Ginger Nuts of Horror
Christopher Saint Booth tells it like he sees it.
Okay, the problem I have with reviewing books is that I prefer to go over review material 3 times before making a comment. The 1st because it is always new to me, the 2nd is because I am now familiar with the material and can better assess without the shock of the new, by the 3rd. I know exactly what to expect, so can then cast more critical eyes over it and draw a better conclusion. I usually review movies and this process although time consuming is far faster with a movie than a book review. Reading the same book 3 times can be gruelling, but in this case I found it necessary as I was fairly much undecided as to the approach here.
Rogan is the former king of Albion and became king after he decapitated the former king. Being a barbarian, that’s how Rogan got what he wanted, by killing in barbaric ways.
After his reign, when Rogan was an old man, he set out on a fishing ship with his crew when they are suddenly attacked by sea monsters and a group of warriors led by one of Rogan’s bastard sons. After the battle, the remaining crew members led by Rogan learn they must fight a force darker than any they have encountered before. Rogan discovers his family is in danger and must fight for his life and the chance to save them.
This book came to me at a time when I was looking for something dark and medieval, and it fit the bill on both accounts beautifully. I had never heard of Stephen Shrewsbury before and I was eager to read my first Brian Keene book, as I’ve heard nothing but good things about his work. I will gladly read other works by both of these authors in the future.
The first thing that struck me about King of the Bastards was how likeable Rogan was. In one part of the story, he eats the heart of a man he defeated in battle, but despite his barbarian ways, he’s actually a likable guy. I think it takes a lot of talent to turn a barbarian into a guy that you can’t help but like. Now, that’s not to say that Rogan is perfect, because he’s not. He’s misogynistic, mean-spirited and bold, but you’ll learn to love him.
We learn the tale of Rogan as it is told to a group of children and it works very well. It’s dark, scary in places, and it’s obvious that the authors paid great attention to detail. This is a fast-paced, dark adventure that is a lot of fun to read. Although there are some genuinely scary and disgusting parts, King of the Bastards is suitable for both fantasy and horror fans.
Dawn Angry Puppy
Horror fiction reviews on Ginger Nuts of Horror
The thing that I’ll probably repeat ad infinitum about horror and weird fiction at the moment is the breadth, depth and quality of work that is being published at the moment. I truly believe that horror is going through a bit of a renaissance period with a whole slew of small print publishers and authors producing truly world class fiction. Another prime example of this trend is T.E. Grau’s “The Nameless Dark”, a collection of fourteen new and republished pieces of fiction that ably demonstrate his writing skills and ability across a range of different settings, time periods and styles. Of the fourteen stories, nine are heavily influenced by the spirit of H.P. Lovecraft and the ideas of cosmic horror but is a testament to Grau’s skills as a writer that they feel fresh and inventive and breathe new life into the idiom of “when the stars are right”. The remaining five stories continue to play with convention and breathe new life into familiar horror tropes like serial killers and werewolves. The end result is an eclectic and diverse range of stories bound together by an assured and confident style of writing.
If The Black Room Manuscripts Volume 1,_ the inaugural publication from fledgling indie publisher The Sinister Horror Company is an indicator of anything it is that there is a shockingly good array of writing talent currently out there. This, as explained in the eloquent and thoughtful introduction by G.N.O.H. head honcho Jim McLeod hasn’t always been the case. In fact you could argue that for a good decade or more horror has, for want of better words, been a bit shite.
Okay, first up, a little bit of an explanation as to why I'm reviewing what would appear to be a non-horror anthology on a horror site. I mean, look at that cover - an attractive young woman, seemingly in the throes of passion while messing about with apples (after all, they are the sexiest of fruits), a tagline on the title that states: 35 women up to no good. Why, sir...it looks like an erotica book, or worse! A romance! Well, think again my friends (not that there's anything wrong with those genres anyway). Many of the writers within these pages are active within horror and dark fiction circles, many of the stories themselves are very dark tales indeed. In fact, if I was forced to give a vague sort of idea of these stories, I'd say that most of them would be right at home in the likes of Black Static, alongside such writers as Laura Mauro, Carole Johnstone, Andrew Hook, Cate Gardner, Ray Cluley and others of that ilk.
