Ajjiit by Sean A Tinsley

(7.0/10) I hope Ajjiit is only the first of many books in a new genre of reinvented and revitalized folklore.

Ajjiit means “likenesses” because that’s what this book represents: a collection of original short stories written in the tradition of Inuit folklore. According to the book’s introduction, the authors are “not retelling any pre-existent Inuit stories; not playing the role of mythologists, but only of writers.” In drawing upon the surreal trappings of Inuit myths and the spiritual philosophy of Arctic shamanism, co-authors Sean A. Tinsley and Rachel A. Qitsualik have created a work that walks the boundary between genres: part fantasy, part ancient myth, part horror. Here are stories about beings human and supernatural, using magic and a rich knowledge of the frozen landscape they inhabit to combat dark forces that threaten their lives.

All manner of demons and mythic folk populate these short, dense tales, but the stories I enjoyed most featured human characters, such as “Oil,” a haunting piece about a shamanic woman trying to leave her abusive husband. More of these stories could have benefited from the down-to-earth realism present in “Oil,” as reading this book is like solving a complicated logic puzzle. All the pieces of good narrative are there, but they are told (rather than shown) to us in such unconventional ways that we must work hard to understand what is going on and keep all the cross-references straight. Contributing to the opacity of the stories is the writing itself. Given the chance to embellish vague mythic concepts, the authors of Ajjiit maintain a serious, formal style appropriate to ancient epics or classic high fantasy. Some of the descriptions are precise but too complex (think The Lord of the Rings).

Is Ajjiit a unique and enjoyable book? Absolutely. Would simpler diction make it a better reading experience? Yes, it would. The tone is also appropriately dark and even gory throughout, reinforced by Andrew Trabbold’s black and white illustrations, which are beautifully rendered but decidedly creepy. I realize this is a matter of personal preference, however, and other readers may appreciate these legitimate artistic choices better than I. Despite its shortcomings, Ajjiit is a fascinating and original work that seeks to eliminate genre barriers and tap into the dreamlike sensibilities that lie at the root of humanity’s storytelling tradition. Readers of dark fantasy and horror with an interest in Arctic mythology should pick up this book. It’s a partial success for me, but I hope Ajjiit is only the first of many books in a new genre of reinvented and revitalized folklore.

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