Author: Alyson Faye

Epeolatry Book Review: After Sundown ed. Mark Morris


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Title: After Sundown
Author: Various, ed. Mark Morris
Genre: Horror
Publisher: Flame Tree Press
Release Date: 20th October, 2020

Synopsis:This new anthology contains 20 original horror stories, 16 of which have been commissioned from some of the top names in the genre, and 4 of which have been selected from the 100s of stories sent to Flame Tree during a 2-week open submissions window. It is the first of what will hopefully become an annual, non-themed horror anthology of entirely original stories, showcasing the very best short fiction that the genre has to offer.

This is the latest horror anthology from indie press, Flame Tree. It contains 20 tales, 16 commissioned from some of the biggest hitters in the biz, e.g. C. J. Tudor, Ramsey Campbell, Laura Purcell (Silent Companions, anyone?), and Stephen Volk (remember Ghost Watch?). Another four stories were chosen from an open call out of hundreds of submissions, in what Flame Tree Press is hoping will become an ‘annual, non-themed horror anthology of entirely original stories, showcasing the very best short fiction that the genre has to offer.’

That’s a tall order. One could argue for eternity over how to define ‘the best’ of any genre, and that’s before you toss in a reader’s personal taste.

I didn’t read these stories thinking, ‘Wow, this is the best I’ve ever read.’ But I didn’t expect to, either. Some of the stories felt as if they should be longer, and other endings didn’t entirely work – well, not for me. It’s tricky wrapping up a short story and giving the reader emotional closure within 4000 words.


I like dipping in, choosing authors like Alison Littlewood (“Swanskin”) whom I personally go to first, and reading one or two in a sitting, taking a break for real life stuff, and then reading another. So, basically, I don’t read them in order. I also don’t feel I have to finish a story if it’s not working for me (total honesty here). Hey- sometimes the style doesn’t gel.

As there is no theme, each story is a plunge into the dark and the unknown, and you have to factor in different authors’ narrative styles, lingo and voices. Some readers will enjoy this. I do, but others won’t so much. It can be jarring as you move from one yarn to the next.

There is a very broad spectrum on show here of what constitutes the horror genre. For me, some of the stories skirted very close to thrillers, not full horror. For example, C.J. Tudor’s pulpy fast moving “Butterfly Island” (which is the opening story) could, to my mind have been a novella. Its ending left me dangling somewhat, as did Grady Hendrix’s, ingenious multi-point of view, “Murder Board”.

The supernatural is well represented. Sarah Lotz’s entertaining and blackly humorous “That’s the Spirit” (witty title too), stars an over-the-hill medium, Brendan.

One of my personal faves, “The Mirror House”, was written by an author new to me, Jonathan Robbins Leon. Leon’s eerie, unsettling, downright scary narrative packed in a lot of content and emotion, and he did it quite well. Leon plays with the ideas of doppelgängers, mirror people, and the secret parts of us, very effectively.

Thana Niveau gives us “Bokeh” (you will have to read the story to find out what the title means). There are fairies in this one, a young girl who is seriously unnerving, and a brilliant bloodbath of an ending. Another hit for me.

Simon Bestwick (I had the pleasure of meeting him at EdgeLit in Derby Quad last year – but I doubt he remembers me!) whose work I’ve since sought out, wrote, “We All Come Home”. It’s a quiet, slow build where the grown-up protagonist revisits his childhood woodland playground to retrieve lost memories and lost playmates. What could go wrong, you ask yourself, especially since he has his girlfriend with him to keep watch? Read it and find out. The last line really struck me in the quivering guts.

I am a huge and long-term fan of Alison Littlewood’s fiction and have reviewed and interviewed her at the Horror Tree. I was biased before I read her tale, “Swanskin” while I sat at the hairdressers with my foils in, like the queen of tinfoil. “Swanskin” is beautiful, weird, magical and horrific. It made me shiver and cry inside at the cruelty and injustice of it all. The last paragraph blew me away. Probably my top fave of the anthology – can you tell?

There were authors’ bios at the end of the anthology and an interesting introduction from editor Mark Morris. I’d have quite liked a story in here from Morris. I also would have enjoyed the authors giving us readers some background to their story, the inspiration, and why they chose that particular piece. I suppose I was after more context.

This is an entertaining, slickly written, mainstream, fun, something-for-every-horror-fan anthology. It would make a great Christmas gift.

4/5 stars

Available from Amazon.

