Review: Ishtar (edited by Amanda Pillar)

Ishtar is a collection of three novellas by authors Kaaron Warren, Deborah Biancotti and Cat Sparks. The three novellas are split into Ishtar Past (Kaaron Warren), Ishtar Present (Deborah Biancotti) and Ishtar Future (Cat Sparks). They are all quite different, in terms of subject matter and also stylistically.

Warren’s story is called “The Fives Loves of Ishtar”. This story is set in Ishtar’s heyday, and like a lot of Warren’s work features themes and layers that build upon themselves. Ishtar is seen through the eyes of her washerwomen, and is convincingly realised through their observations. You get a real sense of her lush, careless nature, flawed and tempestuous, cruel but devoted to her loves (until they bore her). The historical surrounds and the snippets of life in ancient cultures are fascinating and lend colour to the story. The style of this story is more stately, achieving a formal, timeless feel. I think this story would have been the most difficult to write, as Warren had to do a lot of research and was bound by mythology. It would have been easy to just recount history tied in with mythology but I think she has done a great job of giving us a compelling story, and painting a fabulous character in Ishtar.

Biancotti has written a modern day detective story called “And the Dead Shall Outnumber the Living.” Adrienne is a detective trying to discover the mystery behind the deaths of male prostitutes in Sydney. This story is fast paced and familiar in its prose. I’m not as grabbed by detective stories but I have to say as the story wound up to its finale I was hooked. The ending packs a real punch.

“The Sleeping and the Dead” is the title of Sparks’ story, a post-apocalyptic tale filled with fragments and memories and strangeness. The style here is informal but bizarre, as we are treated to a world very different to our own. Dr. Anna is an odd character at first, but watching her character arc is, dare I say, fun and satisfying. I like where Sparks’ imagination has taken us here.

Each story stands alone but they also build upon each other. I can’t pick a favourite as they all too different; each story has its strengths and weaknesses, possibly boiling down purely to reader taste. I’ve walked away from the book with a new respect of and interest in Ishtar, and Assyria more generally.

On a personal note, there was a technical glitch when I ordered the ebook, and I have to say Mark Deniz, the founder of Gilgamesh Press, was extremely helpful (as was Kaaron Warren who helped me get in contact with him). So big kudos to small press and approachable authors!

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