Whoo! OMG! And all that fuss. At least it wasn't (view spoiler)[Michonne (hide spoiler)]. Then I'd have to quit the series, and I am so close to beingWhoo! OMG! And all that fuss. At least it wasn't (view spoiler)[Michonne (hide spoiler)]. Then I'd have to quit the series, and I am so close to being caught up.....more
I'm always swearing I'm not going to start any new series, but when I read the first chapter of this book, "The Red Empress," included as bonus materiI'm always swearing I'm not going to start any new series, but when I read the first chapter of this book, "The Red Empress," included as bonus material in Unseaming, I was instantly hooked. (Proof: I haven't reviewed Unseaming yet.)
Dark, disturbing, and inventively disgusting, The Black Fire Concerto envisions a post-apocalyptic America where The Storms, otherworldly and deadly, have mutated the land and its people. They also brought magic, new and powerful and sometimes very black. Here there be ghouls -- and worse than ghouls: cannibal cultists and megalomaniac magicians who aren't afraid to harness the horrors the Storms left for their own ends.
This book really is unflinchingly gory and body-horror heavy, but there's also something that is bright and refreshing about The Black Fire Concerto: its two protagonists. Erzelle, a young harpist in servitude as house musician at a gruesome gastronome's club, and Olyssa, the imposing, mysterious traveler that rescues her -- are both women. So rarely do we see women cast as epic heroes that Allen's tale took me by surprise.
And it certainly is something different. When Erzelle joins the majestic Olyssa (think King's Gunslinger crossed with the goddess Athena in a bad mood) on a quest to find Olyssa's missing sister, they face events and obstacles by turns magical and utterly nightmarish. But it's their master-and-apprentice pairing that makes the story pure gold. I don't usually get exerted over lack of adequate female representation in fantasy, but I guess it must be pretty bad for me to react so strongly to seeing it done right.
Not for everybody, and definitely not for the squeamish, The Black Fire Concerto is luxuriously nightmarish dark fantasy, and I'm going to be tapping my foot impatiently for the next book in "The Stormblight Symphony." Now, please, Mr. Allen....more
Yeesh. Charlie Manx is back, this time in a ridiculously bloody prequel to NOS4A2, in which we learn the disturbing tale of how Manx acquired The WraiYeesh. Charlie Manx is back, this time in a ridiculously bloody prequel to NOS4A2, in which we learn the disturbing tale of how Manx acquired The Wraith, and how he built Christmasland. Full of foul language, dirty tricks, long cons, sharp teeth (lots and lots of teeth), righteous retribution, and a higher body count than the novel it's spun out of, The Wraith is one nasty piece of work. I don't think I'd even let the terrible children of Christmasland read it for fear they'd give themselves nightmares.
Of course isn't just Hill's story . . . it's a comic book after all, in which a substantial amount of plot information is by tradition, purely visual. At first when I heard Hill wasn't working with Locke & Key partner Gabriel Rodriguez, I was disappointed. Now I'm pretty sure Charles Paul Wilson III's horrific, splattery, carnivorous, absolutely spot-on artwork is going to haunt my dreams for a good long while.
Let's start here: shock for shock's sake as a genre has kind of lost its shock value. While I'm sure all of these stories were considered in-your-faceLet's start here: shock for shock's sake as a genre has kind of lost its shock value. While I'm sure all of these stories were considered in-your-face transgressive in their initial releases (some were even banned), after a decade of torture porn in the theaters -- piles of sharp objects and body parts on the "Hostel"/"Saw" franchise model, the puke-inducing zenith of which has to be the Human Centipede Trilogy -- we have become comfortably numb to mindless, graphic horror. Splattering fluids, unfathomably unsafe sex games, torture, mutilation, necrophilia, cannibalism. . . . yawn. I mean really, wasn't all that just, like, a clip from next week's episode of "The Walking Dead"? (I kid. I enjoy TWD very much. I don't, however, take it very seriously, and still find it unreal that it's one of the most popular shows on TV.)
In some ways, this collection is an interesting reflection of its times, as it lingers on many of the subversive subcultures of the millennium years. There was a free-floating cloud of nihilism, a lot of pain and anger bubbling up as self-mutilation in the name of self-expression and mind-expansion, the brute reality of AIDS for everybody, Y2K, whatever. It's no surprise this era bred a particularly dark brand of horror story.
