Posts Tagged With: horror

“Handmaiden’s Fury” by JM Guillen

I spent most of an afternoon drawn into JM Guillen’s free short fiction over at Irrational Worlds, and was quickly hooked by the rich and evocative worlds conveyed in just a few paragraphs.  Needing even more, I decided to try the novella Handmaiden’s Fury.

Handmaiden’s Fury is the story of a young priestess named Keiri.  She is a devotee of the goddess Rydia, whose grants power through sexuality.  Keiri’s power allows her to bond with people, control them, and even destroy.  Of course, it is not without personal cost, as the rituals to channel Rydia’s power involve a fair share of pain and submission.

When Keiri’s master discovers an evil sorcerer who smuggles slaves and ritually tortures innocent victims, he decides to use Keiri to put a stop the vile magic.  As he and Keiri work together to defeat their foe, Keiri realizes the depth of love and passion that she and her master share.

As with the short fiction at Irrational Worlds, I was immediately drawn into the story, which combines elements of horror, dark fantasy, and erotica.  Sexuality is an important part of the story, but is handled tastefully.  The bond between Keiri and her master is something to be treasured, and it keeps Keiri’s power from consuming anything in its path.  The magic system is unusual and well-developed, and the city in which the story is set seems like an organic part of a much larger world.  My only real complaint about Handmaiden’s Fury is that it didn’t come to a complete resolution, leaving me wanting more.  I hope that Guillen returns to Keiri’s story one day.

Categories: Erotica, Fantasy, Fiction, Horror/Gothic | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“The Black Fire Concerto” by Mike Allen

After seeing glowing reviews at The Little Red Reviewer, Lynn’s Book Blog, and Just Book Reading, I knew I had to read The Black Fire Concerto.  I’m on a book-buying hiatus until the government shutdown ends and I have a regular paycheck again, but lucky for me, it is available through the Kindle Owner’s Lending Library.  It’s the first time I’ve used that particular feature of Amazon Prime.  Mike Allen, you have taken my Kindle-book-borrowing virginity.  Yay!

Every evening, twelve-year-old Erzelle is called to play her harp aboard a riverboat named the Red Empress.  Like Scheherazade, this means that she can live another day.  You see, the boat is kept by the Family, who lure unsuspecting diners aboard their ship to feast on ghoul meat, which is said to grant extended life.  Once aboard, the poor unfortunates are bitten by ghouls, turned, and served up as dinner themselves.  When they decide that Erzelle isn’t worth her keep, then she too will become dinner.

That all changes when Olyssa, a kickass woman with a magic pipe, shows up one night for dinner.  She springs Erzelle from her predicament, and the two embark on a voyage to find Olyssa’s long-lost sister.  While doing so, Erzelle learns about the origins of the magical apocalypse that caused the Storms, the ghouls, and the end of normal life.

The magical apocalypse envisioned in The Black Fire Concerto is unlike anything I’ve ever read.  Magic is real, but humans only learned to tap the darkness a few decades ago.  The results were catastrophic, and led to the dystopian society that presently exists.

One of the things that impressed me the most was the way that the author was able to depict the way that magic affects its users.  This was especially evident as Erzelle learns how to use it and is gripped by the rage and the temptation to unleash too much power.  Heroes and villains alike are shaped by the magic that they use, and every action has a consequence, regardless of intention.

Mike Allen’s imagery is incredible.  He creates great machines fueled by rotting corpses, the friendly fox-like Vulpines, and villains that will give you nightmares and make you feel sympathetic at the same time.  A blend of fantasy and horror, The Black Fire Concerto will leave you begging for more.

Verdict:  Buy this.  Immediately.

Categories: Fantasy, Fiction, Horror/Gothic | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 18 Comments

“Lucretia and the Kroons” by Victor LaValle

I received a copy of Victor LaValle’s novella Lucretia and the Kroons through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  The novella is a companion prequel to LaValle’s full-length novel The Devil in Silver.

Twelve-year-old Lucretia Gardner (Loochie for short) is excited at the chance to have her best friend Sunny over for a late birthday celebration.  Sunny missed Loochie’s real birthday celebration because she has cancer and was in the hospital for treatments.  Right before Sunny is supposed to come over, Loochie’s brother tells her a story about the Kroons, a family of crackhead monsters living in unit 6D who snatch children.

