If you guys are following my reviews this year, you’ll have seen a pattern where at least one of my reads per month is something older. I have quite a few beat up paperbacks by John Saul and he tended to be a pretty popular, although I’m not seeing his name around as much nowadays. I grabbed Black Lightning off my shelf a few weeks ago and think I made a poor life decision since many many reviewers have stated that it’s no where near his best work. It sounded interesting to me 🤷♀️
Here are my thoughts and why I’m adding Saul’s books to my giveaway pile now
Bookish Quick Facts:
Title: Black Lightning
Author: John Saul
Original Release: Fawcett Books, 1995
Length: 438 pages
Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐✨ ehhh I wouldn’t start Saul with this 🤷♀️
Here’s the synopsis from the back cover:
Something about this book just absolutely failed to draw me in. Around page 350 I finally became more interested – just to be disappointed by an abrupt and sort of lame ending that left me with questions as to the future of the characters.
Towards the start a poor description of 90s CPR didn’t help. I don’t know the medical history of resuscitation that well but I’m pretty sure the EMTs would have killed Glen. The idea of the spark of life does make a good plot point. I think it’s one of the more interesting serial killer motivations I’ve read, despite the overall book falling short.
It wasn’t a bad plot though, it just never grabbed me. There wasn’t much police procedural or investigation. We get a lot of running around and gore while the characters figure out what is going on. Twisted family secrets and the cycle of abuse at the core of the plot. I didn’t dislike the characters but it was hard to have an opinion on them one way or another.
Black Lightning is fairly gory and descriptive of said gore, which I’ve learned was Saul’s go-to in his earlier books. Reading animal torture turns me off quicker than anything (not the book’s fault) but it didn’t help me stay immersed as I mostly flipped through the – gosh how long does it take to describe what he’s doing to an animal? *Shivers* no thanks. It all fits right in with Saul’s evil entity plots though.
The rating comes from the fact that I just never felt drawn in, until around page 350 when we start seeing … The things. And the stuff. And the connections. The ending was also incredibly abrupt and unsatisfying despite a decent and fast paced build up to the final scenes.
I think by reading reviews that Saul has written better work but I’ve got over 800 unread books here and based off Black Lightning, I boxed them all up to pass on 🤷♀️ I don’t really love paranormal thrillers or horror and I can’t take much scarier than King (who is terrifying) and early Patterson (pretty gorey stuff). I’m glad I gave Saul’s work a chance though.
Thanks for checking out my book review of Black Lightning by John saul. This is a book that has been on my shelves forever and I’m just rambling on about it with no obligation, but as always, all opinions are my own ♥️
Hi everyone, welcome back to Sunday Brunch! Today in episode 30 something a little different is happening as we delve into the horror community 😱 and show some support for an indie author who’s mythology based novella is coming out in two short days!
Adam Godfrey is an author who believes in doing the right thing and so he gave up a publicity opportunity in favor of not supporting someone doing damage to the indie community. I’ve seen some awesome support come to the affected authors and am thrilled and honored to offer him this platform to chat about his project! (If anyone else is interested, I’m here for you too)!
That said, read on to find out all about Narcissus, horror in general, and a debate on whether or not vampires are actually safe from mirrors 😅
🥞Welcome to the Sunday Brunch Series! As an introduction, can you tell everyone an interesting thing about yourself that isn’t in your author bio?
🎤 When I used to work at United States Joint Forces Command, I provided information technology (IT) support to former Secretary of Defense, General James “Mad Dog” Mattis.
🥞What’s your brunch order today?
🎤 Oh wow . . . you know, Tony Todd, who starred in CANDYMAN, FINAL DESTINATION, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1990), etc. frequently posts about his chicken and waffle meals, which has convinced me that, if I’m ever in the vicinity of a Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles, there’s going to be an unplanned stop to give it a try. That said, my brunch order today is going to be chicken and waffles. Final answer.
🥞 There is some drama in the horror community right now surrounding the host of a particular podcast, who is receiving harassment claims from female authors? Good on you for not supporting him and backing out of the podcast. Do you have any comments on the situation?
🎤 Yeah, I generally try to steer clear of most Twitter discourse, but due to the nature of the fast-growing numberof claims being made against this individual, as well as my (previously) scheduled appearance on the podcast, I cancelled the interview out of support for those affected by his behavior, and desire to not be associated in any way with what he had going on. I don’t know the individual in question on a personal level, have not personally read the messages exchanged, and am not here to lay judgement on anyone, but life’s taught me that more often than not, where there’s smoke, there’s fire. Enough people had come forth about this individual within a very brief window of time to where I knew he wasn’t someone I wished to align myself with in any way, shape, or form and, although that had been the only podcast I had lined up to promote the release of NARCISSUS, I was more than eager to forego that opportunity in the name of doing what’s right. It’s really infuriating, and there’s no room in this world for such malicious conduct. I will always stand with the victims
🥞 Yeah wow, seems best to avoid that and hopefully those involved get the message that the indie community is a lot stronger than they are. He needs authors, not vice versa, and there’s no time and place anywhere for being a creep🤷♀️
🥞 Is your publication date affected by any of that or are you still on for May 2nd? I’ll list purchase links at the end!
