Lisa L Hannett and Angela Slatter

Ticonderoga Publications (2012)

ISBN: 978 1 921857 30 0

Reviewed by Jason Nahrung

The pedigree of Midnight and Moonshine was promising from the outset, right down to the cover design. Artist Kathleen Jennings was nominated this year for her artwork at the World Fantasy awards. Lisa L Hannett of Adelaide has scored awards and mentions in Australia and her native Canada for her WFA-nominated solo collection of last year, Bluegrass Symphony, also published by Ticonderoga. Co-writer Angela Slatter of Brisbane is hot from a historic British Fantasy short story award win this year and has won acclaim for both of her collections – Sourdough and Other Stories (Tartarus Press) and The Girl with No Hands and Other Tales (Ticonderoga), both released in 2010 – as well as a slew of other shorts.

Not coincidentally, Hannett and Slatter have combined on Aurealis Award-winning short story “The February Dragon” and, most significantly for this collection, “Prohibition Blues”, both published in Ticonderoga titles.

So we have publisher, artist and writers, and what a winning combination it proves to be.

As in Bluegrass and Sourdough, Midnight and Moonshine is a set of stories sharing a common universe, and as with Sourdough, there is a degree of baton passing from characters throughout. Midnight and Moonshine ramps up this interconnectedness, tracing as it does magical bloodlines from a mythic inception across the 13 stories into the present day. Overshadowing this mosaic is the winged form of goddess Mymnir, whose ambition sets up the journey from self-aggrandising nation building to the ultimate twilight of the gods. And what a fascinating figure she is, both divine and all too human.

The trigger for this collection is, the authors tell us in the afterword, “Prohibition Blues”, originally published in this year’s Damnation and Dames, and the only reprint here. This delightful yarn, exemplary of the anthology’s focus on the interaction of Fae and humanity and gutsy women rising to the occasion, sent the pair on a journey of discovery: what came before, and what came after?

The answer is a fascinating exploration of the world of the Norse gods – given, one suspects, extra verisimilitude by way of being a doctoral subject of Hannett’s – and its blending with the mortal world over time.

The stories begin, appropriately, with “Seeds”, generating an aura of the mythic, and evolve through the fairytale styling of tales such as “The Morning is Wiser than the Evening”, to the latter earthy tales set in the New World, replete with bayou and voodoo and that particular touch of fairy dust wielded so effectively by both authors in their previous collections.

Adding to this sense of evolution is that each story is prefaced with a short extract from a text serving to anchor the yarn in time and place – myth, folklore and history – as well as provide an insight, however teasing or subtle, of what is to come.

For my money, the stories become more engaging on an individual basis as the collection advances, becoming less episodic and more singularly contained, though always serving to advance the underlying narrative of the events sent in train by Mymnir in those distant times when the gods first went away.

Sophie-Elisabet in the titular story “Midnight”, wise Delphine in Southern “Of the Demon and the Drum”, crafty Bella Beaufort, and the good-time gals of “Prohibition Blues” are among the standout characters who propel the tales of intrepid women defying their station that populate the collection.

In Susanna, imperilled mother of “Warp and Weft”, early colonial Australian tales of the lost child are brushed on with a magical touch, and she proves just as capable of handling the snake in the log pile.

In “Bella Beaufort Goes to War”, this advice is given about magic:

Make a mistake with this craft and you’ll suffer much worse than burnt curls. You need to concentrate: be certain before you speak. Words are weapons, girl—you can’t just fling them around, willy-nilly. Wield them carefully, accurately, else you’ll unleash a world of hurt—on others, sure enough, but first and foremost, on yourself. Stop and think.

So too in the writing craft, and here the two writers spin quite the spell of prose. Combined with the capacity of both writers to bring characters, both men and women, alive on the page, and to evoke a sense of place and mood with sublime brushstrokes, there is much to relish in Midnight and Moonshine.