“I don’t know why things like that have to happen to children,” Louis said quietly.  “But being young doesn’t protect you.  Horrors come for kids, too.”

When Sunny doesn’t show up, Loochie knows what she must do.  She must travel to unit 6D and face the evil Kroons who abducted her friend.

The sinister and nightmarish world beyond the doors of unit 6D serves as a backdrop to Lucretia’s deeper struggle, coming to terms with her friend’s condition and learning to move on.

It is always heartening to see a more diverse world in speculative fiction.  Lucretia and the Kroons is a perfect example.  Lucretia is African American, and Sunny is Chinese.  The story takes place in an apartment building in Queens, and the monsters are suited to an urban environment.  For example, while in a park in unit 6D, Loochie battles flying rats with pigeon wings.  The horrors imagined by Victor LaValle are equally as scary as more traditional monsters, and are without a doubt a product of hellish alternate version of New York City.

The ending of the story leaves more questions than answers.  It didn’t feel organic, but rather like a way to set the stage for The Devil in Silver.

If the theme of the book wasn’t so horribly depressing (and let’s face it, cancer always is), I would have enjoyed it a lot more.  Lucretia’s adventures in the land of the Kroons were action-packed and filled with suspense.  However, readers quickly realize the message that Loochie is there to learn.  Bad things can happen even to children.  The Kroons are a metaphor for the cancer that is ravaging Sunny.

At only 102 pages, Lucretia and the Kroons isn’t a particularly long read, so if the premise sounds interesting, then by all means give it a try.  Even though the book was more depressing than I generally like, I give LaValle credit for an unusual and imaginative story.

Categories: Fantasy, Fiction, Horror/Gothic | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Guest Post on H.P. Lovecraft

When fellow H.P. Lovecraft fan Brandon Engel contacted me about writing a guest post, I was eager to accept.  Lovecraft’s stories are especially fitting during this time of year, as the leaves begin to change and Halloween approaches.

  It takes a unique individual to construct an alternate world ruled by sinister gods who resemble octopuses. And, apparently, it takes several more unique individuals to flesh out that world — to canonize it and to enrich it with their own interpretations of Lovecraft’s work. Howard Phillips Lovecraft was a writer of some note. He will be affectionately remembered by fans for his rich writing style, and his distinct ability to match his keen attention to detail with an artful restraint. Lovecraft would disclose the minute details about the interior architecture of some alien monster-god dwelling, but then when you see the description of the monster, it would be extremely brief and would force readers to evoke their own monsters — which is, ultimately, the most horrifying thing any horror writer can do.

   It was around 12 years ago that a wonderful and fairly comprehensive compilation of Lovecraft’s best known works was released — an omnibus entitled The Thing on the Doorstep and Other Weird Stories.It features such classic Lovecraft tales as: “The Dunwich Horror”, “At the Mountain of Madness,” and “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward.

   Unfortunately for Lovecraft, he never achieved the recognition he deserved while he was alive and writing. Even though he was impoverished throughout his lifetime, Lovecraft is regarded by modern readers as a distinguished author of horror and fantasy — one of the strongest fiction writers within his niche from the early 20th century, and potentially one of the greatest horror authors of all time.

     He first started to build a reputation, and make friends within his peerage, in the 1920’s when he started contributing short stories to the pulp magazine Weird Tales. Among his contemporaries at Weird Tales were Robert E. Howard (the creator of Conan the Barbarian) and Robert Bloch (the author of Psycho). Among the stories which Lovecraft first published through Weird Tales was The Call of Cthulhu, published in 1928. The story introduced the Cthulhu character, who would become extremely important within Lovecraft’s world. The story is based on the fictional manuscript of a character named Francis Wayland Thurston. Thurston had been investigating the death of his uncle Gammell Angell, a Semitic language scholar, who had written about a strange cult which worshipped a god named Cthulhu, a gigantic sub-aquatic monster who is described as resembling an “octopus, a dragon, and a human caricature…. A pulpy, tentacled head surmounted a grotesque and scaly body with rudimentary wings.”