But these transgressions today? No longer so transgressive, and many of these stories from splatterpunk's heyday seem dated, almost quaint, even as they try so very hard to shock. The boundaries having moved, these stories now have to rely on good writing to keep the reader's interest, and there are about four, maybe five actually good stories out of nineteen:
The collection, wisely, starts off strong. George R.R. Martin's "Meathouse Man" from 1976 (!) still retains its visceral shock, maybe because the idea at its core is a still-fresh twist on the undead genre, and one that's deeply psychologically disquieting. And it's George Martin . . . we know he can write. But Horror George is not much like jolly old "kill ALL the Starks" George. I mean, some of his short pieces make the Red Wedding look like a baby shower. This is one of those.
Next up: Joe R. Lansdale's "Night They Missed the Horror Show," a hair-raising no-good-very-bad night in the Deep South story that makes "Deliverance" look like a weekend in Ibiza. But again -- established writer in his element. Sociopolitical commentary. A real, meaty story.
The others I really enjoyed, if that's what one calls it, were Bentley Little's outrageously, sneeringly cruel "Pop Star in the Ugly Bar," which still works because pop stars and audiences never change (the author's note on this one is quite interesting); Elizabeth Massie's "Abed," another unique zombie story, and possibly the most tragic (yet repulsive) piece of shock fiction ever; and Charlee Jacob's "The Spirit Wolves," which captures the modern primitive ethos in a dark fairy tale about fur and teeth.
So what's not to like? Obviously it's pointless to expect to "enjoy" this kind of extreme horror, but I do expect to find the pleasure of a well-crafted tale, one with a point, if you will. Unfortunately, many of these are just badly crafted excuses to pile shock-upon-viscera-upon-snuff-club. Also? Full of cliched characters, riddled with plot holes and without much in the way of any profound insights to ponder. And I'm not even going to touch the misogyny and sexual violence. I try not to conflate sexual politics and fiction, but even I became uncomfortably aware of a pattern. (There are, however, a few stories where the women come out on top; John Everson's "Every Last Drop" had the potential to be a clever morality play on the dangers of anonymous sex, until I noticed a fairly large logic hole. You might enjoy it if you don't pick that out.)
There's probably a cultural historian's thesis in the themes of Millennium-era Horror Fiction, but I'm too tired to write it. Basically, this collection contains a small number of really good stories, a whole lot of "meh" stories that just didn't hold together or were ridiculously predictable, some that were just violent, juvenile prurience, and some that were offensive in a purely literary sense. (One author cited Clive Barker's truly masterful story "Dread" as the inspiration for her tale. Clive should be wildly offended.)
So I didn't love it. But it was like $1.99 on Kindle, and it's a curious time capsule of millennial nihilism and hopelessness. ...more
Quick and dirty review, here. I really enjoyed this, my first Clegg novel (although I do love the creepy little illustrated story Isis). I see a lot oQuick and dirty review, here. I really enjoyed this, my first Clegg novel (although I do love the creepy little illustrated story Isis). I see a lot of comparisons to Salem's Lot in the reviews here, but beyond a surface similarity involving creepy kids (among others) terrorizing a small town, I didn't get that vibe. Also take note of the cheesy stock "creepy kid" cover on this edition. It's right out of the John Saul school of the 1970s, and doesn't do much to dispel those kinds of comparisons.
Although this novel was written in the 90s, Clegg's approach is all bleak 21st century horror, and far less sentimental than King's.* Though the characters are well-drawn, and the flashbacks to their youth key to the story, there's very little romanticizing of childhood, or small town life, or of anything really, in The Children's Hour. (Okay, there is a lost first love subplot, but even that is mostly a catalyst for some seriously disturbing sh*t.) It's pretty relentlessly grim, even nihilistic at times, and comes with a vastly higher body count than any King novel I can recall.
Also, the entities that haunt The Children's Hour? Are. Not. Vampires. They are more like horrible meat puppets, vampiric in some ways, yes, but definitely not your standard-issue bloodsuckers. This menace is a lot more unsettling, unearthly, demonic. (My comparison: in an upside-down and backwards way, this book recalls Lovecraft's "The Dunwich Horror," and freakish Wilbur Whateley hiding that nightmarish entity in his farmhouse.)