🎤 Oh, not at all. The publisher (Shortwave Publishing) has absolutely no affiliation with that individual, and has also stepped forward to make this known and declare their stance against sexual harassment. They’ve been really wonderful to work with and we’re very excited to release NARCISSUS into the world on May 2!
🥞 So Narcissus is a horror novella based on the Greek myth! I’ve been seeing a lot of fantasy mythology retellings and adaptations, it’s kind of cool to see it in other genres too. What drew you to that myth?
🎤 I always loved Greek mythology, with the legend of Narcissus standing out as one of the more intriguing ones. Something about the destructive nature of self-infatuation, and how we so often see this in play today by way of narcissistic personality disorder (narcissism) among political figures, celebrities, etc. Narcissists gorge their inflated senses of self-importance on the undue admiration of others, and it’s an affliction that is, in itself, such a horrifying, all-consuming monster that impacts not only the afflicted individual, but also all who are exposed to him/her. What better Greek myth to adapt into a modern horror antagonist?
🥞I got scared while reading, sorry I’m a chicken 🥲 Looking at the book’s tag line on your Twitter that says “If your ability to avoid your own reflection were a matter of life and death, how long would you last?” What would your actual game plan be if you avoid your reflection to stay alive?
🎤 Haha! It’s quite alright. My wife doesn’t read horror either (though she’s extremely supportive of my work). She’s very much a horror lightweight.
So, my game plan . . . that’s a tough one. What I found so compelling about the concept of NARCISSUS while writing it was the sheer impossibility of the situation. Reflective surfaces surround us. A glass of water, a doorknob, a window, cell phone screen, a spoon, a freshly-waxed floor. An entity that can access us through our own reflections is a truly inescapable one, so in truth, I have no idea what I would do. And it’s not as if blinding myself would work. I wouldn’t have to see myself for my reflection to gain access to me.
Something funny though. I just sat with Robb Olson on his podcast The ARC Party and he brought up a very good point that I had never considered. Vampires have no reflections. In the world of NARCISSUS, maybe vampirism exists, and if it does, mayyyybe that would be a way to cheat the system. It’s funny, sure, but also pretty dang smart . . . haha!
🥞The cyber security and Department of Defense career sounds interesting, have you based any writing off of your experiences there?
🎤 Not directly (aside from professional publications in the cybersecurity industry), though readers will find a common thread of plausible science and technology running through the center of much of my work. I’m working final edits on a full-length novel now (BODY OF WATER), which contains some of these very elements, and I’m so excited to eventually see this one hit the reading world. It bears a concept never before explored in film or literature.
🥞 Do you have any classic (or non classic) horror favorites or what brought you into writing within the genre?
🎤 When I was young, I was a voracious reader of scary stories, and I’d devour any story anthology I could get my hands on. A couple that stick out in my mind are TALES FOR THE MIDNIGHT HOUR by J.B. Stamper and SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK by Alvin Schwartz. But, truth be told, as much as I do love horror literature, I’ve always watched more horror films/tv than read horror books. Early influences include FRIGHT NIGHT, THE LOST BOYS, TWILIGHT ZONE, TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE, CREEPSHOW, etc. A number of early readers of NARCISSUS have commented on what a cinematic read it is, and this is probably why. When I write, I see it as a movie in my head. For much of my work, if it doesn’t lend itself well to the screen, it just doesn’t work for me.
🥞 I noticed that too with the strong descriptive elements. I can tell and tend to enjoy when books are written with that cinematic feel, it works well with a lot of space opera (and horror)!
🥞What’s the scariest thing you’ve ever read or seen in a movie?
🎤 I’ve honestly never really been spooked out by a book, but as far as films go, the scene in FRIGHT NIGHT where Amy turns into this ravenous vampire and goes after her boyfriend has always been downright terrifying. The opening scene of TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE where Dan Aykroyd’s character says “You wanna see something REALLY scary?” is one of the most effective horror scenes I’ve seen. Another is the scene from SALEM’S LOT where Danny Glick (having turned into a vampire) is scraping at the window of his friend, floating in the fog just outside and begging to be let in. Yeah, that’s prime material right there.
🥞Have you read any great books recently?
🎤 I’m actually reading Stephen King’s THE STAND for the first time right now, as well as JURASSIC PARK. As a Crichton nut (one of my biggest early influences), it’s absurd that I’m just now getting to that book, but I guess I always thought “well, I’ve already seen the movie”. That was misguided thinking. It’s very different from the movie, and soooo good. I’m a huge fan of DARK MATTER by Blake Crouch, as well as THE OCEAN AT THE END OF THE LANE by Neil Gaiman.