     Lovecraft was relatively unknown during his time, but he did correspond with some fellow fantasy writers and publishers who admired his work, such as August Derleth. It was actually Derleth who coined the “Cthulhu Mythos” to describe Lovecraft’s self-contained world ruled by Lovecraft’s pantheon of strange, Alien gods. Other writers have contributed to the Mythos, creating unique characters, and striving to expand upon the world Lovecraft created. Among the many writers who’ve contributed are Robert Bloch, Ramsey Campbell, Clive Barker, and Derleth himself.  

  Lovecraft fans and scholars have attempted to categorize alien entities within the Cthulhu Mythos. In the H.P. Lovecraft Companion, author Philip A. Schreffler divided all the alien gods into two distinct camps: there are the “Outer Ones” living in the center of the fictional universe who we can not reach, and then there are the“Great Old Ones” like Cthulhu who live on earth and are worshipped by deranged cultists.

   Lovecraft’s alien deities predate human beings, and they also have no reverence for humanity. In Lovecraft’s bleak world, the human phenomena of grief, anxiety, and emotion are inconsequential. A beast like Cthulhu would look upon a “mere mortal” in the way that “mere mortals” look upon gnats. We are an inconsequential species in their fearsome eyes.  

    But it’s not just alien god monsters that Lovecraft will be remembered for! He authored some works which dealt with bizarre medical practices, and raised questions about scientific ethics, such as his short story Herbert West Re-Animator which was immortalized in the 1980’s by director Stuart Gordon with his film adaptation Re-Animator. The story followed Herbert West, an eccentric, morally ambiguous medical student who has developed an elixir which reanimates dead bodies. Or his novel The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, which followed the story of an elite young Rhode Island man who has resurrected a remote relative of his, Joseph Curwen, an infamous wizard who practiced black-magic and was responsible for countless deaths. Not only did Ward resurrect Curwen — he surrendered his very identity to him. Curwen attempts (unsuccessfully) to live as Ward, but his great antiquity works against him. The towns’ folk, believing that Curwen is insane, have him locked up in a mental institution. Roger Corman used the story as the basis for his film The Haunted Palace.

   It is somewhat heartbreaking that Lovecraft never got to fully experience real commercial or critical success within his lifetime. Nevertheless, his legacy lives on, as his terrific body of work still resonates with readers to this day.

Author bio: Brandon Engel is an entertainment blogger with whose chief interests include cult films and classic horror literature. Among Brandon’s favorite authors are Edgar Allan Poe, H.P. Lovecraft, Arthur Machen, and Stephen King.

Categories: Guest Posts, Horror/Gothic | Tags: , , | 3 Comments

RIP VII: Intro Post & Reading Pool

It’s that time of year again!  From Sept. 1-Oct 31, Carl from Stainless Steel Droppings hosts the R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril challenge.

R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril VII  focuses on reading novels from the following genres to set the mood for fall and Halloween:  Mystery, Suspense, Thriller, Dark Fantasy, Gothic, Horror, Supernatural, and anything otherwise creepy.

As far as reading ideas go, I’ve been saving up some books for a while now.  Here’s what I have to choose from, in no particular order:

  • “Freak” by Jennifer Hiller – Generally I don’t read thrillers, but I won this one in a Name That Author contest over at BookRiot, and it seems like a good place to start.
  • “The Twelve” by Jasper Kent – Russian history paired with vampires.  I’ve been impatiently waiting to read this one because I wanted to wait to review it till RIP.  It seems like the perfect book for me.
  • “Ironskin” by Tina Connoly – A re-telling of Jane Eyre, but with more fae.
  • “Ripper” by Amy Carol Reeves – YA novel about Jack the Ripper. Buahahaha!
  • “Drood” by Dan Simmons – I didn’t get to this one during last year’s challenge, so maybe this year will work out better.
  • “Galilee” and/or “Imajica” by Clive Barker – I read Barker’s Weaveworld last year and was very impressed with his writing.  Clive Barker is a horror writer who also dabbles in dark fantasy.
  • “Lucretia and the Kroons” by Victor LaValle – Horror novella that I picked up from Netgalley.  It appears to be a nightmarish tale of two children who discover a shadowland.
  • “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” – This was the book that everyone was reading during last year’s RIP, but I didn’t get a chance to pick it up from the library/bookstore.  Luckily, I now have a copy sitting on my Kindle, and I hope to read it this year.
  • “The Dirty Streets of Heaven” by Tad Williams – Urban fantasy involving angels, demons, and body-snatching.
  • “The City & The City” by China Mieville – Another one that I’ve been saving for a while.
  • “The Vampire Lestat” by Anne Rice – I love Anne Rice’s writing, even though her vampires are a wee bit emo.
  • “The Spindlers” by Lauren Oliver – Spiders that abscond with children and steal their souls.  It seems like it might have a Neil Gaiman-like aesthetic to it.
  • “Splendors and Glooms” by Laura Amy Schlitz – Victorian Gothic about children being kidnapped.  There are also puppets.