Epeolatry Book Review: Coffin Shadows by Glen Krisch & Mark Steensland


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Title: Coffin Shadows
Author: Glen Krisch and Mark Steensland
Genre: Horror
Publisher: Silver Shamrock Publishing
Release Date: 31st August, 2020

Synopsis: 12 YEARS AGO Janet Martlee’s infant son died under mysterious circumstances.Consumed with grief and anger, she ran away to start again…YESTERDAY A 12-year old boy with dead eyes appeared in her classroom,begging for help. But Janet doesn’t believe in ghosts…TODAY Her psychiatrist tells her she must return home to confronther past and uncover the mystery of what happened…Only some questions don’t want to be answered.And some answers hide in the shadows…In the COFFIN SHADOWS

I came across Mark Steensland earlier this year as co-author of Silver Shamrock’s, In the Scrape, which I reviewed for Horror Tree, and loved. So, when I saw his name attached to this novella, I grabbed it.

The heroine, junior school teacher Janet Martlee, has run away from her home town, her parents, ex-boyfriend, and her past twelve years. She’s built a new life for herself. This new life is thrown into turmoil when Janet starts seeing a strange teen boy dressed in a hoody. (Is he real? A ghost? A memory?) Her psychiatrist urges her to return home to confront her past with all its memories and demons. So she does!

A lot is packed into this shortish—at 120 pages—horror novella. I personally felt it could have been longer with more back story and detail to make a richer, deeper read. In particular, the ex-teen boyfriend; he’s a shadowy figure whom I’d have liked to have more page time, and more interaction with Janet. The web of conspiracy and deception goes back years; it was interesting and fun and included a shuddersome Gothic finale in the crypt. Quite a lot of characters buzz through this novella, more than a few to keep track of.

Janet’s gradual realisation of her deeply screwed up her parent’s lives is well done. It crept up on me. The hospital and cemetery scene were brilliantly menacing and sinister. Gave me the chills while wondering who is telling the truth and who is lying? And who is in on it?

Coffin Shadows is a smooth, fun-paced read with lots of action, scares, and a mystery which grips. But could have done with 50 more pages for me, and the ending felt rather rushed.

4/5 stars

Available from amazon.

Epeolatry Book Review: Curfew by Kev Harrison


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Title: Curfew
Author: Kev Harrison
Genre: Horror
Publisher: Demain Publishing
Release Date: 18th September, 2020

Synopsis: When Jamie takes his girlfriend for a summer anniversary getaway by the sea, he thinks only the great British weather can ruin his plans. But he hasn’t accounted for Mrs Heinz, the bizarre proprietor of The Sailor’s Rest, and her obsessive fixation on midnight and curfew…

The standalone horror shorts series is back from Demain- and Kev Harrison’s Curfew is in the first five to be released. I received an advanced reading copy from Dean Drinkel, the man behind Demain, in exchange for a fair and honest review. 

I’ve read quite a bit of Kev Harrison’s fiction, most recently his novella, The Balance. So when I saw this new story by him was out – I grabbed it.

Curfew’s setting is one many Brit holidaymakers will recognise—the old-fashioned B&B on the coast, with the slightly odd manageress/owner hovering on the premises, glass in hand. This story comes with a strict time curfew (which actually happened to me years ago in Scotland – the door was locked and woe betide you if you were late). From there, Harrison lets the tension build for his likeable young couple, Jamie and Laura. They like karaoke (well, Laura does), staying out late, and drinking. They grab the only taxi on the RidesApp back to the creepy B&B. So far so normalish.

There are warning signs from the ancient maid (called ‘Girl’ by the owner, who glories in the wonderful moniker of Mrs Heinz). Girl knows something but isn’t telling. She references a missing/absent Mr Heinz who will be turning up late. Another guest is never seen except for his duffel bag. Mrs H sits drinking alone in a darkened front room. And so on.

From when Mrs Heinz says, ‘Past curfew,’ and ‘Sit boy!’ you know sweet, nice, fun loving Jamie and Laura are in for a rough ride. The scene that follows is seriously disturbing and had me flinching (no spoilers though in my reviews).

Harrison’s writing style is engaging, fluid and accessible. The twenty-odd pages rushed past, though I couldn’t help but re-read the ending! 

Harrison is skilled at constructing tension from the seemingly normal set up, ratcheting it till the warning sirens (to the reader anyway if not Jamie and Laura) are shrieking. I relished this in a deliciously cosy ‘I’m safe at home’ way.