A book I recently finished that I really loved was GHOST EATERS by Clay McLeod Chapman. He’s really a brilliant writer that’s rising so fast in the horror community.
🥞 Thank you so much for taking the time to interview! This last is an open forum for you so feel free to talk about anything else you might want to say!
🎤 Thanks so much for the opportunity! NARCISSUS will be available on May 2 in ebook/print format through Shortwave Publishing and other major online retailers, and is already available on audio via Audible and iTunes, narrated by the Audie Award-winning narrator Elisabeth Rodgers. It’s not often that a narrator actually manages to enhance the reading experience, but I feel that’s exactly what she pulled off. Just a phenomenal performance.
Adam Godfrey hails from Chesapeake, Virginia, where he lives with his wife and three daughters. He holds over twenty years of experience working for the United States Department of Defense in information technology and cybersecurity risk management. He holds a master’s degree in cybersecurity, and his professional contributions to the field have been internationally featured across a variety of media platforms.
In fiction, Adam is a novelist and author of short stories. His genre-crossing work ranges from the suspenseful to the horrific, frequently characterized by central threads of plausible science and technology gone awry.
Three years ago when I transitioned all of my Wix reviews to WordPress and had no idea what I was doing, I thought they all came over without a fuss. I was wrong. I recently posted a review for Alex North’s new book The Angel Maker and realized that I couldn’t link to The Whisper Man, his debut, because it didn’t exist on my website. Well – thank goodness for GoodReads.
Originally posted in August 2019, here is my review of this creepy little thriller’s ARC
Bookish Quick Facts:
Title: The Whisper Man
Author: Alex North
Publisher & Release: Celadon Books, 2019
Length: 368 pages
Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐✨
Here’s the synopsis from Am*zon:
In this dark, suspenseful thriller, Alex North weaves a multi-generational tale of a father and son caught in the crosshairs of an investigation to catch a serial killer preying on a small town.
After the sudden death of his wife, Tom Kennedy believes a fresh start will help him and his young son Jake heal. A new beginning, a new house, a new town. Featherbank.
But the town has a dark past. Twenty years ago, a serial killer abducted and murdered five residents. Until Frank Carter was finally caught, he was nicknamed “The Whisper Man,” for he would lure his victims out by whispering at their windows at night.
Just as Tom and Jake settle into their new home, a young boy vanishes. His disappearance bears an unnerving resemblance to Frank Carter’s crimes, reigniting old rumors that he preyed with an accomplice. Now, detectives Amanda Beck and Pete Willis must find the boy before it is too late, even if that means Pete has to revisit his great foe in prison: The Whisper Man.
And then Jake begins acting strangely. He hears a whispering at his window…
Thanks to Celadon books for the free advanced copy in exchange for an honest review, all opinions are my own!
I was dually hooked and creeped out after reading a few chapters of this book and honestly stayed that way (creeped out and hooked) until the very end.
Holy cow what a page turner. I hate cliches but there were so many twists and turns and nuances and beautiful little insights, that I could NOT stop reading! I think I read the last 120 pages in one sitting.
My favorite parts included a sweet little storyline with the boy Jake’s ‘imaginary friend’. Ghosts freak me out though. At the end when Jake is talking to someone else … No spoilers but it’s one of those things that makes me say “hmmm”. A touch of magical realism, or something more sinister?
What a great level of suspense too. I felt a lot of fear for Neil and Jake throughout, which is what makes a thriller good for me. I need to feel the urgency. The killer was well hidden too and I liked how those revelations were brought out. I think I missed something the first time I read the book, but went back and gained some insight into the killer which made more sense once I realized that it was a generational abuse issue.
4.5 stars and I definitely recommend for fans of thrilling, suspenseful, paranormal novels. Be warned that it’s more literary than most books in these genres so it likely won’t appeal to those coming in for a fright. If you’re looking for atmosphere and suspense, look no further!
Thanks for checking out my book review for The Whisper Man by Alex North. I received my early copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review and as always, all opinions are my own ♥️. Stay tuned for more back content as I parse out which reviews never made it to WordPress!
Thank you endlessly to Celadon Books for my early copy of The Angel Maker! I’m coming to love the collection of unique and literary titles I have from them. Regardless of the genre I have come to expect a certain quality of literature and this one does not disappoint.
With the book arriving (unsolicited, but with my thanks) so close to publication date and being in the UK for most of March, I was only able to read it recently. Let’s take a look at this literary suspense & horror novel and then my thoughts!
Bookish Quick facts:
Title: The Angel Maker
Author: Alex North
Publisher & Release: Celadon Books, Feb 28 2023
Length: 322 pages
Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ for fans of atmosphere, suspense, light horror elements
HEre’s the synopsis via Am*Zon:
From the New York Times bestselling author of The Whisper Man and The Shadows comes a dark, suspenseful new thriller about the mysteries of fate, the unbreakable bond of siblings, and a notorious serial killer who was said to know the future.