Mind you, these are all rather loose ideas; I probably won’t get to all of them, but it’s a starting point and gives you a general idea of what I have to choose from.  It’s also not an exhaustive list, but rather the books on my shelf that seemed to jump out at me and shout “It’s RIP time again!”  Just from glancing at my list, evil creatures stealing children seems to be a bit of a theme.

This year’s RIP also includes two groupreads.  The first is of “The Little Stranger” by Sarah Waters, and it begins right away.  The signup is here and the first posting should be around Sept. 10.  The second readalong is Neil Gaiman’s “The Graveyard Book,” which begins in October.  I’m definitely participating in the Gaiman readalong.  I’m leaning towards doing “The Little Stranger” as well, but I’m not 100% decided because I am scheduled to participate in two blog tours at the end of the month and don’t want to overburden myself too much.  C’mon, somebody be a bad influence and convince me!

Has anyone read any of these, and if so, what did you think?  What are you looking forward to reading this fall?

Categories: Horror/Gothic, Other | Tags: , , , , , , , | 21 Comments

H. P. Lovecraft – Stories, Part 2

During the R.I.P. Challenge this fall, I had decided to read some Lovecraft.  The challenge has already ended, but I’m still going to continue what I started.  Today I’m going to talk about two of H. P. Lovecraft’s short stories–“The Lurking Fear” and “The Rats in the Walls.”

The Lurking Fear

Like “Herbert West:  Reanimator,” this story was originally published as a serial.  This time Lovecraft doesn’t need to run a recap of what’s already happened, which makes the story far more readable.

The protagonist has an interest in the occult.  He hears stories revolving around Martense Mansion and decides to investigate.  He decides to spend the night with some companions, only to find *dun dun dun.* Since this only made our narrator more curious, he begins doing research in the village and gets caught in a storm with a new companion, only to find *dun dun dun!*  Of course, after two major events ending in *dun dun dun,* he becomes even more curious (read:  stupid)  and decides to dig up an old Martense grave, only to find *dun dun dun!*  (This is kind of a fun way of handling spoilers, but I could see it getting very annoying very quickly, so I’ll stop now.)

This was a pretty cool story, and one of my favorite by Lovecraft thus far.

The Rats in the Walls

This story is narrated by the last surviving member of the Delapore family.  After discovering that his family’s ancestral property in England was for sale, he decides to move there and renovate it.  The villagers are very superstitious about the property and refuse to have anything to do with it, and there had always been mysterious and grim legends surrounding the family that lived there.  When Delapore begins spending the night, he notices the strange behavior of his cat and begins to hear noises in the walls at night.  Deciding to investigate, he journeys to the crypt to discover his family’s secret…

This is the point where my commentary turns into an outright rant.  This would have been my favorite Lovecraft story thus far if the man didn’t happen to be such a racist dick.  I understand that authors are in part the product of their time.  Even Dostoevsky is given to rants about the inferiority of the Germans.  However, there’s a huge difference between having some backward ideas and being a douchebag about it.  Naming the narrator’s black cat “N____ Man” crosses that line.  (And no, I’m not going to pollute my blog by actually spelling it out.)  It’s just a dick move.  Were this any other author, I’d probably not continue reading, but it’s Lovecraft.  The man was a genius who happened to create one of the most compelling worldviews within the genre of horror, even to this day.

Where does this leave me?  Well, it’s hard to say.  While I’m reading, I often desperately want one of the Elder Gods to rip a narrator’s face off after he says something that makes me angry.   However, by the end of one of these stories the narrator usually encounters some satisfactory form of poetic justice.  It’s just incredibly frustrating.

