NR: Shadowcats

And for our last blog entry of 2021 we have #14 in the Black Shuck Shadows series, a collection of feline themed works by Anna Taborska, aptly titled Shadowcats.

The book opens with a poem, “I, Cat”, which beautifully captures the mystique of our furred friends, the way in which aloofness and disdain is part of their nature, combined with a side that is slightly sinister. Of course it doesn’t tell the whole story about cats, just the part that makes them suitable for the roles of witch’s familiar and horror writer’s muse.

This theme continues in “The Cat Sitter”, where Jane travels to a remote house where she is to cat sit for her friends while they enjoy a weekend away, only the surrounding Ash Woods seem threatening and Jane finds herself sleep walking into them at night, with only the intervention of the cat to keep her safe. Jane’s friends return from their holiday to find her strangely changed. At the heart of this story is a classic horror trope, that in which an ancient curse is played out in the present day, and certain people get their just desserts. The characters are appealing and the isolated setting is suitably minatory, and made even more so by what Jane learns of its past. The cat plays its role to purrfection (sorry, couldn’t resist), and when it came to the story’s end game added a grace note of pure menace, though as victim rather than furred fiend.

“Schrödinger’s Human” is the story of an academic who, as a child, liked to torture and kill small creatures, these events related in a chillingly matter of fact tone. As an adult he falls under the spell of a monstrous moggie and graduates to much bigger prey. It’s a gory little chiller, that’s guaranteed to appeal to readers who like to see bad people get their comeuppance. To quote from a previous review I did of the story when it appeared in Taborska’s debut collection For Those Who See Monsters (see elsewhere on this site) – ‘the tale reminiscent somewhat of Poe’s “The Black Cat”, as seen in a mirror darkly, and with a gratifying final twist to top some of the scenes of violence that precede it’. On this reading the story reminded me more of Dahl than Poe, but either is good.

Relocation to the country does not end well for “Bagpuss”, and subsequently his young owner goes mad in a spectacular way. I wasn’t that taken with this story when I read and reviewed it in Monsters but like a fine wine it seems to have improved with age (or maybe it’s me who has improved) and this go round I liked it well enough. To quote the positive from that previous review – ‘Emily’s annoyance at being relocated to the country came over strongly and the way in which the action is told through her youthful perspective worked rather well.’ At bottom it’s a tale that underlines how grief can unmake us, and how bad things can get if that grief doesn’t find an appropriate outlet.

Finally in “Marked” a pub cat of rare pedigree singles out those of a certain inclination. It’s a clever piece, with the atmosphere of The Organ Grinder pub adding a certain dishabille charm to the narrative, and a great way to end this enjoyable collection. Even if you identify as ‘a dog person’, chances are you’ll have a good time with these felines.

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