'Cirque des Freaks and Other Tales of Horror' is a collection of short stories by Julian Lopez that all delve in and around the dark and mysterious for certain, though I didn't find all of them to read like horror. Perhaps that's just my perspective.
The anthology is fun though, the topics are fairly wide-ranging and there are some gems inside. It felt like a bit of a throwback to classic anthologies like the 'Hot Blood Series,' macabre.. but with plenty of allure.
It definitely starts with a bang. The first story, 'A Masked Camaraderie,' is an intriguing experience set at a masked ball in early 20th century Venice, where a group comes across a set of masks they don for the party that opens them up to unseen things. It's a rich mixture of sensuality and darkness, right out of the gate.. and I feel it really sets the tone for the collection.
'The Mariachi's Serenade,' is a bittersweet tale of love across generations. It has traditional ghost story elements with tragic longing intertwined throughout. What I love about this story and many in the book, is how visual they are. Lopez does a fantastic job of putting you right in the moment, letting you witness the scenes with such clarity.. I was left feeling I could easily commit them to illustrations.
"His gentle, masculine echo penetrated the narrow alleys and streets of the plaza, where all noise retired and descended into the night. It spiraled to the sky, where the stars and the endless dark surrounding them met to infinitely seal all secrets."
Likewise, as with the imagery.. he does a superb job of translating and conveying the emotions within his stories. He can write the pretty words like you see above, but he isn't so focused on them.. on trying to sound 'artistic'.. that he forgets the impact of simplicity. When he uses those terms, he uses them to his benefit and they stand out because they're infrequent.
There are a ton of really well done tales of irony and comeuppance. 'Queen of Hearts,' about someone rather spiteful and the deal they make that isn't quite what they expected. 'Loving Death,' a rather sweet story about the ferryman. The questions put to him and the result of his truthful answers, reminding me a bit of the fated glance backward in Persephone's story.
I loved 'The Mastaba of Niankhkhnum,' as well. I don't see a lot of stories set in the mythos of ancient Egypt and never one done with such a slow, seductive build. It's darkly rich and beautiful in its way.
"It yearns for my embrace because it hungers for you-- your secrets and your pose. It wants to re-create you."
My absolute favorite though.. was 'The Archangel's Canvas.' And I can sort of see, abstractly.. how one might interpret it as horror. It just didn't read that way at all to me. It read like a love story, preceded by a fall. There are these ominous warnings, but then.. perhaps because of the influence the main character is under, it just feels like bliss.
There are a couple that are a bit disappointing of course. A freakshow that has been done before, most fantastically in a 1932 black and white film, but again since, a number of times. A museum, that's a more graphic scene oriented version of 1953 cult classic film staring a master of horror. But all in all, it was a wonderful selection of stories and I truly enjoyed reading them.