Growing up in a beautiful house in the English countryside, Katie Shaw lived a charmed life. At the cusp of graduation, she had big dreams, a devoted boyfriend, and a little brother she protected fiercely. Until the day a violent stranger changed the fate of her family forever.
Years later, still unable to live down the guilt surrounding what happened to her brother, Chris, and now with a child of her own to protect, Katie struggles to separate the real threats from the imagined. Then she gets the phone call: Chris has gone missing and needs his big sister once more.
Meanwhile, Detective Laurence Page is facing a particularly gruesome crime. A distinguished professor of fate and free will has been brutally murdered just hours after firing his staff. All the leads point back to two old cases: the gruesome attack on teenager Christopher Shaw, and the despicable crimes of a notorious serial killer who, legend had it, could see the future.
As with The Whisper Man, I enjoyed reading The Angel Maker but found it ultimately unsatisfying at the end. The overall pace meanders but maintains a level of dark atmosphere and suspense that kept me engaged through the entire book.
I have to admit that I tuned out slightly during the religious and metaphysical aspect discussions. I have no problem with mystical elements and philosophy, both of which are weaved into the plot in generally small doses. The problem for me is that the ending left a big question mark of what exactly that horror element was. I understand that the point is to have the reader think through the “what if”, but there wasn’t enough for me to grasp the how or the ‘why is this thing making the crazy men create Angels?’
There’s a whole possible discussion on using your gifts for good vs evil here. What would you do if you could see the future? I can see book clubs having a field day because there’s a lot to unpack on this novel.
I liked the story itself. I read this one fairly quickly once I got into it. One stylistic aspect that was hard for me to keep track of was multiple points of view on top of chronological jumps. I spent a lot of time at first flipping back and forth to recall names and events before deciding to just read and enjoy and see what happens.
The result was good, terrifying, sad, and even sadder once the pieces of the mystery started coming together. There are many characters that show the different ways that family can bond, the lingering effects of trauma, adoption, schizophrenia? and sibling rivalry in two dissimilar but sadly parallel situations.
I did like the characters too, as much as one can while they navigate guilt and unfair burdens in their own ways.
Overall, I come across as cynical but I think North is a great writer. I would recommend this book if you liked his prior novels or if you want to try a more literary suspense novel with a moderately light horror element. I know I’ll keep reading his books for sure.
A quick note on the audio: I was provided with an audio code but was not a huge fan of the narrator in that she didn’t vary the character’s voices. She is clearly spoken and has the right accent but without distinct voices it was hard to keep track of times and characters, so I only spent about two chapters in the audiobook!
Thanks so much for checking out my book review of The Angel Maker by Alex North. I received a free advanced reader’s edition in exchange for an honest review and as always, all opinions are my own♥️
I continue to have no regrets about reading through my endless Stephen King backlog. In October I finished both Wizard and Glass (The Gunslinger #4) and Later, which is his third surprisingly deep horror & crime novel for the Hard Case Crime publisher.
What I like most about King as a person, and an author, is that it’s 2022 and he’s still writing amazing shit like “he kept moving further west like some fucked up braindead pioneer” to describe the main characters uncle, who kept moving to cheaper nursing homes as the family’s finances got worse. It’s equal parts fucked up and hilarious – King is my go to author when I need a break from the politically correct world.
As an aside, I started and now love following King on Twitter. His comments are like a little morale boost in the middle of a crazy world.
Anyway, ok let’s talk about Later
BOOKISH QUICK FACTS:
Author: Stephen King
Publisher & Release: Hard Case Crime, 2021
Length: 272 pages
Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ for classic King & horror/paranormal fans
A note on the audio: Later is narrated by Seth Numrich, who has narrated many King novels and is absolutely phenomenal. Solely rating Numrich’s narration, an easy 5 stars. 6h32m long for Simon & Shuster Audio
Here’s the synopsis off Am*zon:
SOMETIMES GROWING UP
MEANS FACING YOUR DEMONS
The son of a struggling single mother, Jamie Conklin just wants an ordinary childhood. But Jamie is no ordinary child. Born with an unnatural ability his mom urges him to keep secret, Jamie can see what no one else can see and learn what no one else can learn. But the cost of using this ability is higher than Jamie can imagine – as he discovers when an NYPD detective draws him into the pursuit of a killer who has threatened to strike from beyond the grave.
LATER is Stephen King at his finest, a terrifying and touching story of innocence lost and the trials that test our sense of right and wrong. With echoes of King’s classic novel It, LATER is a powerful, haunting, unforgettable exploration of what it takes to stand up to evil in all the faces it wears.