Poor Jeffrey by Paul Flewitt is at its heart a story about small town America, and four teenage friends who are struck by tragedy, against the backdrop of a serial killer spree.
I enjoyed some aspects of this book a lot. The initial descriptive passages of Jeffrey were very well done, and a clear and effective character sketch was drawn. The prose style clearly holds a major debt to Clive Barker, but there are far worse influences to have. Similarly, the initial reactions of the friends to Jeffrey’s death (spoilers, I guess, but that’s in the blurb, so whatever) is sweetly observed. The initial introduction of the killer and his method was utterly chilling and stomach churning, and I also really enjoyed the magical ritual that took place in the early part of the book - again, it clearly owes a debt to Barker in execution, but it’s none the worse for that. And I felt the initial portraits of the other players in the town, especially Jeffrey’s parents, were skillfully done.
Spectral Books is well known for it’s commitment to the novella form - a commitment that sees it releasing several books a year in this format. I was lucky enough to pick up a copy of Mark Morris’s Albion Fay at Edge Lit
Albion Fay is a quiet, understated stunner of a book. The story takes place across several time periods - a tricky device to use at the best of times, one fraught with potential confusion for the reader. Morris navigates this with confidence and ease. He seems to have an instinctive grasp of how to frame a scene such that the reader is immediately clear about which period of the story is being referred to.
The advent of kindle and e-book readers has seen an explosion in how and what people can read. As much as this has provided a wealth of reading riches to treasure be they old, new or republished works, it has also opened the floodgates to self publishing. I can readily understand that urge to see your work out there and being read but just because you can do something doesn’t necessarily mean that you should do something. And this is especially true in the world of self publishing where the words “quality” and “control” appear to be the exception rather than the rule.
There is one thing the the British do very well, and that is the understated yet beautiful and moving ghost story. Cate Gardener's latest novella from Spectral Press continues this tradition with great success.
When Kate sees what she thinks is the ghost of her recently departed boyfriend in the window of a deserted office block, she is compelled to find a way to be reunited with him, but when he finds that the dead don't want anything to do with living she is thrown into an emotional turmoil. One that brings her to the attention of the monster Yarker Ryland.
The Bureau of Them like a lot of Gardener's work is a blend of deeply charged emotional musings , and almost etherial like descriptive passages that imbue the narrative with wonderful dreamlike quality. This is a deeply emotional book, the torment and turmoil of anguish that Kate goes through as she moves from being a grieving widow to a woman who will do anything to be with the love of her life is powerful narrative that will have you fully invested in her plight. Your emotions will mirror those of Kate's such is the strength of Kate's narrative. This is also helped by the dream like feel of the novella, this fully compliments the narrative and adds a lot of power to Kate's plight.
Gardner has also created a wonderful antagonist with Yarker Ryland, he is almost painted as a victorian pantomime villain, but Gardener skilfully keeps him firmly behind the line of menacing monster. Cruel, vicious and totally without any sense of remorse he is a chilling creation, a perfect counterfoil to Kate's role as the emotional heroine.
The Bureau of Them is book about mourning and coming to terms with loss, it will tug at your emotional core, with ever straying into schmaltzy territory. A modern ghost story that continues the great tradition of well written spooky stories that this country has such a great history of doing well. Gardener is a great writer and this novella is a perfect example of her huge talent.
Most folk who know me, know I've been an almost constant reader - and fan - of Stephen King's work. I couldn't tell you what my first encounter with his work was (well, his written work - we'd been watching the films since we were 9, 10. For some reason, when I was a kid, we never got hit by the whole 'video nasty' hysteria and were pretty much allowed to watch anything we wanted), as I devoured any of his books I could get my hands on with a passion once I got my adult library card in the hallowed year of 1991. I do know that some of those early exposures would have been IT, Misery, Skeleton Crew, Christine, 'Salem's Lot and more. And I loved it all....