My certain expectations, in regard to the story’s direction, were shattered. It’s fair to say I was surprised; Harrison took it in a totally different direction. I expect other readers will share my astonishment—I didn’t guess the outcome. 

These standalone stories are priced at a very affordable 77p, so much cheaper than my chocolate fix, and they entertain hugely. 

Treat yourself.

4/5 stars

Available from amazon.

Epeolatry Book Review: Unbecoming Me & Other Interruptions by Christopher Stanley


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Title: Unbecoming Me & Other Interruptions
Author: Christopher Stanley
Genre: Horror
Publisher: Demain Publishing
Release Date: 18th September, 2020

Synopsis: A chilling new short story collection from the author of ‘The Forest is Hungry’ and ‘The Lamppost Huggers and Other Wretched Tales’.

In DEVIL’S REACH, a frantic father boards a ferry, hoping to save his daughter and escape his wife. But nothing is as it seems as the ferry sails into darkness, and there are forces at work he won’t begin to understand until it’s too late.

In HELL’S TEETH, a young girl enlists the help of supernatural forces to exact revenge on the school bully, only to find she can’t live with guilt.

And in the final story, UNBECOMING ME, a young man’s desperate search for love takes an unexpected turn after he’s rejected by the woman of his dreams.

Dark, sinister and unforgiving – ‘Unbecoming Me & Other Interruptions’ will make you want to sleep with the lights on.

This trio of shorts from Christopher Stanley releases on 18 September, for the price of less than a latte, 77p. I received an advanced reading copy from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.

I read Stanley’s previous compilation, The Forest Is Hungry (Short Sharp Shocks! Book 16), last year and thoroughly enjoyed it. So, I grabbed Unbecoming Me out of the publisher’s hands. Here you get the pleasure of three stories, all linked by a minor character’s strange appearance. I won’t say more, but see if you spot it. 

The first short, “Devil’s Reach”, begins with a particularly creepy, unnerving scene in the café. Never has a passage of children playing been so weirdly portrayed. John, the father/husband, is on a ferry ride. He’s fleeing his wife, taking his baby with him. Or is he? Within the hidden spaces of the ferry, John tries to hide. No one is a reliable character. And quickly his day becomes a nightmare controlled by forces he cannot combat. This tale has a haunted supernatural feel to it, where nothing is as it seems.

In the second short, “Hell’s Teeth”, the setting is an ordinary school filled with ordinary kids, including the class bully, Evie, and the bullied girl, Daisy. It’s a familiar set-up, and we’ve all known someone like Daisy. ‘Goldfish-bowl glasses and haphazard fringe’ … how those words tugged at my memories of my own school days. Teeth feature prominently in this story—losing them. So does the tooth fairy fantasy. There are cringey moments which made me shudder. If you’re at all teeth-phobic, then consider yourself warned—this might not be the tale for you. But Stanley’s account of a victim taking revenge too far is strong and thought-provoking. How far should a child push back? What is the appropriate amount of punishment? What if your actions come back to bite you? (Excuse the pun.)

The third short, “Unbecoming Me”, is my favourite. But I’m biased; I discovered it’s set in the environs of my old uni, the University of Birmingham, where the author, Stanley, also studied. He references old student buildings and hangouts that I remember well. (‘bars of Selly Oak and Five ways’; Muirhead Towers with ‘windows like a bad case of acne’; Yes—just how I remember it.) The story’s opening line—’The first time I was born…’—hooked me. I had to read on. The young student (a twin who survived whilst his sister did not) falls in love and longs for reciprocation. His longing enters the fantasy realm and the supernatural. I don’t want to say more as it will spoil the fun.

Stanley’s sharp prose captured moments with clarity and easy style. It made for a great read.

4/5 stars

Available from amazon.

Epeolatry Book Review: The Malan Witch by Catherine Cavendish


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Title: The Malan Witch
Author: Catherine Cavendish
Genre: Horror
Publisher: Silver Shamrock Publishing
Release Date: 18th August, 2020

Synopsis: “Naught remained of their bodies to be buried, for the crows took back what was theirs.”

An idyllic coastal cottage near a sleepy village. What could be more perfect? For Robyn Crowe, borrowing her sister’s recently renovated holiday home for the summer seems just what she needs to deal with the grief of losing her beloved husband.