Later is a short little novel that has an incredible amount packed into it. It’s a coming of age story for Jamie, it’s a touching-at-times story of different ghosts, there’s a crime aspect, and it’s a horror story.
Like I said, this is a horror story
It’s so much more than that though. I love the characters too, from Jamie to his mom to the old professor that the family stays friends with and eventually guides Jamie through his murdery ghost problem. Nothing like an eccentric old man that likes to make fairy tales sound academic and terrible, right?
Oh, right. I was absolutely never bored, and thankfully never that scared either. Some King books are downright horrifying but Later never quite fit that mold even when it was in it’s horror element. I think he meant to keep a slightly lighter tone and focus more on the people than the scares in this one.
Another of my favorite King aspects is that he loves to shout out his prior novels and other authors too. The Ritual of Chud is back. Jamie’s mom runs a literary agency and mentions many, many books & authors including Sue Grafton.
I was so ready to smash that 5 star button until that very last reveal! It wouldn’t be a King book if someone didn’t have a mommy problem, but, it didn’t work for me at all. I’m glad to see others agreeing with this sentiment🤣
I don’t want to ramble forever but I would wholeheartedly recommend this one if you like fast paced stories with a little bit of humanity, horror, action, ghosts, monsters in all their forms, and King’s classically offbeat sense of fucked up humor.
As a note about Stephen King audiobooks – I don’t know if King personally hand picks his narrators or what but I’ve discovered most of my favorite narrators through listening to his books. They are an amazing bunch including Will Patton and Seth Numrich, both of whom bring their stories straight to life and add that little bite that adds something extra to King’s novels!
You voted and I am delivering! One of my final GrimDarkTober reads is also my last 2022 edition of “Struggling Through the Classics”
Every season, I let you all vote on which classic I will read and then drop some thoughts on it! Earlier in the year I suffered through Notre Dame de Paris (The Hunchback of Notre Dame), then it was The Scarlet Letter, and now you all let me off the hook fairly easily with Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde!
Let me ask you all a question first – tell me in the comments, phonetically, how you pronounce Jekyll? Don’t look it up, just tell me how you read it in your head. I never would have guessed JEE-kill, I was a JECK-ull person, but now I know that everyone says it differently. So, go tell me yours!
I guess what I didn’t remember or realize about this book is that it’s essentially a long short story. I’d say novella but it’s really, really short. For a “book” that has multiple full length movies and book retellings, how was it so short!
One thing that you all should never do, is quote me on anything, but since this was written in 1886 I’m pretty sure it came out prior to (or at the same time) that Freud was doing the whole three-parts-of-the-human-psyche thing, which to me makes the *idea* of Jekyll & Hyde pretty interesting.
In reality though, Stevenson managed to make Gothic London boring as hell because the book read like a legal brief. I enjoyed the first chapter because I liked how he described the characters, and the last chapter because we got all the answers, and in between it just was a bunch of confusing stuffy old doctors and lawyers trying to piece a rather odd mystery together.
Don’t get me wrong, it was blessedly short and not a bad read at all but it seemed like a lot of leadup to a biiiig reveal/info dump that was presented in more or less the form of a legal brief.
Ahem. Well. Onto the next one after the new year, I’ll put the next poll up sometime in December 🤣
A GoodReads Synopsis:
‘All human beings, as we meet them, are commingled out of good and evil: and Edward Hyde, alone in the ranks of mankind, was pure evil’
Published as a shilling shocker, Robert Louis Stevenson’s dark psychological fantasy gave birth to the idea of the split personality. The story of respectable Dr Jekyll’s strange association with damnable young man Edward Hyde; the hunt through fog-bound London for a killer; and the final revelation of Hyde’s true identity is a chilling exploration of humanity’s basest capacity for evil.
This Sunday I’m thrilled to present a GrimDarkTober guest post from a book blogger who needs little introduction! One of the many awesome people I met through a Wyrd & Wonder read along, Peat Long’s blog offers up a ton of book reviews, articles, lists, plus many other curiosities. With no further delay, here’s his article!
Roots of Darkness: The Horrifying Origins of Sword & Sorcery
For many, October tis the month of darkness. Gloom, murk, and perhaps a side of iniquity. Book twitter is full of tributes to this spirit, which is obviously difficult as bookish folk have no taste for the macabre and spooky, not least of which is Athena’s Grimdarktober.
Therefore, in my own tribute, I give her and you this post on sword & sorcery.
Some of you might not see the connection here. You might be thinking what does the genre of over-muscled louts seeking a totally not-compensating for anything life of big swords and scantily clad ladies have to do with dark fiction? The answer to that starts with two words.
Back in the 1920s, when pulp magazines played a big part in the American literary landscape, there was a magazine named Weird Tales. It was founded specifically to be a home for supernatural stories at a time when there was none, with repeated references to a particular influence: Edgar Allan Poe. A lot of the fiction published in the magazine reflected that influence; ghost stories, gothic stories, horror stories. But some of it was the nascent genre of sword & sorcery. How did that happen? And what influence did that have on the stories?
