Friday, July 27, 2012

Book Review - The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences: Tales from the Archives

Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences: Tales from the Archives by Pip Ballantine, Tee Morris et al.
Published by: ImagineThat! Studios
Publication Date: August 23rd, 2011-June 17th, 2012
Format: Kindle
Rating: ★★★
To Buy Collection 1
To Buy Collection 2
To Buy Collection 3
To Buy Collection 4

Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris have been more willing than most authors to embrace the possibilities of new media. Not surprising when you look at their bios and realize how much they have done with podcasts, facebook, twitter, all of which Tee has spoken on. So short e-pub stories don't seem much of a stretch. Yet most authors don't bother to embrace something that could so easily get you new readers and make the returning ones giggle with glee. To find that in the dark hours while you are desperately waiting for the next installment of your favorite new book series that there's a short story to tide you over is a wondrous discovery. The world of The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences also lends itself to this expansion of its universe. While there are Books and Braun, who we love dearly, there are not only peripheral characters to be explored, but also characters that have never been mentioned. The Ministry is a world wide organization that has been around for quite a few years, their archives are easily full to bursting with stories to tell. Telling some of the stories themselves, or relying on other authors, the world that Pip and Tee have created is becoming more and more rich.

At last count there are sixteen short stories set within their world. You can buy them individually or in collections of four for your reading pleasure. As with any collection of stories written by a variety of authors, the quality varies from some of the best short stories I have ever read to ones that I just desperately wanted to end. Yet, they do a very good job of showing the scope of The Ministry's power, as they take place from South America to New Zealand, India to remotest Africa, Siam to the American West, and scary houses just over the road in Islington. We get old questions answered, like why did Eliza really leave New Zealand, what happened on the river in Paris between her and Harry, how hard was it to get all those seven vases that lead to El Dorado, before Eliza broke the last one, to how bad is the situation between Books and his father. We get back stories and side stories and the Ministry Seven, the Ministry's own Baker Street Irregulars, before they where the Ministry Seven. Tons of new questions to have answered, that one can only hope for in an upcoming tale.

The first collection seems to be centered on all the evil jewels can bring. You never want to get a cursed ruby or bauble... bad luck will surely befall you! While the second collection seems to be more action, adventure, daring-do, with men being men in far off places and saving the world for Queen and Country! Rider Haggard, eat your heart out! The third collection contains my very favorite stories of all. Some of the best ones I've read. If you have a desire to read some of the best spine tingling stories, this is where to find them. Collection four is a hodgepodge of stories that didn't really catch me due to tropes of Terracotta Warriors and masturbatory jokes that seemed to key into this year's movie Hysteria. I just think the jokes fell flat and I felt sorry for Books.

Yet of all these stories, there are two that I must single out as being sheer perfection. The first is Dust on the Davenport by O.M. Grey and the second is Hanuman's Gift by Helen E. H. Madden. It does not surprise me that Dust on the Davenport won the Steampunk Chronicle Reader’s Choice Award for Best Short Story. This little ghost story about a junior agent investigating what the other agents think is just another haunting false alarm starts out as a sweet little story about a grieving widow leaning on a green agent and slowly evolves into full on heebie-jeebies land. I don't think I've had this much spine tingling since the first time I watched The Legend of Hell House, which still gives me nightmares! Pure Victorian Ghost Story perfection! While I think Hanuman's Gift will easily be a contender for this year's Reader's Choice Award. Told by Eliza's old partner Harry to the sceptical and inept archivist before Books, it shows the horrors that face agents out in the field and that local myths and legends might best be followed or you could get some zombie monkey action going on that has overtones of Neil Gaiman's Coraline. Also, we learn a lesson that is best repeated, be careful what you wish for! World peace might mean a world devoid of humanity and spending you days relaxing in your pajamas, might just indicate Bedlam.

I look forward to more of the promised stories. I'll need them if I'm to be patient till the next book comes out!


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