But behind those pretty walls lie many secrets, and legends of a malevolent sisterhood—two witches burned for their evil centuries earlier. Once, both their vile spirits were trapped there. Now, one has been released. One who is determined to find her sister. Only Robyn stands in her way.

And the crow has returned.

Robyn Crowe is widowed and in desperate need of peace and space, so her sister offers her the rental of their renovated, ancient, cottage on the coast for the summer. So far, so ideal- on the surface, but very soon the warning signs build up.

There is strange activity with the crows, especially one, large bird who stalks then attacks Robyn, witchy dolls/hag stones etc are found on the premises (never a good sign) and in the village, a local woman, who befriends Robyn, gives her more information on the horrific history of the two local hags who used to live in the cottage centuries before and their grisly fate.

So we’re nicely set up for witchy histories, hauntings, terror, and all sorts of supernatural goings on.

This Cavendish nicely delivers, reminding me very much of an American author I read in the 1980’s and 1990’s, Barbara Michaels (wonder if Catherine C has ever read hers?) – and I did/do enjoy all of Michaels’ and this sort of genre.

However, much as I wanted to really invest in the characters, and go with the flow, this novella from the Silver Shamrock indie publishing press, didn’t quite hit all my readerly buttons or draw me in. There were long sections of explanation, when I wanted something to happen, and repetition, where I wanted something new to happen.

I felt that the characters were going in circles with some of the dialogue exchanges, and it had been said before. 

The crow scenes were effectively done, and suitably unnerving, and for me, more scary than when the witch made an appearance. (But I do have a mild big bird phobia going on too!)

There was a twist towards the end of the book, which I won’t share, which was well done and made me pause to rethink what I’d previously read.

The events leading up to the ending didn’t entirely convince nor what happened to Robyn, (again don’t want to give away anything). I also thought the novella could have done with a few more pages to enrich and elucidate the final plot threads.

This is a fun, quick paced, rich in location, and history, supernatural read with magic galore.

3/5 stars.

(I received an e-arc of this novella from Silver Shamrock and Horror Tree in exchange for a fair and honest review.)

Available from amazon.

The Horror Tree Presents…an Interview with Wesley Southard and Somer Canon

Interview with Wesley Southard and Somer Canon (authors of Slaves to Gravity)

by Alyson Faye.

Q1) How did your writing collaboration come about? Is this your first joint project? And after the success of Slaves to Gravity, will there be more? (Reading Slaves to Gravity, I felt it could be the first of a trilogy with Charlie as the heroine.) 

SC: Wesley had the idea for the story and asked me if I was interested in co-writing with him. I still feel so green, especially compared to so many, and I always thought that I would feel intimidated by working with another author, but Wesley and I are such good friends and I’m really comfortable with him, and I decided to go for it. Wesley is a really imaginative writer and I think that his strong suits tend to be places where maybe I could use a boost, especially when writing with such talent, but he never made me feel like I wasn’t carrying my own weight in this work. It’s a first collaboration for me, and I’m happy to say that I’d totally be down for writing with Wesley again.

WS: After I moved to Pennsylvania from Indiana, Somer and I became good friends through our mutual author friends. We hit it off pretty quickly, and after reading her work, I knew I wanted to work with her someday. When I felt the time was right to start my first long-form co-writing project, there was no other person I wanted to work with. This wasn’t my first collaboration. I wrote a novelette about ten years ago (with a friend) called “Home Invasion”, which appears in my short story collection Resisting Mad


ness. As far as the success of Slaves to Gravity, we’re both incredibly thrilled about it. We weren’t sure what people would think, but the reception so far has been overwhelmingly positive. I’ve seen a lot of people ask about a possible sequel in their reviews. Never say never, but I personally feel like the story has a very definitive ending, but you never know. I would absolutely work with Somer again if she wanted to.

Q2) As a writer myself, I’m really interested in the logistics of co-authoring a novel. How did you structure it? Did you say – write alternate chapters? Or did one of you write particular characters? Did you brainstorm and put ideas down on a virtual whiteboard? 

Somer CanonSC: Wesley had a lot of the framing of the story already locked in his head and we worked around that. We wrote alternating chapters and sort of started having fun leaving complicated cliff hangers for the other to deal with. I always looked forward to getting Wesley’s chapter and would always laugh at the situation he left for me. We would do light brainstorming sometimes, but really, a lot of this was us just winging it.


