The Overneath is a new collection of short stories by Peter S. Beagle, the writer of The Last Unicorn (1968). I enjoyed all thirteen of these stories, and found it difficult to single out favourites. They are all of the highest quality and cry out to be read. These gems cover genres including fantasy, science fiction, supernatural horror, and steampunk. For fans of The Last Unicorn, there are two stories which feature one of Beagle’s most beloved characters, Schmendrick the magician.
The following stories impressed me the most:
“The Story of Kao Yu” – One of my favourites, this is a lovely and touching short story about justice and the heart. It tells the tale of an aging judge, a beautiful pickpocket, and a ‘chi-lin’ or Chinese unicorn. Beagle’s prose is a pleasure to read. It seems deceptively simple at first, yet is filled with truth, emotion and wisdom. To be able to write like this, ah, it’s nice to dream.
“The Queen Who Could Not Walk” – A tale of love, royalty, and unlikely friendship. The kings and queens of this land ‘are not born to royalty, but selected’. So, there comes a time when ‘they must step down’ and cast off their royal robes. We learn what becomes of the queen when she must live the life of a beggar.
“Kaskia” is a surprising little story which has fun with the “Don’t push that button” scenario. It begins as a kind of comedy but transforms into something more emotional and touching.
“Great-Grandmother in the Cellar” is a wonderfully dark fairy tale with a great ending. A boy’s sister is put under a sleeping spell by a courting witch boy. He will only wake her if her family agrees to his demand: her hand in marriage. His magic is strong, and he is confident of getting his way. But Grandmother’s bones may still have something to say in the matter.
“Underbridge” – This is a creepy story about a Troll which really does lurk under a bridge in Fremont, Seattle. (It’s a public sculpture that was built in 1990.) Peter Beagle has fun with this tale of a professor and a wino who meet near the troll at night. The wino warns the professor to keep his distance, but will the learned man listen?
“The Very Nasty Aquarium” – An old lady has a beautiful aquarium. One day, she buys an antique pirate figurine for the fish tank. But after she adds the pirate to the aquarium, strange things begin to happen to the water.
Here are some quotes from the stories:
‘But I explained to him, any number of times, that magic is not permission. That everything in this world costs,’ –The Green-Eyed Boy
‘The pickpocket, as it turned out, was a young woman of surpassing, almost shocking beauty: small and slender, with eyes and hair and skin to match that of any court lady Kao Yu had ever seen,’ – The Story of Kao Yu
‘Put her in a room with ninety-nine perfect choices and one heartless scoundrel, and she will choose the villain every time.’ – Great-Grandmother in the Cellar
‘They are huge creatures, easily the size of Greek bulls, with double hooves, tails like lions, hides like thick leather plates—and that horn!’ – My Son Heydari and the Karkadann
The Green-Eyed Boy
The Story of Kao Yu – First time in print (2017 Locus Award finalist)
My Son Heydari and the Karkadann – First time in print (appeared in a Humble Bundle limited ebook edition)
The Queen Who Could Not Walk
Trinity County, CA: You’ll Want to Come Again and We’ll Be Glad to See You!
The Way It Works Out and All
Schmendrick Alone – First publication
Great-Grandmother in the Cellar
The Very Nasty Aquarium – First publication
Music, When Soft Voices Die
Olfert Dapper’s Day
The Overneath comes with my highest recommendation. For lovers of timeless stories everywhere.
[Thanks to Tachyon Publications and NetGalley for the e-ARC. All opinions are my own.]