I had the misfortune of only being exposed to Kaaron Warren's fiction for the last few years – I wish I followed her career from the start. She is a truly wonderful writer of the disturbing, and has evocative prose. The Gate Theory is not an original fiction anthology but collects some of her best work in the period 2005 to the present day, and they deserve a solid gathering in a single title. You could call it a 'best of' work except that I was blown away last year with her collection, Through Splintered Walls, where none of the stories represented are in this work. Nevertheless, there are definitely stories in this work that will blow you completely away.
All in all, most of Warren's work in The Gate Theory are reflective of her greatest strengths: the ability to disturb (to the degree of horrify) readers, and to taste, smell and feel what is being invoked in her stories. I will pick on several of the stories, although in passing I feel compelled to say that 'The History Thief' is the least of her stories in the collection, in the sense that it is the odd one out (it is in fact an excellent story). While all the other stories in the anthology are strong treatments of the dark, 'The History Thief' has less in-your-face prose and is more of a fantastical mystery.
'That Girl' is one of Warren's Fiji stories influenced by her stay in the island nation, although on a number of levels it could have been set in other places. Nevertheless Fiji's backdrop is vivid, incredibly so, and has the right mystery and association with older cultural practices to springboard a backstory of horror experienced by a young woman. Warren paints a horrifying story of rape and cover-up, and for much of the story there is also a tangible fear of the supernatural; yet at the end, without lessening the throttle, we are exposed to what is the true horror – that of the subjugation of females in this society – and which can easily extend far beyond. A deep, well-written piece.
'Dead Sea Fruit' is my favourite story in the collection. It is a piece describing the personal horrors of anorexia in excruciating detail, iterating consistently through the length of the short and adding a tangible, bona fide supernatural dimension. The antagonist wasn't evil through-and-through, and the protagonist isn't a stable figure – she was entering the lion's den and the reader's tension-meter shot up with concern for her. The ending was a perfect closure, but with hardly any happiness for anyone. This story is soaked in death, and with one exception, was long and agonising.
'The Gaze Dogs of Nine Waterfalls' is a horror story, but of a highly unusual, perhaps Bizarro nature. Another Fijian short. I liked this story perhaps for less obvious reasons than some readers may usually expect. The idea of a world-treking business to find highly unusual breeds of dogs, often intertwined with the supernatural – and readily accepted by the protagonists – is novel, interesting, entertaining. The adventure to obtain a most unusual breed in Fiji, protected by a gigantic, old, and deadly canine is also very good reading. However, what I liked most was the protagonist, Rosie, a person who is an efficient, cool adventuress, and devoid of what we would understand to be human compassion, and who is, I believe, a sociopath. She is not likeable, and this is what intrigues me about the story as it leads the reader along with interest and yet there is little, if any, sympathy for her. Most stories fail with that basic structure but this one doesn't, and I think it's because of the Bizarro, weird storyline that raises the reader's eyebrows every few paragraphs.
I left a few stories out and leave it to you, the reader, to fully explore. Kaaron Warren is undoubtedly one of the world's leading short fiction horror writers, defined by her mastery of disturbing prose. You would do yourself a disservice to miss this work. Anyone who rates The Gate Theory below 4 stars out of 5 are either maniacally against the horror genre, or are trolls. I give it 5 out of 5, although if the scale was out of 10 I would give it 9, as Through Splintered Walls sets her benchmark for perfection.
The ebook can be purchased at Amazon.