November 13, 2016

James Wymore et al.: "Windows into Hell" (ARC Review)

Title: Windows into Hell [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: None
Authors: James Wymore [Site | Goodreads] et al.
Genres: Afterlife
Year: 2016
Age: I think it's marketed at an adult audience, but to me, it can be read from 14+
Stars: 4.5/5
Pros: Imaginative and thought-provoking. Most of the stories are cleverly connected via the general setting, and/or by common themes or characters.
Cons: Because of the above, most of the stories don't have a real ending either - you need to look at the whole picture. Also, one of them is told in epic poem form (and a shorter poem is included in another story), so you need to have a specific taste for it.
WARNING! A few stories deal with violence/gore or mention rape and suicide.
Will appeal to: Those who love to speculate on what's next. Those who think of life as a long lesson. Those who are in for a bunch of tales that will haunt them.

Blurb: What happens after we die? Mankind has speculated through the ages that a few righteous or lucky people go straight to heaven. Or so we've come to believe. Good or bad, our journey doesn't end at death. For most of us, the afterlife begins in an office where an overworked and underappreciated demon decides our long term fate. Life is messy, it’s easy to miss one of the crucial lessons. In order to accommodate our unique shortcomings, a myriad of custom fitted Hells wait with open arms to teach us. No clichรฉ fire and brimstone here, except as decorations. Besides, that would be the easy way out. Yes, there is a way out. All you have to do is learn one simple lesson. That shouldn't be too hard, right? (Amazon excerpt)

Review: First off...DISCLAIMER: I received this anthology from Curiosity Quills in exchange for an honest review. To be more precise, I specifically requested a review copy. That didn't affect my opinion and rating in any way. Here goes...
If you're familiar with my blog, there's no way you didn't notice I'm addicted to afterlife stories. What you may not know is that I rarely enjoy short stories. I'm not sure if it's because I don't get enough time to become invested in the characters, of because I'm only completely satisfied when I spend a few hours in a book world, or because I'm not impressed by the ending of something that has barely started, so it usually fails to deliver a punch in my case. But I got a very strong vibe from this anthology. So I jumped aboard, and...well, if you're usually wary of short stories too, don't let it deter you from giving this book a chance. Some of these stories will haunt you for life. You must have the patience of connecting the dots and not asking for easy answers, but it will repay.


This collection is explicitly inspired (and partly modeled after) A Short Stay in Hell by Steven L. Peck, which in turn pays homage to The Library of Babel by Jorge Luis Borges. The main concepts are that 1) Zoroastrianism is the true religion, so that anyone who dies out of that faith automatically goes to hell, no matter what they accomplished in life; 2) hell is not at all what it's cracked up to be - better (or worse?) yet, there are a number of them, and the demon bureaucracy will steer you toward the most appropriate one. Not to mention that there's always a way out if you're willing to learn your lesson and try hard enough...or is there? Of course, the choice of Zoroastrianism is not casual, since it's the less popular among the old religions nowadays, so it makes for an ironic starting point - good and evil doers are paired together, and those who were sure they would be saved are not. Also, fire and brimstone are just for show, but there are worse hells than burning for all eternity. By the way, I've never really felt the weight the word "eternity" bears before I read this book. *shudders* [...]


Like I said, most of the stories are cleverly connected in different ways - they originate in the same place, have common themes (like the "learn" commandment), and there's a recurring character who ties the vast majority of them together. But each and every one of these stories (with a possible exception I'll tell you about later) is a self-contained universe with its own rules. They are intense, often unexpected, always though-provoking. They defy our conception of hell as much as of heaven. The bliss of reuniting with all our friends and family "up there" is not all it's cracked up to be (but then again, neither is being all alone...). Eternal childhood is, ultimately, a curse. Trouble is inherent to paradise. Our existence is a life-long lesson...but apparently, the point of both living AND dying is to learn, and you need to embrace that wholeheartily. And so on.


These stories don't have a real ending...or, most of the time, no ending at all...which should have rubbed me the wrong way and then some, precisely because I don't usually connect with shorties that much even when they do. But here, it fits. Actually, it is the point. Of course, if you have issues with open endings/no endings, I don't recommend you read this anthology - otherwise, you'll find it stimulating and haunting. The only possible exception might be The Egress of Hell, which is told in epic poem form, so - like I said - you need to have a specific taste for it. Incidentally, this is the only story (so to speak) that doesn't fit the general bill of this collection that much - if not for the fact that the poet is required to perform a task in order to get out of hell, and perfection (whatever that means) is required. Can the characters attain that perfection? leave hell? and go where? It is indeed implied that they can, but what we witness is their struggle and realisations - and they shed a light (though not exactly a soothing one) on our lives in the process. This is why this book is precious. This is why you should read it.

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For more Afterlife books click here.


  1. I used to be OBSESSED with the afterlife when I was a kid. lol

    I never used to be a fan of short stories but in the last few years they have gotten so good! And I love how these are interconnected. Very cool.

    Karen @For What It's Worth

    1. Fun fact about you! LOL.
      Even if you're not a fan of short stories, these are bound to change your mind :).

  2. This sounds pretty good! I'm a big fan of short stories, especially when there's a common thread.


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