Review by Frank Plowright
Becky Cloonan’s CV is all over the place, yet, one imagines, also responsible for a creatively satisfying career. She’s frequently employed as writer or artist by mainstream companies, but also works on smaller, personal projects she self-publishes, and By Chance or Providence collects three dark fantasy stories. They’ve certainly struck a chord, as they first appeared collected in hardback and there have since been two paperback printings.
‘Wolves’, ‘The Mire’ and ‘Demeter’ share a mediaeval setting, but are otherwise connected more by mood than personalities. Each is an imaginative tragic romance, and each tugs at something beyond the commonplace within. In ‘Wolves’ a hunter’s wife begs him not to take the assignment to track a werewolf, but who else would the King send other than his best hunter? The twist is predictable, but the way Cloonan tells the story transcends the obvious, hauntingly understated, prioritising the emotional effect, not the surprise.
‘The Mire’ has a good sting in the tale, but is narratively the weakest of the three stories, this time not as adept with a revelation readers may also have guessed beforehand. Again, though, the wonder is in the mood Cloonan sets with dark art accompanying a knight’s young messenger on his coming of age journey.
‘Demeter’ is the longest of the three delights. It’s told from the viewpoint of the woman who saved a young man’s life when his father’s ship was wrecked, and sunsequently fell in love with him. He survived, albeit with his memory impaired, but it’s hinted this was at a cost, and seven months after her rescue she becomes increasingly concerned every time he heads out to sea. This is very much about mood and price due for uncanny deeds, and it’s a bewitching, dark and ambiguous concoction.
Cloonan’s beautifully expressive art is given an extra boost by Lee Loughridge’s sensitive colours. The pages are largely shaded with colour, ideally matching the mood Cloonan sets.
Her haunting stories are value enough, but the final quarter of the book consists of concept sketches, illustrations, and page roughs, ending with an amusing dashed off strip of Cloonan meeting one of her characters on the subway. An extra bonus not to be missed are the small card designs on the front and back inside covers. These portray the people and important items from the stories, plus some extras. They’re a neat summary and beautifully drawn, so deserving of more than such small reproductions.