When I Was Lost
Trepidatio Publishing (October 21, 2022)
Reviewed by Andrew Byers
Jordan Kurella is an author who’s new to me, but I’m very impressed with his breadth of themes and settings—stories in When I Was Lost are set across time and space in a variety of historical settings and genres, including fantasy, science fiction, and post-apocalypse. Many of the collection’s stories center on themes of love and loss, secrets and desires that can never be, lovers who are lost but who can never be forgotten. This is a heady, poignant collection of a dozen stories that are well worth the time of any reader of dark fantasy or those who like their historical and science fiction tinged with gloom.
For reasons of concision I’ll touch on just a few of my favorite stories in the collection.
“The Forgotten Case of Mme Augustine Calou, Witch” provides a great start to the collection. Set in rural France in the 1830s, this is the story of the eponymous Madame Calou, an elderly woman, who faces off against a werewolf (one of her neighbors), who has killed and eaten one of her pigs.
From there we move onto the Wild West, which serves as the setting for “The True and Otherworldly Origins of the Name ‘Calamity Jane.’” Here we have the story of the eponymous Calamity Jane, who was not merely a gunslinger as the history books would have us believe, but was rather a hunter of evil faeries. Fun and suspenseful. This is also the start to a sequence of thematically connected tales of unmet needs and wishes that are granted by untrustworthy fairies and witches. “Three Dandelion Stars” is another such story. This is the tale of two lovers, Shai and Amarine, who have their wish to be together granted by a swamp witch. Kurella does a good job with this nice twist on the star-crossed lovers trope. “The Hollow Tree” similarly involves a wish. A young girl, Pira, just wants her family to be happy. Her father is an abusive monster, and Pira makes a bargain with a faerie to solve her family’s problems. Another enjoyable story of secrets and wishes and dark desires.
Kurella has included several stories about life after the collapse of human civilization. In “The Black Hearts of La Playa” vampires seem to be ascendant, with the few remaining humans forced into armed camps in service to warlords while vampires roam the desolate areas surrounding these last few outposts of humanity. None of this stops Marrin, a young woman living in one of these camps, from trying to find love and fulfillment after a disappointing series of relationships. Perhaps the vampires aren’t so bad after all. In “A Wake for the Living,” I’m not so sure that there are any humans left. It’s told from the perspective of a vulture outcast, who, like Marrin in the earlier story, is also seeking fulfillment and partnership. This one was surprisingly poignant—it’s not every day a reader comes to genuinely care about the fate of a scavenger feasting on dead flesh.
My favorite story in the collection was “Personal Histories Surrounding La Rive Gauche, Paris: 1995-2015.” I absolutely loved this one, despite it involving a topic I never considered to be of any real interest: mermaids. Here, Victoria is now with a man named Percy, having lost her lover Lynne to a mermaid, who took her under the sea when they were students in Paris. Twenty years later she is compelled to return to the Seine. Another tale of one of those never-forgotten former lovers at which Kurella excels.
Kurella’s prose is effortless and evocative and touching. It would be hard to come away from this collection without feeling anything, without feeling at least some of the poignancy and heartache and loss from having lost a lover or possessing some desire that can never be fulfilled. Definitely recommended.
And if there’s one takeaway from When I Was Lost, it’s probably that you should be careful what you wish for….