2 out of 4 stars
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Revaz-Giorgi Arveladze showcases his country’s history, geography, culture, and mythology in this collection of eight deliciously macabre stories. Tales From Kartli is set in Georgia, a Eurasian nation that encompasses the historical region of Kartli (also called Iberia). Each story opens with a verse from “the smiling bard” and ends with an interpretative illustration of an iconic moment from the tale.
Arveladze effectively plays on the reader’s fascination for the exotic and fear of the unknown, spinning tales of hapless humans, vicious monsters, and the horrors that ensue when they collide. Tales From Kartli strikes a familiar but rather unsettling chord, like reading a fairy tale with some rather perverse twists. In “12th of August,” for instance, a king sends a champion to battle an enemy. But the “champion” isn’t a knight but a bounty hunter, and the “enemy” isn’t a dragon but a three-headed man-eating beast that devoured an entire village. Arveladze spares no detail in describing the carnage that Parnavaz, the hunter, finds upon arriving at his destination. Blood and gore practically ooze from the pages, a consistent thread throughout all the stories, so squeamish readers should beware.
There’s another quest in “The Cycle,” where a father-and-son tandem square off against a creature shrouded in flames. As the title implies, however, there’s no “happily ever after” — or any conventional ending for that matter. This kind of ambiguity heightens the allure of the stories, especially in the tales told from a first-person perspective. A notable example — and my personal favorite — is “The Martyr of the Serpent,” where a priest confesses a horrible sin. The slow and utter corruption of a holy man, an allegory perhaps for a monster emerging from within, is more unsettling than the flesh-and-blood demons that populate the other stories.
But still, Arveladze’s monsters will send a chill to your bones, from an insect-like creature that ensnares travelers with an addictive brew, a woodland spirit that drowns its prey in a river of corpses, to a “notorious visitor” called the Batonebi who personifies sickness and heralds death. The tales transport readers across time and place, from a forest near the Caucasus Mountains where a girl runs for her life, to a modern-day Georgian town where two brothers desperately seek to end the ancient apparitions that haunt them. The human-versus-monster theme runs through the entire collection, but the characters and creatures are distinct enough to keep the tales from feeling too cyclical or redundant.
Had it been more polished, Tales From Kartli would have gotten a 4-star rating. Unfortunately, the writing is quite raw and awkward in many places, and the text isn’t professionally edited. Adverbs are used in excess (e.g., “The bartender, nodding indifferently, joltingly slid a paper menu across the horizontally wide table.”), and descriptions of gore often interfere with the storytelling. Numerous and repetitive editing errors (e.g., using “it’s” instead of “its”) further diminish the joy of reading.
Though it was a pleasure to get to know Georgia through this collection, I can’t rate it any higher than 2 out of 4 stars in its current state. Potential readers should expect graphic descriptions of death and mild instances of profanity. Enthusiasts of the horror genre will delight in the novelty of the setting and the introduction to a new breed of creatures that go bump in the night.
Tales From Kartli
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