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The Puzzle Box by Randy McCharles, Billie Milholland, Eileen Bell, and Ryan McFadden
Cover Artist: Neil Jackson
Review by Mel Jacob
Hades Publications Paperback  ISBN/ITEM#: 9781770530409
Date: 15 March 2014 List Price $14.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Authors' Facebook / Show Official Info /

The Puzzle Box offers an interesting set of five stories involving a strange antique puzzle box. One story forms the frame for all the others and provides the ultimate resolution of the various threads. Strange things happen to the losers who gain possession of the mysterious box.

My favorite was the hilarious and cheeky "Angela and Her Three Wishes" by Eileen Bell. Angela, a bitchy teenager from hell, steals the puzzle box from an old car. She and her co-worker, Roger try to open the box. Eventually Roger succeeds, and a Djinn appears. He offers Angela three wishes. Roger tells her to ask for money. She considers, but rejects it in favor of a form of apology to her mother for being so nasty to her. The wish to eliminate the homeless--Angela insists she meant homelessness--causes havoc and destruction and eliminates Roger. She orders, not wishes, the Djinn to undo that wish. Now aware of the tricky nature of wishes, she, along with returned Roger, ponders what to ask for. The ending is satisfying and fun as Angela struggles to outwit a demon and not create more trouble for her and the world.

"The Awakening of Master March" by Randy McCharles is an endearing tale of a loser who falls in love with a witch and struggles to win her affections. Warlock longs to be a rock musician, but has been a so-so rock group's roadie for five years. Most roadies move up to play in a band after the first year, but not Warlock. To win the witch, Warlock agrees to join her coven, but first has to pass a test. He must answer a difficult riddle. Warlock has no skills at riddles. He is left in a room with the puzzle box and finally opens it. What happens then changes his life.

"Autumn Unbound" by Billie Milholland retells Pandora's legend in a new setting. Pandora becomes mortal for thirty years to seek her husband Epimetheus. The immortal Epi escaped from the world of the gods into the human world and has no desire to return even for his beautiful wife. Pandora and others in the tale must make difficult and life-changing choices.

The final tale "Ghost in the Machine" by Ryan McFadden was the least appealing to me. Sam, a young artist, meets the love of his life in Lucy. She had been involved with another man named Alan. Soon, Lucy and Alan are dead, and Sam is crazy with grief. Sam is an unreliable narrator and leaves open the possibility that things may not be as he describes them. Reality is in question. Do parallel worlds exist and does the puzzle box allow travel between them or is Sam insane? The ending is ambiguous given the narrative.

The framing story involves a life-long loser. Albert Mallory, a drunkard and a failure owes money to a Mob figure. He purloins the puzzle box during a drunken gambling spree with the idea of selling to a collector for money to pay his debts. When the box opens, Albert is catapulted into witnessing the actions of Warlock. He wakes to the smell of breakfast and meets the Chronicler who advises Albert not to fear the past. This time Albert experiences Pandora’s world. At the end, the Chronicler leads Albert to Angela's tale and thus he progresses toward the end and the final revelations about himself, the Chronicler, and the box.

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