Blurring The Line, ed. by Marty Young – Review by Greg Chapman

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ed. by Marty Young

Cohesion Press

Review by Greg Chapman

Blurring the Line was definitely not the anthology I expected.

But, in this case, that’s a very good thing.

Described as a collection of fiction/non-fiction, Blurring the Line delivers on its intent of exploring the grey area between real and inventive horror, and in doing so, revealing just how diverse – and satisfying – horror fiction can be.

Commencing with probably the most definitive non-fiction piece, Tom Piccirilli’s Our Doom is Nigh, is a poignant and revelatory insight into his battle with cancer. From there though, the lines do indeed begin to blur. What follows are stories that delve into paranoia, witchcraft, cryptids, human anomalies, conspiracies and several cracking ghost stories.

Some of the stand-out tales included Lisa Morton’s Woollen Shirts and Gumboots, Tim Lebbon’s Clown’s Kiss, Miskatonic Schrödinger by Steven Lloyd Wilson, Consorting With Filth by Lisa L. Hannett, Hoarder by Kealan Patrick Burke, With These Hands by Brett McBean, The Body Finder by Kaaron Warren, Paul Mannering’s Salt on the Tongue and Annie Neugebauer’s Honey.

All in all, the selections by editor Marty Young, are inspired and several of the stories even managed to have me scanning Google to see if there was any truth to them.

The only negative – if there is one – was the inclusion of the “non-fiction” articles interspersed between the stories. Although I believe they were designed to give the reader a taste of the proceeding stories, I found the articles occasionally inhibited the flow of the stories. But this is just the reviewer’s personal opinion.

Blurring the Line is a very solid anthology of horror stories that certainly kept me enthralled and entertained and wondering what is truth and what is fiction.

Recommended.

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Of Sorrow And Such by Angela Slatter – review

25664279Of Sorrow And Such by Angela Slatter

Tor

Mistress Gideon is a witch. The locals of Edda’s Meadow, if they suspect it of her, say nary a word—Gideon has been good to them, and it’s always better to keep on her good side. Just in case.

When a foolish young shapeshifter goes against the wishes of her pack, and gets herself very publicly caught, the authorities find it impossible to deny the existence of the supernatural in their midst any longer; Gideon and her like are captured, bound for torture and a fiery end.

Should Gideon give up her sisters in return for a quick death? Or can she turn the situation to her advantage?

Angela Slatter is one of my favourite authors, an absolute master fantasist. Her collections Sourdough and Bitterwood are among my all-time favourite collections ever, and this novella is set in the same world. You don’t have to have read those collections to enjoy this book though – it’s an entirely standalone story with gorgeous prose, fabulous characters and a dark, grim plot.

Slatter does a great job of evoking the cunning woman in the patriarchal society trope, but breathes entirely new life into what could easily be old and stale ideas. Her women are powerful, but not entirely nice. They’re often selfish survivors driven to questionable actions. The men are not simply moustache-twirling bad guys, but complex and complicated characters with equally difficult lives. All of these things are expertly woven into a dark and spellbinding plot.

The story does start slowly, but it builds in intensity, particularly from the middle onwards. The slowness is never boring, though, because Slatter’s work is simply a joy to read. Beautiful prose, tight dialogue and evocative description abound. And if you haven’t read her collections of short fiction, I highly recommend you do, for all the same reasons as those above and more.

And again, this is a story which proves the value of the novella length, perfect for this tale. I can’t recommend this one highly enough. (And there are lots of novellas in the Tor line, either out now or forthcoming, that demand attention.)

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X’s For Eyes by Laird Barron – review

Xs-For-EyesX’s For Eyes by Laird Barron

Journalstone

Brothers Macbeth and Drederick Tooms should have it made as fair-haired scions of an impossibly rich and powerful family of industrialists. Alas, life is complicated in mid-1950s USA when you’re child heirs to the throne of Sword Enterprises, a corporation that has enshrined Machiavelli’s The Prince as its operating manual and whose patriarch believes, Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds, would be a swell company logo.

I’ve been a fan of Barron’s work for a while now, and his fiction can be very dark. There’s certainly darkness here, but there’s a decent amount of comedy and light-heartedness too.

This novella sees rival Men-In-Black-esque corporations, Lovecraftian mythos, twisted characters with convoluted pasts, and a mind-bending plot. It’s some truly bizarre and compelling stuff.

The characters have very little agency, but that’s rather the point it seems. On the one hand, it annoyed me initially as I read, because it seemed like nothing more than a litany of stuff happening to people. But as we observe these people juggled like inconsequential balls by cosmic powers beyond understanding, the larger truths of the story become clearer. Though never clear. And the novella is a perfect length for stories of this kind. All tremendous fun.