Some of the how lies in the peculiar mindset of Robert E Howard, whose Conan stories formed the accepted recipe for sword & sorcery. He was a bookworm who absorbed everything, a would-be pugilist with a dislike for the modern world, not to mention an author in search of ways to make a sale. Unconventional settings and violent stories came naturally to him, and were a natural addition to the more conventional horror fo the magazine.
A great deal of the how also lies with the very nature of Weird Tales. Its writers formed a close-knit community, writing to each other often, and few of them wrote as often as old Mr Nightmare Fuel himself, HP Lovecraft. His influence was felt in many ways – one proto S&S tale was inspired by him asking the author why not a story told from the werewolf’s perspective, another story got published after he prodded the editor – but the biggest was that of his stories.
At which point you start to see some other S&S staples enter the canon. Weird snakemen. Sinister sorcerers and their eerie cults. Indifferent, terrifying gods. Alien monsters and forgotten communities of malevolent people. In some respects, these are things the early S&S authors would have looked at anyway as these did reflect the fears of the time, but these are very much the sort of thing Lovecraft loved. As such, they very much part of what Howard, and other early S&S writers influenced by Lovecraft such as Clark Ashton Smith and Fritz Leiber, used.
Which means that, amid the tales of conquest and feud, of picaresque adventure in exotic locales, you get a distinct vein of sword & sorcery stories that are almost pure horror. Situations where mighty sinews, honed skill, and indomitable wills only allow our heroes to survive where all others have died. The worlds might be more historic than Lovecraft’s contemporary gothic stylings, the heroes more alive and sane at the end, but the similarity is marked.
And the result is some very dark fantasy fiction, perfect for your October reading! Want some examples? Here’s a few to look up…
Worms of the Earth by Robert E Howard – Howard’s most horrifying tale probably belongs to the character Bran Mak Morn, whose attempt to get revenge against the Romans involves making common cause with those he’d rather have nothing to do with. Very creepy.
The Howling Tower by Fritz Leiber – This adventure of Fahfrd and the Grey Mouser can be found in Swords Against Death, a collection which features a great many horror-esque stories. In this case, what seems a simple case of finding treasure in a tower goes rather unpleasantly wrong.
The Black God’s Kiss by CL Moore – This one can be found in just about any Jirel of Joiry collection, many of which are named after this story. The long and the short of it is some bastard takes Jirel’s castle and makes some presumptions about her sexual interest in him, so she elects to go to hell to find a weapon to right all of this. Hell is, unsurprisingly, somewhat unsettling.
The Testament of Athammaus by Clark Ashton Smith – This short can be found in the Hyperborea collection. It is the tale of a city’s downfall and an execution that won’t go right, told with mordant humour and gruesome horror, and a very nasty villain.
The Unspoken Name by AK Larkwood – From the old to the new. Larkwood’s riff on The Tombs of Atuan also includes plenty of that horror S&S feeling as the former priestess Csorwe navigates many, many terrifying challenges in her bid to prove her worth to her saviour.
The Border Keeper by Kerstin Hall – Another recent piece of weirded out adventure that seems to be in the spiritual lineage. It is more high flying and epic than most of the names here, but the adventures of Vasethe through the nine-hundred and ninety-nine spirit realms contains a good dose of uncanny wonder.
So there you go. Even the hardiest of heroes have horrifying moments, and all because it’s baked into the genre right at its very inception – hopefully you look up some of these stories and enjoy the dark side of sword & sorcery this Grimdarktober
I was wide awake around 3am last night and looking for something to read on my phone that was short and GrimDarkTober appropriate. Hummm. Not that I don’t have an entire library on my phone, but I started thinking about Poe which eventually led me to At the Mountains of Madness via the Project Gutenberg website. Originally published in three parts in 1936 in Astounding Stories magazine, this is one of the first chronological stories featuring certain Lovecraftian entities. I guess it’s also in line with my sort of consistent sci-fi on Saturday posts too.
Here’s a little synopsis from GoodReads:
Long acknowledged as a master of nightmarish vision, H.P. Lovecraft established the genuineness and dignity of his own pioneering fiction in 1931 with his quintessential work of supernatural horror, At the Mountains of Madness. The deliberately told and increasingly chilling recollection of an Antarctic expedition’s uncanny discoveries –and their encounter with an untold menace in the ruins of a lost civilization–is a milestone of macabre literature
Can’t go wrong with a little cosmic horror, right? Well, this one was a mixed bag for me. On one hand, I wish the novella had been a 15 page short story (it was somewhere around idk 130 pages)? On the other hand, the weird parts are SO blessedly weird that it’s oddly endearing.