Returning to the story, Lovecraft does toy with some interesting ideas in this piece, including the sins of previous generations being inherited through a family.  One of the other themes that crops up in both stories today is the price that one must pay for knowledge.  Lovecraft’s tales are chilling enough to give me nightmares (Clive Barker is the only other author who’s been able to do that), and if you can get past the obnoxious racism I think that they’re definitely worth reading.

Categories: Fantasy, Fiction, Horror/Gothic, Short Stories | Tags: , , , , | 7 Comments

“Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders” by Neil Gaiman

Over the past two months, I’ve been participating in a groupread of Neil Gaiman’s “Fragile Things,” as a part of the R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril Challenge, hosted by Carl from Stainless Steel Droppings.  For those of you who haven’t been following along, this is a spoiler-free review of the book.

This book was the first time that I’ve read any of Gaiman’s work.  I think that it’s a nice way of being introduced to him, as it allows the reader to experience a great variety of his stories and poems, which range in tone from being lighthearted and whimsical to focusing on darker adult themes.  As it’s hard to give an overall synopsis of a collection of short stories, I’m going to go over some of the highlights of the collection.

“The Problem With Susan” – This was a short story that answered the question of what happened to Susan from C. S. Lewis’ “The Chronicles of Narnia” after he abruptly cut her out of the story for being interested in boys and makeup.

“October in the Chair” – In this story, the months of the year are personified and sitting around a campfire.  October tells an eerie ghost story.

“The Monarch of the Glen” – The longest piece in the collection, this novella is set in Gaiman’s American Gods universe.  It tells the story of a character named Shadow as he visits Scotland.  It’s got Viking/Beowulf mythology, which was pretty neat.

“The Day the Saucers Came” – This poem was an awesome nerd-out.  It made me happy.

“Locks” – A poem about a father telling his child about Goldilocks and the Three Bears.

These are just a few of the selections in the book that stood out to me.  There are many more interesting stories, as well as the handful of stories that I didn’t care for.  As a whole, the stories tend to be well-written and cast an interesting perspective on mythology, legends, and fairy tales, as well as day to day life.  These stories are best enjoyed with a cup of coffee on lazy autumn mornings.

Categories: Fantasy, Fiction, Horror/Gothic, Short Stories | Tags: , , , , , | 13 Comments

R.I.P. – The Conclusion

“Someone once told me that time was a predator that stalked us all our lives. I rather believe that time is a companion who goes with us on the journey and reminds us to cherish every moment, because it will never come again. What we leave behind is not as important as how we’ve lived. After all Number One, we’re only mortal.”

~Jean Luc Picard

It feels like just days ago that I began reading for the R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril Challenge, hosted by Carl from Stainless Steel Droppings.  Over the course of two months, a group of readers and bloggers gathered to read spooky, mysterious, or otherwise dark stories to set the mood for fall.

Of course, I didn’t read everything that I’d planned.  I still have a copy of Drood sitting on my shelf saying “Read me!  Read me!”  I still haven’t gotten as far as Cthulhu in the volume of H.P. Lovecraft that is sitting beside my bed.  Even so, I’ve still read some amazing books for R.I.P. during the past two months.

Two of the books that I read for R.I.P. were read as parts of group reads.  I love group reading because it allows for some great discussions, and we all come away from the books with a greater sense of perspective.  Deborah Lawrenson’s The Lantern made for a great Gothic read, and the author even joined us for some dialogue.  I also was introduced to Neil Gaiman’s writing during a readalong of “Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders.”  It was great to be able to read the book in small pieces, as there was so much to discuss about each story or poem!

I only got around to reading two individual books, unfortunately, one of which I still need to finish.  Even so, I would highly recommend Clive Barker’s Weaveworld, which is an excellent example of dark fantasy that reminded me of a more nightmarish version of Narnia.  Seriously, Clive Barker’s writing is phenomenal, and you should all read this.  It’s that good.  The second book, which I have yet to finish, was a volume of H.P. Lovecraft’s stories.  I still plan on finishing this before the library demands its book back.

To get a feel for what everyone else read for the challenge, you can check out the R.I.P. VI Review Site.  A lot of the books that people read looked quite interesting!

Categories: Fantasy, Fiction, Horror/Gothic | Tags: , , , , | 8 Comments

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