I don't want to telegraph much more of the plot -- suffice it to say I was actually unnerved by some of the imagery in The Children's Hour. One night I left my bedside lamp burning after reading. That's one of my highest compliments. It's a good thing he's prolific, because I'll be reading more Clegg.
* For the record, I love King and his elegiac, nostalgic, sentimental side. This just isn't that. ...more
I don't want to mislead anyone, so I'll say it up front: Dark Places is no Gone Girl. Flynn really hit the perfect balance of satirical yet bracinglyI don't want to mislead anyone, so I'll say it up front: Dark Places is no Gone Girl. Flynn really hit the perfect balance of satirical yet bracingly honest characterization, snappy style and ridiculously twisty suspense in her amazingly great newest book, so don't go into this one expecting another like that one.
Not to say that I didn't enjoy Dark Places, because I really did. It too is propulsive reading, twisty and funny in its own way; but the tone is much angrier, the people much poorer, the locales much bleaker, and the crime at the center of the story much bloodier. Some scenes are exceptionally violent, and some themes will (rightly) disturb.
At the tender age of seven our protagonist, Libby Day, became the only survivor of a late-night home invasion massacre that killed her entire family. Well, Libby was the only survivor besides her sullen teenage brother Ben, the accused and convicted killer, whom she damningly testified against at the time. That was 1985.
This is the present: Now a semi-reclusive adult living on the dregs of a charitable trust in a crappy Kansas City rental, Libby has many reasons to be bitter. For starters she's just been told she's broke, and her sob story has been usurped by a hundred others, so there's no more cash rolling in. She might actually have to find a job.
But then Libby receives a letter from the Kill Club, a group of true crime and serial killer enthusiasts, and it seems her troubles might be allayed for a bit. She's offered $500 to make an appearance at their meeting, along with the promise of collectors interested in purchasing Day family "memorabilia." Little does she know, some are outspoken advocates for Ben's innocence, who claim Libby was too young to understand what had happened that night, that her testimony had been coerced. They also have theories galore about who really done it. Libby is initially furious at being lured into their delusions, but the idea has been planted in her head. What if she had been wrong? And the can of worms that is Dark Places is opened.
Libby is another of Flynn's wonderfully snarkastic antiheroes. She's selfish, spiteful, lazy, entitled and completely hilarious. Almost nobody in this book is traditionally likeable, but Flynn somehow manages to find a sympathetic core in her characters. Dark Places is primarily Libby's story in the present, but is intercut with chapters from her sad, exhausted mother's point of view, and from her her angry brother's, on the day of the murders in 1985. Ben's story is especially difficult to read, showcasing as it does the unsavory side of teenage outcasts and suburban metalheads with nothing better to do than get fucked up, have sex, and break things. (Yes, that's what disaffected teens do.) The ludicrous "Satanic Panic" that gripped America for a dozen years or so before the millennium hangs heavy over Ben's conviction -- because of course if he dyed his hair black and listened to Venom and Slayer, it stands to reason he massacred his family for Satan.
Gillian Flynn is a master craftsman of snark-laced suspense, and Dark Places a unique take on the usual thriller. I alternately cackled and winced, as I put the clues together along with Libby and her new friends, traveling across a depressed middle America to confront potential witnesses and accusers, in search of the truth of that horrible night. A truth which, by the way, you won't see coming at all.
This grisly tale of a Miami cop's descent into hell courtesy of palo mayombe* is not for the faint of heart, but it's pretty gut-punch great supernatuThis grisly tale of a Miami cop's descent into hell courtesy of palo mayombe* is not for the faint of heart, but it's pretty gut-punch great supernatural noir. Alas, it's far too short! Looking forward to more from D'Enfer . . . maybe a collection?
*Palo mayombe originated in the African Congo and is said to be the world's most powerful and feared form of black magic. The titular nganga, which is a consecrated cauldron filled with sacred earth, sticks (palos), bones and other items, is dedicated to a specific spiritual energy. This cauldron is also inhabited by a spirit of the Dead, which acts as interface for all magical and religious activities which are performed on the nganga. ...more