddly came to Melaka and Singapura in those years when superstition and paganism reigned supreme. (Read Lovecraft's 'The Shadow Over Innsmouth'!) Except these new developments are set in contemporary Singapore, on Pulau Satumu (where Raffles Lighthouse sits. Its name means 'one tree' island) on the fateful night of the winter solstice. The story can only end in one way after so much drama- of Mark leaving his human form, becoming part of the Deep Ones and perhaps heading off to Y'ha-nthlei.

There was an almost reassuring sense of relief as I viewed the final moments of my mortal existence. Somehow, I understood that the life I had led for over three decades was coming to an end, and a new, eternal one was about to begin. 
By now, the salt water has reached my parched lips. The remaining creatures encircle me and together, we enter the ocean. I can feel my thoughts, my emotions, my very humanity starting to dissipate. A feeling of peace comes upon me. And then there is something else: an eons-old intelligence, vast and powerful, crawling into me. 
I welcome it. 

The writing is fine overall, except it can be a little stilted at various junctures. There are a number of typos that leapt out jarringly- say in 'The Third Eye', right at the start of the story, it went "She had too many dream and aspirations.", and in 'The Island'pulau suddenly became "Let me guess, the island is Palau Satumu and the local is my grandfather?". Typos like that are difficult to catch unless a larger number of proofreaders go through the book.

In Part II, Kelly Matsuura's 'Never Seen' talks about The Twelve, a magical circle of mages made up of young women who never marry or have children, and are destined become mages in, I think, Vietnam. The young women are deflowered by a King Amnuay, and aged overnight into a seventy-year old woman. It's suggested that young women are more fixated on physical beauty and youth, and once they age, they acquire a different type of beauty, inner strength, wisdom and awareness. The mages learn the spells of their ancestors and call the mists to protect their island and kingdom.

Young maiden of beauty no more, I join the circle of crones. I hold their wrinkled and shrunken hands, and drink the awakening potions they serve me. They sing, not quite the melodic chant of the monks last evening, but a warm, enveloping sound that tells me I'm accepted as their sister. 
We never speak of our lost allurement or envied traits—we are now all the same. Mothers of the new people, advisors to the king, and high mages of the fae lands.

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