The things I think are important to know about Lovecraft are that 1) he actually was afraid of the cold and didn’t react to it well, and 2) most of his stories are connected in some way. At the Mountains of Madness is the first of his stories in which The Old Ones are mentioned, plus he’s talking about the Cult of Cthulhu and The Necronomicon, as well as references to other stories. I’d maybe like to re read some of the stories in order but man, ugh.
So… Ok. It’s a great concept. One disastrous and terrible expedition to Antarctica prompts the survivor to try to dissuade another team from going. All things considered, the novella managed to put me to sleep because a girl can only take so much geology and archaeology in one story. It was so slow to get to anything even remotely interesting, which I considered the discovery of the aliens.
Oh, the aliens! They’ve got heads, respiratory systems, tentacles, but they’re obviously vegetables. They came about 100 million years ago when Antarctica was a jungle (book logic) and obviously couldn’t possibly be a threat. It was interesting to learn about them (through statues and art because they can draw with tentacles, obviously). Like I said, blessedly weird. The history of the Elder Ones vs the Shoggoth was probably the high point since to this day, it’s the most bizarre creation story I’ve ever read. What gives that someone so full of such wild ideas can be such a dull writer?
“It is absolutely necessary, for the peace and safety of mankind, that some of earth’s dark, dead corners and unplumbed depths be let alone; lest sleeping abnormalities wake to resurgent life, and blasphemously surviving nightmares squirm and splash out of their black lairs to newer and wider conquests.”
Well…. Yeah obviously they should be left alone, but for the sake of the story not being three pages long, better dissect it immediately
Towards the end when we are trying to build suspense, what the actual heck was Lovecraft’s fixation on the stupid penguins? I’m trying to learn about bodies and terror and the big bad guy in the cave, not the stupid penguins. Also a little architecture is always cool but there was so. Much. Architecture. Yes I get it, there are arches and cartouches (I know what this means now) in quantity, moving on. More book logic was that since they took four hours to walk into the cave, photographing and drawing everything, it would obviously take them even longer to straight backtrack in a hurry……right? Right!? I’m sorry I just can’t with this.
Unfortunately (or fortunately)? the novella would have been only 20 pages long if Lovecraft didn’t describe every angle of the sun and keep the characters pushing forward despite cosmic horror and certain death. Oh hey, the cave is too dark and obviously something tore these men and dogs apart. Nope. Too short, have to send them forward.
Not going to lie I wouldn’t have finished it if I didn’t find an audiobook, of which I listened to the last three hours today. I found a copy narrated by William Roberts by Naxos Audio, which was still honestly boring as hell but it sounded like a radio broadcast and fit the story well. I would recommend that style in case anyone wants to tune out the truly droll parts.
Overall … I’m like ok, I definitely would stay the hell away from Antarctica if I heard this account. That was the whole point of the story: the narrator was trying to scare off a future exploration expedition. He did succeed. I liked it and love weird things, plus certain parts were definitely suspenseful, but it was just too long and repetitive and mostly boring for me to love At the Mountains of Madness. I’m going with ⭐⭐⭐ but I do think sci-fi and classic fans should read this one!
Ever notice that I tend to get about three or four books into a series and then quit? The fact is that in between ARCs I never had time to read these giant, door stopping books, and once they got above 8-900 pages I was just about out of luck …
Well, this book was one of these clonkers. It took me two weeks to get through it even listening on partial audio (28 hours total 😭) so it’s kind of easy to see where a reader with deadlines gets to these longer books and comes to a screeching halt.
Or maybe that’s just me. Anyway, the great Mark Lawrence wrote (see GoodReads) that you are either a Roland (and hate Wizard & Glass because no progress is made) or an Oy (you love everything about the journey despite it being a giant flashback).
For once I am glad that I’m taking the time to be an Oy, and this is a more than appropriate kickoff to GrimDarkTober.
Bookish Quick Facts:
Title: Wizard & Glass
Series: The Dark Tower #4
Author: Stephen King
Publisher & Release: Grant, 1997
Length: 704 original hardcover (my PB around 930 pages)
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐✨ I’m team “enjoy the journey”
Here’s the synopsis:
Roland the Gunslinger, Eddie, Susannah, and Jake survive Blaine the Mono’s final crash, only to find themselves stranded in an alternate version of Topeka, Kansas, that has been ravaged by the superflu virus. While following the deserted I-70 toward a distant glass palace, Roland recounts his tragic story about a seaside town called Hambry, where he fell in love with a girl named Susan Delgado, and where he and his old tet-mates Alain and Cuthbert battled the forces of John Farson, the harrier who—with a little help from a seeing sphere called Maerlyn’s Grapefruit—ignited Mid-World’s final war
So this book started out where The Wastelands left off, in an epic riddling contest between Eddie and Blaine the Mono. Was I belly laughing at the dead baby jokes?
