Ginger Nuts of Horror
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....
You know how it is with urban legends and being a teenager, when you’re all ushered off to some dark corner between the world of children and adults, sitting circled around stolen cigarettes or cheap cider, and someone says “Did you guys ever hear about…?”
…And there’s always somebody whose brother knows somebody who actually saw the… well, it doesn't matter what it is, what matter is that it’s out there, in that same world between worlds as you and your friends, and even though you know it’s just a story, the shadows beyond the streetlights get that little bit thicker…
Isolation is a terrible thing, it can drive even the strongest of people to do crazy things so just imagine what would happen to a whole village that mysteriously vanishes from the face of earth. That's what happens to the town of Kraven. It's a common theme in horror and fantasy a theme that is not only hard to pull off, but one that is also hard to find a fresh angle to. From King's Under The Dome, to Stephen Law's Chasm, it is a concept that has been done many times before.
Kraven feels like the ultimate American town perfectly manicured lawns, perfectly white picket fences, but like all nice towns there are things that lurk below the surface. From the over bearing founding father like figure to Davey and has partner, emotions and feelings run deep in the town. And when a mysterious figure arrives in town all the portents do not bode well for the town and the townsfolk. And when the towns residents all vanish and find themselves in an almost featureless desert version of there town things really do not go very well.
After reading Stephen Graham Jones’ The faster Redder Road: The Best Unamerican Stories of Stephen Graham Jones I purchased his first novel The Fast Red Road: A Plainsong.
Why? Because I can’t get enough Stephen Graham Jones in my life. And lucky for me, because he’s got 20+ novels and over 220 short stories for me to get my hands into.
I’ve been trying to explain who SGJ is and what he writes to several people in my life recently and all I can come up with is he’s a literary master who writes in any and all genres to get his stories across. Recently I was able to sit down with him and I told him flat out that I think he writes some of the most beautiful – and disturbing – stories that I’ve ever read.
He said, “Thank you – that’s what I’m aiming for.”
Full disclosure: I consider Paul Feeney a friend. We’ve worked together on the Gingernuts of Horror site for some time now, we correspond regularly by email, Twitter and Facebook, and we met in person for the first time at Edge Lit.
Nevertheless, my own personal review policy is clear - I only write reviews if I have positive things to say. I’ve started more books than I’ve finished, and I’ve finished more than I’ve reviewed. I have other indie authors I consider friends whose work did not grab me, and I have therefore not written about.
I say all this because I know it’s easy for there to be a perception from the outside that this whole indie scene is… cliquey, if not outright incestious, and I’m sensitive to that because, with my reviewer hat on, it’s important to me that you have some measure of faith in my integrity. Hence both this explanation of my review policy, and declaration of interest.
So can I get on and talk about the book now? :)
Edited by Dean M. Drinkel and put together by Western Legends Press, Grimorium Verum is the third - and final? - volume in a series of books featuring stories based around the concept of the occult in 'grimoire' form; "...a text book of magic..." as Dean put it in the intro.
As with most anthologies and collections, there will be something here for most horror fans and no doubt, we will all have our different favourites (and, perhaps, stories that just didn't quite grab us). So, instead of going though every single tale here - and there are twenty-six of them, each one named after each successive letter in the Latin alphabet - I will merely list those stories which grabbed me and really made an impression on me. Some of these are by authors whose work I've encountered before (and loved), and some by writers I'm reading for the first time. As always, your mileage may vary and any omission of a contributor's tale is not a judgement on the quality of the work, simply that it may not have gripped me quite the way these ones did.
As the anthology is set out alphabetically, I will go through the stories in the same way.....
Published by Horrific Tales Publishing, Voices is the final installment in the Whisper trilogy, written by the supremely talented Michael Bray. Although Voices stands well on its own, you will only really appreciate its continuity and nuances if you’ve read the first two books in the series. Although I maintain a relatively strict spoiler-free stance in most of my reviews, this review will assume you’ve read Whisper and Echoes and will include spoilers from the first two books, so beware.
Gristle and Bone is a collection of seven... long short stories? Novelettes? Novellas? Let's just call them 'tales of varying lengths,' shall we? Seven dark tales. And I'm not messing about with that label – Mr. Ralston writes horror fiction that is unflinching and pulls no punches – many of these yarns do a fine job of invoking that sinking feeling, the creeping certainty that Very Bad Things are about to happen.
And then, they do.
The world didn't end with a bang it ended with a sneeze. Or at least that's what drives the characters in S.L. Grey's latest novel to take shelter in what they believe to be the safest place on earth a secure underground bunker. It is a self sustaining sanctuary from the madness that is spreading across the globe thanks to some super flu that originated in China.
Things should be nice and rosy for our band of survivalists, the complex is an exclusive compound, only those wealthy enough can afford to live here, but as is wont to happen in things such as this things are about to get nasty for everyone involved. Something is killing of the inhabitants one by one, is it an inside job, or is there something much more sinister lurking in the basement?....
Blood Paternal is a modern vampire novel which successfully blends the familiar gothic angst and melancholy of the classic tales with a slickness and style that conjures images reminiscent of The Matrix, Inception and Equilibrium. Holden’s vampires bite but they also lock and load.
The emotional core of Blood Paternal is built around Mark Gannon; an aspiring actor who is kidnapped, tortured to death by one family, or house, of vampires and then revived by another. In a haunting sequence, he comes to grips with his reborn nature as a vampire and what follows is his initiation into a strange new world where vampires walk around in daylight and are accompanied by human companions known as donors. Mark’s new family are part of a war initiated by Anton Weiss; the father of all vampires, who wishes to exterminate his kin. Mark’s personal growth flows along seamlessly with the plot, all of which leads towards the revelation of his, poss_ibly fated, part to play in the unfolding war between the vampire houses.
Holden’s love for the setting, story and her characters is evident throughout as she brings her world to life with an evocative eye for detail which ensures a character’s dress and appearance tells you as much about them as their own words. And, in the case of the latter, the author’s talent for naturalistic dialogue also shines through.
The roots of her world are recognisable in urban fantasy but this has a harder edge to it, which recalls the vampire underworld of Anne Rice and its social complexities, as well as Clive Barker’s post-Hellraiser explorations of darker, more fantastic realities. Blood Paternal is one for vampire fans who don’t mind their horror being mixed with high-octane action and who are not averse to some interesting new twists on the traditional myths.