Ishtar – A novella collection – Review

Ishtar is a collection of three novellas by three Australian writers. Each story tells of the goddess Ishtar in a different time.

Kaaron Warren opens the book with a story from the past, The Five Loves of Ishtar. This story is told by the goddess’s washerwomen, her most devoted worshippers.

The style of this story is as old-fashioned as the setting, reading as an almost Biblical treatise, an apostles account of events. It’s fascinating storytelling and Warren does a great job of keeping a consistent voice, even as five washerwomen from five different times share tales of Ishtar’s great loves, as empires rise and fall. For Ishtar herself, time blurs and she doesn’t see her washerwomen as different people, but as one. Similarly, she has an immortal’s perspective on her lovers, viewing everything as tiny, passing, yet the same.

“Five mortals, five gods, who can say? She liked them better if she knew they could die. She didn’t like the idea of forever.”

It’s a brilliant realisation of god-like power.

The second story, set in present day Sydney, is Deborah Biancotti’s And the Dead Shall Outnumber the Living. This is a sharp, tight noirish tale, from the point of view of a detective, Adrienne Garner, working a case. Male prostitutes are being killed, in a horrific and inexplicable way. Their bones are turned to paste and their jellied bodies are understandably creeping out everyone who comes across them. As Garner investigates, she starts to uncover strange cults and old gods threatening the city.

Sydney is very much a character in this story and Ishtar herself crops up early on and refuses to be caught. This is quite different writing to the short stories from Biancotti that I’ve read before. It’s immediately more accessible and fast-paced. Garner’s leads are each stranger than the last and Biancotti keeps the tension up throughout, even though the odds are clearly against the detective. The ending of this story is truly epic, conjuring an enduring image, especially if you know Sydney Harbour. And let’s be honest, who doesn’t know Sydney Harbour, even if you’ve never been? The Harbour Bridge and the Opera House are as well known as the Taj Mahal or the Grand Canyon.

The third tale in the collection is Cat Sparks’ The Sleeping And The Dead. In this post-apocalyptic yarn in a burned out future, Dr Anna runs a clinic almost robotically, with little memory of her past or the world before the fires. She remembers a man she used to love, with a lion tattoo. When three near-dead travellers spark her memory, she sets out to find the lover she thought lost and ventures into the underworld searching for love and explanations.

This is a beautifully written piece, but at first it had me off-side. Ishtar isn’t it, though we suspect early on that we know who she is, and it reads more like a short story than the fuller novellas that came before it. But as the tale unfolds, leading where we knew it would, it grows into a much bigger tale that is ultimately satisfying.

This collection is a bold and clever book, with three writers taking very old stories and breathing new life into them. The Ishtar mythology on which the stories are based is renewed by the words of these three.

I enjoyed Biancotti’s story the most by far, definitely the standout for me, but the book as a whole is well worth your time. I’m a big fan of the novella and hope to see more of them. With any luck, books like this will help to prove the power of the form.

Ishtar is published by Gilgamesh Press.


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About Alan Baxter

Alan Baxter is a British-Australian author who writes dark fantasy, horror and sci-fi, rides a motorcycle and loves his dog. He also teaches Kung Fu. He is the author of the dark urban fantasy trilogy, Bound, Obsidian and Abduction (The Alex Caine Series) published by HarperVoyager Australia, and the dark urban fantasy duology, RealmShift and MageSign (The Balance 1 and 2) from Gryphonwood Press. He co-authored the short horror novel, Dark Rite, with David Wood. Alan also writes short fiction with more than 50 stories published in a variety of journals and anthologies in Australia, the US, the UK and France. His short fiction has appeared in Fantasy & Science Fiction (forthcoming), Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Daily Science Fiction, Postscripts, and Midnight Echo, among many others, and more than twenty anthologies, including the Year’s Best Australian Fantasy & Horror (2010 and 2012). Alan also writes narrative arcs and dialogue for videogames and wrote the popular writer’s resource, Write The Fight Right, a short ebook about writing convincing fight scenes. He has twice been a finalist in the Ditmar Awards.

5 thoughts on “Ishtar – A novella collection – Review

  1. Thanks for the review! :) Had a blast writing that novella. Always worried the effect would be, “well, at least the author was having fun”…

  2. Thanks Alan, always nice to see a balanced review and very pleased to have an early review on what promises to be a quality site!

  3. Pingback: Ishtar reviewed |

  4. I enjoyed this collection a lot. Three very powerful voices and three writers to be watched closely. Kaaron Warren was known to me before I read “Ishtar”, also a couple of Deborah Biancotti’s short fiction, while Cat Sparks was a mystery. Now I want to read more of them!
    As a matter of fact I am working now on my review of Deborah Biancotti’s “Bad Power”, an excellent collection of stories :)

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