Malevolent Visitants by CE Ward – review by Mario Guslandi

ward_malevolent_visitants-174x254Malevolent Visitants by CE Ward

Sarob Press , 2016

A review by Mario Guslandi

Malevolent Visitants is the third short story collection by CE Ward, following Vengeful Ghosts and Seven Ghosts and One Other, all published but the excellent small imprint Sarob Press.

A follower of MR James, Ward is a gifted author, able to recreate truly Jamesian atmospheres, not providing simple amateurish pastiches, but writing excellent, subtly disturbing original tales, cleverly plotted and elegantly told.

The current book assembles a bunch of new, delightful ghostly tales able to elicit pleasant shivers in the reader.

Here we have a few fine examples. “At Dusk” is a story full of insidious menace set in the gloomy atmosphere of a country graveyard, while “One Over the Twelve” is a tale of depravity and murder, where punishment comes from beyond the grave.

The dark, unsettling “Merfield Hall” depicts unholy practices taking place in a cursed mansion owned by a disreputable character.

The excellent “The Gift” , a sequel to MR James’ “The Experiment”, is a truly antiquarian tale full of disquieting, forbidden secrets, while “The House of Wonders” is a sinister piece revolving around a contemptible amusement house exhibiting frightening samples of real horror.

My favourite story, perhaps, is “Squire Thorneycroft”, a veritable delight for any ghost story lover. A superb story indeed, enhanced by an unforgettable, terrifying final scene.

As customary with Sarob Press titles, the print run is very limited, so I strongly advise you to hurry and purchase a copy of this charming collection of dark fiction.

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Magrit by Lee Battersby – review by Greg Chapman

Magrit coverMagrit by Lee Battersby

Walker Books Australia

Review by Greg Chapman

Lee Battersby’s Magrit is one of those tales that sweeps you away into the beauty of the macabre and leaves you with a pang of sadness in your heart.

Although it doesn’t feel like a horror story, or even a children’s story, Magrit sits on that fine line between the two, and this is where Mr Battersby’s skills as an author really shine.

To give you a taste of the story, Magrit lives in an unknown cemetery in an unknown town, with a puppet made of bones for company. Her life amongst the slow decay is going swimmingly, until she hears the cry of an infant child.

Despite her puppet’s warnings, Magrit decides to become a surrogate mother to the child and this is where the story begins to verge into questions of morality, specifically life and death, loneliness and love.

Although correlations could be drawn between Magrit and Neil Gaiman’s, The Graveyard Book, they are minor, and the story’s appeal comes from the mystery surrounding Magrit and the graveyard she lives in and her relationship with the child, Bugrat.

I was quite easily swept into this cemetery with every turn of the page (and in fact, I finished the story in one sitting). Illustrator Amy Daoud’s quaint illustrations also added to the text perfectly.

Magrit has plenty of soul, sadness, despair, and hope. It’s a delightfully dark fairy tale, full of Battersby’s whimsy and charm. Most of all, it’s got the makings of a classic.

Highly recommended for all ages, Magrit will go on sale from Walker Books Australia in March.

http://www.walkerbooks.com.au/Books/Magrit-9781925081343

 

Book Review – Harbour by John Ajvide Lindqvist, review by Sean Wright

This is a cross-post from Sean Wright at Adventures of a Bookonaut.

harbour The back cover of my copy of Harbour  touts Lindqvist as reminiscent of Stephen King at his best.  Having read both of them (though not in great depth) I can see the similarities.  Both present a cast of characters and spend a good deal of time engaging the reader in the lives of these characters whether or not they are central to the plot. The result of this approach, with me at least, is that you become very attached to and embedded with, the characters before the author turns the screws.

Harbour presents the reader with a slow build up. Lindqvist interlaces stories, history and flashbacks to drip feed gradual reveals about the truth of the horror that surrounds the island of Domaro – a fictional island in the Swedish Archipelago.  The tale starts with Anders and Cecilia’s 6 year old daughter Maja, disappearing as the family is exploring the lighthouse in the middle of a frozen bay. With the ice frozen a metre thick, it appears she has vanished into thin air.

This beginning tragedy is done quite well even when you know it is coming.  The story then jumps forward past the inevitable split between Anders and Cecilia, to an Anders drowning in alcohol and on the verge of suicide. He decides however to return to the island and from here it is a story about unlocking Domaro’s dark past, that of the islanders and finally determining what happened to his daughter

Lindqvist’s weaving of myth, history and tall tales is one of the strengths of this book.  The reader comes to know the island and its peoples, consequently we get a very good sense of place.  The second strength is the well crafted brooding natural horror that slowly turns toward the supernatural or even mythic by the end of the work.  It stops short of cosmic horror and averts comparisons to Lovecraftian tales of villages by the sea.

