Title: The Warning Signs—Tales of Horror and Dark Fantasy
Author: M. Ainihi
Genre: Horror / Fantasy
The Warning Signs presents twelve short tales, six of horror and six of fantasy, structured in three parts, linked by the subtly recurring motif of admonition.
Each of the six horror stories that open this collection are concerned with different subjects, but all are similar in the way in which they play with reader expectations.
Perception has an intriguing opening where the balance of power swings between the two main characters, and the reader is unsure who is prey or predator. The Warning is eerily disturbing with some nerve-shredding passages. The perspective change between May and Elisa, although a little confusing in parts, blurs the distinction between who is the more credible.
The Felling starts strongly, the thrust and parry of the dialogue between Jillian and the detective tensely constructed. However, it begins to lack coherence and the ending feels faintly comedic. Dead Already is more psychological but also plays with perspective to puzzle the reader and this is the only tale to be written in first person. The Interview is simple yet effective and reads amusingly in places.
The last in this section, The Other Side of the Door, is the standout. Written in a more economic, fast-paced style to the preceding stories, it’s precise, chilling, and creepy. It also nicely references the contemporary pandemic without being overdone.
Ainihi has explored some interesting, thought-provoking ideas within the horror shorts, and has not been afraid to do so with various narrative techniques. Some of the stories showcase their themes with more success than others, but all are curiously addictive to read.
Part II contains three “Tales from Sumir”. Ainhi takes the reader into a world of part-fantasy, part-myth complete with Jinn and Arcane Wizards. It’s clear from the easy way the prose flows and reads that the fantasy tales are, on the whole, a little stronger than the horror. Nonetheless, in contrast to the conversations in Ainihi’s horror writing, the dialogue between the various characters in this group, such as Bavmordia and Tarah, felt unconvincing and could have used more individuality.
Part III, “Day 32,854”, is an ambitious trio of connected stories in which the reader meets Amma, a human girl, and Yareli, the fish-woman. This last third of the book is more developed, the prose weighted with description and texture.
There is a vividly apocalyptic feel, the setting dystopian and increasingly hopeless. It makes for uncomfortable reading in places but is balanced by the second tale, which is written from Yareli’s viewpoint as she inhabits Amma’s human form and returns to her village.
The final story is Amma’s “alternate” version of events, taking the reader deeper into the fantastical landscape, littered with portents and premonitions. Once again, the reader is given a discrete interpretation which may or may not be fully representative. All three of the tales are heavy with dramatic irony and this section could certainly be part of, or worked into, a longer narrative.
This is a well-presented collection, the pencil illustrations used as chapter breaks are thoughtfully done, and the Lovecraft quote chimes neatly with both the horror and fantasy. There has been real care taken in structuring the compilation and, despite the differing concepts at work, all the tales are delicately threaded together with some common topics that are presented in diverse, creative ways.
The Warning Signs is an eclectic and imaginative collection. Ainihi capably straddles both horror and fantasy to serve up an intriguing assortment of dark and original tales that constantly twist and invert readers’ assumptions.
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