The Averoigne Chronicles collects Clark Ashton Smith’s dark fantasy tales set in the titular fictional province in medieval France.
It’s my first purchase from Centipede Press who did a fantastic job producing the edition which has some gorgeous production features ranging from the quality of the physical book to the dramatic art that introduces each story.
My favorite cycle of stories of Smith’s has always been his tales of Zothique where magic (particularly necromancy) has usurped science in a far future continent where strange and mysterious magic prevails. What can I say? I’m a sucker for futuristic worlds where life has reverted to ancient ways in the remnants of forgotten technology in the style of The Dying Earth by Jack Vance or Numenera by Monte Cook.
But you know what?
After reading through Averoigne, I’m opening up to Smith’s tales of horror and fantasy in the French countryside. Smith shows a romantic and optimistic side that rarely, if ever, shows up in his stories.
It’s a refreshing change from the dark , bleak and weird tales that the author conjures up.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s still plenty of bizarre and horror elements abound, The Colossus of Ylourgne is arguably the best of Averoigne whose plot and elements would fit perfectly in the grim, grotesque and grave world of Zothique.
But in Averoigne, there’s more than a chance that the protagonist ends up alive in a happy ending…or close to it.
The stories deal with the church and the citizenry of Averogine dealing with creatures ranging from vampires, werewolves, and behemoth monstrosities that could only come from forbidden magic.
Smith’s prose helps to make the stories richer and more interesting, rather than pander to the scare and kill tactic.
For the most part, the protagonists of each story are a wise and capable bunch who either lose their way, figuratively and/or literally, and solve their dilemma either with great victory or with horrible and mysterious consequence.
The enjoyment of the stories is enhanced by rich introductory art pieces by David Ho who also rendered the dustjacket showcasing the dark and gothic tone of Smith’s Averoigne. There’s adult components in some of the art, but it’s all done with class and plays up to some of the more sexual overtones that Smith surprisingly got away given the time period they were released (1930s).
The collection also includes bits of Smith’s poetry that fits well in the tone of the stories.
Last but not least, the book’s oversized format at more than 11 inches tall, is a joy to hold and makes the experience of reading the stories all the more enjoyable.
I loved reading this collection and hope that one day a collection of Smith’s Zothique gets the same treatment.
Top Three Averoigne Stories
- The Colossus of Ylourgne – The longest and best of Averoigne where magic users fight to protect the church from the greatest of abominations.
- The Enchantress of Sylaire – Rejected by a woman he pines for, a man finds solace in another woman who may not be what she seems.
- Mother of Toads – A gruesome and sexual story about a messenger who attempts to repel and evade the titular character’s charms only to find there are worse things that can happen in Averoigne’s woods.