The are some grotesque elements but these pale in comparison to the discomfort caused by the unknown deep.  The sea and its immensity, its place in our consciousness as a vast entity is the most compelling part of the work and Lindqvist has done a very good job of leveraging the readers natural fears.  I think because of this success the ending was never quite going to match the slow building intensity.  I also think I prefer a story that is a little ambiguous in its ending, something that plants doubt in the readers mind, that leaves open the possibility that the tale could be true and unfortunately there is a clear resolution here.  That being said I enjoyed the build up.

– review by Sean Wright

The Doll Collection, ed. Ellen Datlow – review by Mario Guslandi

The Doll Collection, ed. Ellen Datlow

The Doll Collection, ed. Ellen Datlow

The Doll Collection

Edited by Ellen Datlow

Tor Books, 2015

Reviewed by Mario Guslandi

Well known, distinguished American editor Ellen Datlow continues to delight horror fans with juicy anthologies of excellent short fiction featuring either reprints or, as in this case, brand new, original tales.

“The Doll Collection” is a theme anthology assembling seventeen stories where dolls (of any size, type and nature) represent the backbone of the plot. Needless to say the average quality of the material is extremely good, with about 50%of the stories reaching a level of excellence which makes them worth to be included in any forthcoming “Year’s Best”. A challenge for Datlow herself, as the editor of one of the most important and successful “Best Horror of the Year” series.

Then please take note of the following titles and see if my prediction is well founded or not.

“Skin and Bone” by Tim Lebbon is a masterful tale of Arctic horror where the discovery of two doll- like corpses in the snow reveals the hidden truth about the fate of the expedition, while “Heroes and Villains” by Stephen Gallagher is a creepy yarn featuring a too lively ventriloquist’s dummy recalling a past tragedy brought about by a fire.

In the enigmatic tale of witchcraft, “Gaze” by Gemma Files, we get acquainted with a long dead woman with eyes of different colours and in the terrifying “Ambitious Boys Like You” by Richard Kadrey, two young burglars breaking into an old man’s house end up facing a veritable nightmare.

Stephen Graham Jones contributes the offbeat but fascinating and disquieting “Daniel’s Theory About Dolls”, probing the dark secrets of a family where two brothers, living with the constant memory of an unborn little sister, have an unhealthy obsession with dolls.

Genevieve Valentine’s delicious “Visit Lovely Cornwall on the Western Railway Line” depicts with a gentle, exquisite touch the train journey of a girl travelling alone.

Lucy Sussex provides the very enjoyable “Miss Sibyl-Cassandra”, revolving around a fortune-telling doll and her ambiguous but effective previsions.

John Langan exhibits his great storytelling ability in “Homemade Monsters” where childhood memories about the disappearance of a kid during an unusual seismic event are linked to a makeshift but powerful Godzilla figurine.

Other contributors are: Joyce Carol Oates, Pat Cadigan,Seanan McGuire, Carrie Vaughn, Miranda Siemienowicz, Mary Robinette Kowal, Richard Bowes,Veronica Schanoes and Jeffrey Ford.

Needless to add, a highly recommended book.

– review by Mario Guslandi

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Written in Darkness by Mark Samuels – review by Mario Guslandi

23462553WRITTEN IN DARKNESS

By Mark Samuels

Egaeus Press 2014,

Hardcover, 127 pages

A review by Mario Guslandi

The latest short story collection by British author Mark Samuels ,aptly entitled “Written in Darkness” , confirms his ability to unearth the dark side of the universe as well as the dark depths of the human soul. Darkness is everywhere, in the failing economy, in the breakdown of our place of work, in the emptiness of the daily routine, in the loneliness of our life, in the nature of our secret feelings. That is the common ground of the nine stories assembled in a slim, elegant volume published by Egaeus Press.

Obviously, not all the stories have the same intensity and some are more accomplished than others. The general tone may sound a bit depressing, so I advise you to savour each tale in separate reading sessions rather than being engulfed in a spiral of pessimism and melancholy : you will enjoy the stories more.

In my opinion the best stories are : “A Call to Greatness” a Kafkaesque piece featuring a stern Baron hopelessly fighting against the Bolsheviks, “My Heretical Existence”, a short, sinister tale about an elusive zone of an European city where a different, dangerous reality is lurking and “Outside Interference”, a puzzling example of urban horror involving the employees of a corporate firm located in a building,the basement of which conceals deadly secrets.

My favourite ,however, is a very traditional horror story, the deliciously creepy “Alistair” where a little boy becomes privy of the dark mysteries surrounding an old mansion and the adjacent cemetery.

– review by Mario Guslandi