Um…. Maybe? I had a cathartic laughing experience at the baby and the SuperFlu one, I have such tied up feelings about pandemics and it’s not usually who I am but I think I just needed to laugh at something particularly horrible. Some inner turmoil definitely released there, so thank you Mr King.
Anyway, Eddie is probably turning into one of my favorite book characters of all time, even if our main characters essentially drop off the page once Roland starts his story.
It’s creepy, dark, witchy, mystical, had me absolutely cringing at some especially gory parts, and was everything I’ve come to expect from King at this point. I wanted Roland and Cuthbert and Alain to succeed. It was painful to watch youth and inexperience war against the more hardened players as they uncovered the true goings on in Hambry.
Not going to lie, I’m all for Roland and Susan too. I was actually pretty broken up about how that all ended. P.S. none of this is spoilery, it’s all alluded to in prior books.
Character wise – really quick – yes I liked the boys and their personalities. It was nice to finally “meet” them. Rhea the witch is probably the creepiest witch I’ve read in a LONG time, and more than once I had to put it down and go think non-gorey thoughts for a bit. Sheemie was the real hero in the pages for sure.
One thing that struck me was the level of anticipatory grief that I was having for certain character deaths that actually never occured. They have to happen at some point but not all happened here and for that I was glad, because it was hard enough to read what was already there.
I do wish that King hadn’t essentially gone all Wizard of Oz at the end. It was just weird, and felt a lot weirder than the whole Charlie the Train thing he had going on before. I won’t hold the ending against the rest of the book but it did put a weird taste in my mouth after such a disturbingly wonderful journey.
Quick note on what I heard from Frank Muller when I was listening – he’s a great narrator and added a LOT to the story, made my skin crawl reading Rhea’s parts!
Long story short: I’m an Oy. I appreciated the journey and am excited to keep reading forward. When will I have time for the next book, even longer at 931 pages? I hope next month!
I finally read Redemption, the second book in the author’s Legends of Lightning series! This is embarrassing considering that I not only had an early copy but the Kindle preordered too, so this is a disclaimer that I absolutely suck.
Redemption picked up not too far after the end of Hidden Realm, with Esther and the other Huntsmen reeling over Oisin’s loss and the Queens dealing with their own problems. Overall this was a stronger book and it was awesome to see the growth between the two novels
Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ for dark fantasy and twisted fairytale fans!
Here is the Synopsis via GoodReads:
Esther escaped the horrors of Castle Rose, but at a cost. Believing her lost guide is still alive deep in the bowels of Adam’s dungeons, she aims to save him, but the other Huntsman are not so sure he’s alive… Desperate to rescue Oisin, Esther makes tempestuous allegiances with dangerous foes. Walking a fine line between enemies and allies, life and death, she rages war against the monsters of the Hidden Realm.
Esther’s journey continues in this heart wrenching sequel as she navigates the politics and grudges of ageless Queens. By night, she’s haunted by what she’s seen fighting in a war that was never hers. What she’s done to survive in the Hidden Realm will haunt her forever and she’s terrified of losing herself in the darkness without a star to guide her. Will Esther be able to save Oisin and the lands before the shadows of her mind overtake her spirit?
I definitely liked Redemption more than Hidden Realm. Now that the story is more streamlined, the plot and action felt stronger and the characters had believable arcs.
Esther had to deal with the PTSD from the torture, separation, and worse from her imprisonments. It was also interesting to see how the soldiers responded to war that hadn’t seen battle before. One particularly affected character – I could have sworn it was a nod to the Venture Bros henchmen 21/24 dynamic, but the author said no – it was particularly grisly though. Trauma affects people in many ways and this book took a deep dive down some dark paths
I think the character (and world) building got a big, necessary boost too. With more background on the Queens and politics, personalities, alliances, and a bit more history, tbe plot was carried a long way.
I liked spending more time with the Queens to see how truly twisted they are. A few personalities and developing characters surprised me and kept the story interesting. A lot of things actually kept it interesting, such as betrayal on more betrayal, political maneuvering, an exploration of various forms of fanaticism, and meeting more magical creatures. T.R. got creative with the torture too – this wasn’t splatterpunk but definitely grimdark
After a chat with the author, let me give Indie authors a piece of advice: so I was reading the Kindle version and felt like the book needed a solid proof-read before the final went out. There were up to two typos on some pages and honestly it was enough to throw me off a tad. This is now the second time an author told me that they spent good money on an editing service. I think that all the people do is run the manuscript through a spell check, without reading for context or grammar or other non spell check errors. The result makes me think that 1) these services should be ashamed of themselves and 2) authors would be better off using a private editor with good references, or even asking a friend with a critical eye.
Now, that said – I did dock a star for readability affecting immersion at times, but, I would still 100% recommend for fans of dark fantasy and twisted fairy tales! As I said it was a much stronger story than book one and had many hard but important themes to unravel. You will hurt for these characters! Personally I can’t wait for the next book, this ended on a ridiculously suspenseful note!