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The Ritual by Adam Nevill – review

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The Ritual by Adam Nevill

Pan Publishing

This is a fantastic horror novel, one that is genuinely chilling and disturbing. It’s really two books in a way – everything up to about halfway is one terrible story, then the second half is another, equally horrible story. But both are expertly knitted together at the end.

In all honesty, I preferred the cold, open, chilling first “story” more – four friends lost in ancient woods in Scandinavia, being hunted by… something. Nevill’s writing absolutely shines here and in many ways a novella of this story alone with a different ending might have been close to perfect.

But when the story switches (can’t tell you why or how without spoilers) it becomes an entirely different type of horror story. It’s still brilliant and I enjoyed the whole book, but I’ve seen some reviews where people loved the first half and hated the second half. I can understand that, but I still enjoyed both and the story as a whole by the end was very satisfying. It’s the first of Nevill’s novels I’ve read, and I’ll certainly be reading more.

A tremendous tale of old gods, ritual horror and desperate survival. Highly recommended.

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REVIEW: Robert Hood’s Peripheral Visions

peripheralvisionsPeripheral Visions – The Collected Ghost Stories, Robert Hood

Release Date: 06 April 2015
Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-925148-65-7
E-book ISBN: 978-1-925148-68-8
Publisher: IFWG Publishing Australia
Website: ghoststories.roberthoodwriter.com

Sometimes, books are more than the words they contain. Sometimes they are art, they are artefacts. Before we’ve read a single word, just the look or the weight can act as a promise and begin the process of drawing us in. Such is the way with Robert Hood’s Peripheral Visions: Collected Ghost Stories, the first collection from IFWG Australia‘s new dark-fantasy and horror imprint Dark Phases.

I have the single-volume hardcover edition. It is 44 stories, 800 pages, 22,000 words, and as big and heavy as a housebrick. It is a beautiful thing to hold and to behold. The cover and internal illustrations — an eerie combination of photography and digital manipulation — by renowned artist Nick Stathopoulos, only add weight to the care and professionalism afforded this volume by IFGW Australia and Cohesion Press (who did the design and layout).

Why so much trouble for a single-author collection? Well, a short biography on Robert Hood might help answer that question… Robert Hood’s writing has been pushing the bounds of science fiction, fantasy and crime for the past 40 years. He has published five YA novels, an adult epic-fantasy novel, fifteen children’s books, four collections of short fiction, he has written plays, academic articles, poetry and co-edited anthologies of horror and crime. He has won seven Ditmar Awards and a Golden Dagger Award, and published over 120 short stories in anthologies and magazines all around the world.

That’s a resumé worthy of respect, and this collection shows it.

What then of the stories?

Peripheral Visions, as the full title suggests, collects all of Hood’s ghost stories published during the period 1986-2015. That includes 41 previously published stories and three written specifically for the collection. The quality varies from good to brilliant, some being more to my taste than others, but not once was I disappointed by a story or its outcome.

Not all tales are ‘Ghost Stories’ in the M.R.Jamesian sense, though the style is well represented, and not all are as obvious as others. Indeed some I would hesitate to call ghost stories at all, but definitely agree with the repeated use of the term ‘Haunted’ in each of the six sections that divide the book — HAUNTED PLACES, HAUNTED FAMILIES, HAUNTED MINDS, HAUNTED YOUTH, HAUNTED VENGEANCE, HAUNTED REALITIES — because many of the characters are haunted not by ghosts, but their pasts and by places and in some cases haunted even by themselves. But all the characters are indeed haunted in various ways and I found this link between the stories much stronger than any offered by the presence of mere spirits from beyond the grave.

Favourites? Surprisingly, I found some of the oldest stories to be amongst those that most impressed me. “Necropolis”, published in 1986, is a tale strong with the nuclear fear of the late Cold War, and “Grandma and the Girls” (1989) comes across as a strange but pleasing blend of Robert Aickman and Flannery O’Connor. The highlight of the book for me was the 2008 novelette “Kulpunya”, where the beauty and horror of Australia’s outback are rendered in exquisite prose more than worthy of the ancient spirits Hood evokes. Indeed, with many of the stories, it is the strong Australian ‘sense of place’ that makes them most satisfying.

There is, predictably in a collection of this size, some repetition in the themes and even the characters we encounter. But overall, there is enough variety to keep the mind enthralled without getting bored or feeling like you’ve read it all before.

Available in a variety of formats — single-volume deluxe hardcover, 2 volume trade paperback, and a digital version — I’d certainly recommend shelling out for the complete hardcover package. The stories are well worth it, and the expert presentation along with Nick Stathopolous’s stunning illustrations, make it something you’ll want to pull from the shelf time and time again.