One of my new favorite books. Short-form horror at its finest. Although I must admit, I think I enjoyed several of the other short stories better thatOne of my new favorite books. Short-form horror at its finest. Although I must admit, I think I enjoyed several of the other short stories better that the famous titular "I am Legend." ...more
Holy crap I actually finished One of the 9000 books I'm reading. Real review later.
Update, 20 May: And now, with 100% more actual review! (AndHoly crap I actually finished One of the 9000 books I'm reading. Real review later.
Update, 20 May: And now, with 100% more actual review! (And rambling. Sorry.)
Backstory: I'm gonna be honest (cover your ears, Matt) - this ended up being somewhere between a 3.5 and a 4 star for me. I'm giving it the benefit of the doubt and going with 4 because...*drumroll*
I stupidly decided to read this while finishing a hefty class project and taking finals. Of my last semester of my undergrad. To be fair, I didn't have many finals, but I was running around like a maniac trying to make sure that they were, y'know, actually going to let me graduate, that sort of thing. So I really had a hard time getting into this one. But, on suspicion that that's more my fault than the book's, I'm going to give this one the higher rating until enough time as passed to give it the reread test. (Preferably sometime when I'm not overscheduled.)
Actual Review: The tale here starts with Frederick Hawthorne roaming through the East End looking for a missing whore. An old acquaintance provides a clue which suggests ties to an obscure cult, and then promptly gets murdered. After a quick visit to his witchy (literally) sister, Frederick starts tracking down everyone he can find with ties to the cult. When a mysterious artifact connected to the cult turns up, friends and enemies alike start dying left and right trying to get their hands on it, and Frederick's problems get a whole lot more complicated than one missing woman.
As mentioned before, I had a hard time getting into this one. The book starts essentially in the middle of a fight, and the first brief chapter leaves the reader asking more questions than a Jeopardy contestant. However, if you can stick it out through just a few more chapters, the larger plot begins to unfold and that's what'll hook you. That, and Frederick Hawthorne, Gentleman Bastard (TM), who somehow manages to be a surprisingly endearing and sympathetic "hero" despite gruesomely butchering an average of 2 people every 5 pages.* There's plenty of action to keep things moving, sometimes to the point that I almost want a break for some exposition. Both the story and Spencer's writing style seem to reach their strength and settle into their own around the halfway point. The central mystery is well-crafted, the history and mythos is well researched, but hands down the strongest point of the book is the characters. They are a lot of them, but they are all fleshed-out, living and breathing figures who keep Fredrick on his toes and draw the reader into their world with ease.
Thrilled as I am to finally get a full-length Frederick yarn, I am curious to know how this one holds up to readers who are NOT already familiar with Spencer's particular mythos - I know I've read many of the short stories already, which primed me for certain elements of the story, specifically regarding the background of the Hawthorne siblings. However, I suspect that having read the short stories included in Shadow Ballads is more a bonus than a prerequisite.
TL;DR: Another fun, crafty tale of the Victorian East End with Frederick & Co. Be warned, there's a lot of grit and blood to sift through on the way though, so bring a clean shirt and don't read while eating.
*I haven't actually averaged this. But it would be a hilarious idea to try. Maybe I will on my reread....more
All in all, pretty good, but the pacing felt kinda...off. I think the earliest moments of violence came too soon, which undercut all of the delightfulAll in all, pretty good, but the pacing felt kinda...off. I think the earliest moments of violence came too soon, which undercut all of the delightful suspense leading up to the grand revelation and 'final battle'. Still, an entertaining and well-written horror story....more
Matt Spencer’s stories are disturbing. They’re not in your face about it though, they’re more that quiet kind of disturbing that smiles at you as youMatt Spencer’s stories are disturbing. They’re not in your face about it though, they’re more that quiet kind of disturbing that smiles at you as you pass it in the train station and then sneaks up on you and knifes you in sleep. Shadow Ballads is a collection of seven of these disturbing little nuggets, all previously published and now collected in one place expressly for the purpose of making you check your closet before you go to sleep.
The collection includes:
“Formal Dinner and Demon Dreams” – The first story in the collection is a glimpse into the world of Frederick Hawthorne, a bar tending gentleman bastard of Victorian London’s East End with a few supernatural tricks up his sleeves. In this installment, Hawthorne suits up in his formalwear for a dinner with some of London’s high society…and a few of their personal demons. Literally. This was my first introduction to Spencer’s Hawthorne mythos back in the day (which, by the way, was a Wednesday). Bits of it can be a little unclear, but in a way that only serves to whet your palate for more. Think of this one as an appetizer for the delicious main course that you’ll get later.
“Have Some Dragon’s Blood” – A disabled veteran visits an antique store and picks up some incense that transports him to an ancient mythical world. This one may be a little hard to track with for newcomers to the Spencerian mythos, but there’s some great imagery nevertheless.
“Lambs of Slaughter in Blue and Gold” – Creepy little ghost story about a pained spirit stalking his reincarnated lover in hopes of revenge. Delightfully eerie.
“The Face in the Flame” – A man dodging a drug bust meets a bum in the woods who convinces him to help open the portal into another dimension, more or less. Bizarre, drug-fueled, and a great cautionary tale about not wandering into the woods at night alone.
“Voice of Reason” – A little neighborly concern can go a long way…sometimes longer that you really want it to. The twist ending is a little predictable, but that doesn’t detract from the anticipation of what might happen at the end.
“Useful Instincts” – This one has a slight nouveau-noir vibe to it. A man awakes one morning with a sense of impending danger, and a chance encounter with a woman who seems a little too familiar leads to a test of just how accurate his instincts are. Probably one of the best-crafted stories in the collection.
“The Two Dragons of the East End” – The second Frederick Hawthorne yarn, which makes a nice bookend to the collection. While a rash of murders and a strange “angel” haunt the East End, Hawthorne teams up with a dangerous little beauty names Bethany to destroy an ancient evil that stalks London. Deliciously creepy and wrong. ...more
Sometimes poetic, sometimes just bizzare; sexy and horrifying by turns. Having read a good many of Spencer's more recent short-form tales, the placesSometimes poetic, sometimes just bizzare; sexy and horrifying by turns. Having read a good many of Spencer's more recent short-form tales, the places where The Drifting Soul does drift a little are more evident. But even if the crafting of this one isn't as refined, the story itself is strange, haunting, and worth giving this novel a try....more
Really more three-and-a-half stars. Like many others, I think the time of my life at which I read this book was integral to my reaction to it. Had I rReally more three-and-a-half stars. Like many others, I think the time of my life at which I read this book was integral to my reaction to it. Had I read it six or so years ago, when it was first recommended to me, I probably wouldn't have finished it. Now, after years of immersing myself in vampire lore and literature, I can read it and enjoy seeing how it fits into the larger context of the genre.
And yes, I actually am that much of a geek....more