WS: We decided early on to simply flip-flop chapters. Even though I had worked on a collaboration before and Somer had not, we were both pretty nervous and needed to take it slow to feel one another out. We also decided before we started that we did not want to try to ‘one-up’ one another with our chapters. We wanted one cohesive narrative and didn’t want the readers distracted by the battle of “gotcha’s” between the authors. For me personally I find that distracting when reading a collaboration. I shouldn’t be able to tell who’s writing which chapter. I should only be invested in the here and now with the characters and their journey.

The characters themselves were created by both of us. I originally wanted the protagonist, Charlie, to be the main focus. Somer introduced the rest of the cast, and we developed their personalities and back stories as we went. The only character that was truly mine was Tanya, who, while writing the book, I realized I could fit in seamlessly. She’s a minor character in a short story of mine called “Arrearages” and she, too, experienced extreme trauma, which I realized would work perfectly in the context of the current story. I loved that we were able to fit her in as an Easter egg of sorts.

Q3) As writers, are you ‘Planners or Pantsers’? (Generally; not just when writing Slaves)

SC: In general I am a proud Pantser. Wesley is more of a planner and that happened a bit in Slaves, but there was quite a bit of pantsing that went into the creation of the story as well.

WS: Me personally—I’m a planner. I outline every single writing project I do, from flash fiction up to novels. I like to have the story completely ready to go before I start to type the opening line.

Q4 ) How long did the planning and writing of Slaves to Gravity take? And where did the idea for this rather unusual tale come from? 

SC: From the idea being laid out to us submitting the manuscript to Ken McKinley at Silver Shamrock, it was less than a year. The actual writing took four or five months and we spent maybe a month and a half tightening up the story.

WS: The idea was something I had in my head for several years. When I come up with story ideas, my brain conjures specific, cinematic scenes, and the very last scene of Slaves to Gravity had been playing over and over in my head with zero context attached. Whatever that scene was, I had to know the rest of this story. Before I approached Somer about the project, I came up with a general idea of what we could do. We talked on the phone about it and then a few weeks later we met up at a diner halfway between both of our homes and spent several hours with notebooks, hashing out the story and what we could do with it. It was a really fun process.

Q5) Do you write with pen/paper or pc? Drink coffee or tea? Have music on or off? Work in a study or the garden shed or somewhere else?

SC: I use both pencil/paper and PC. I don’t drink much caffeine because I lose my mind a little, so I drink lots of water. I sometimes have music on, but it depends on if my children are marauding about. I need to be able to hear what they’re getting up to. I have a really neat writing room that I do most of my work in, but I do change the scenery on occasion by going outside or sitting on the couch.

WS: I don’t like to write longhand. I do my outline on paper, but everything I commit to goes down into my laptop. I usually have a soda or water with me in my home office, and my ear buds are smushed into my head with music going at a low volume. It took me until earlier this year to be able to write with music playing and not be completely distracted.

Q6) Have you both always written dark/supernatural/horror fiction? 

SC: For the most part, but my first published story was a piece about pancakes!  After that, it was all dark and gruesome.  

WS: I’ve always preferred to write horror, but after seeing that I can write some form of sci-fi, as we did with Slaves to Gravity, I would be more willing to see what can come from that experience.

Q7) Do you both read that genre? If so, which authors and books stand out for you, or have influenced you?

SC: I absolutely read the horror genre. I am a fan first, always and forever.  I grew up reading paperback horror novels that my grandma kept stacks of in her house, but the first one that really blew me over was The Haunting by Ruby Jean Jensen.  That book made me afraid to put my feet on the floor for fear of the thing under the bed, the thing from the book, getting me.  As I got older, I graduated to Stephen King and some Dean Koontz, but the foundation of my fandom will always be Ruby Jean Jensen.  As for some more contemporary authors that really do it for me, I love Wesley’s work as well as Mary SanGiovanni, The Sisters of Slaughter, Tim Meyer, James Newman, Kenzie Jennings, and Jonathan Janz.  Look, if I named everybody, I’d be here all day, but those names are names I always love to see being published.

WS: I’ve always been a huge horror fiction nut. My biggest inspirations for becoming a writer were Brian Keene, J.F. Gonzalez, and Tim Lebbon, but I feel my personal writing style was and continues to be heavily influenced by Graham Masterton, and Ray Garton. I adore Masterton’s storytelling ability, and I’ve tried to adapt the way Garton writes action scenes and tension. As far as newer, more current authors, I think writers like Kristopher Triana, Aaron Dries, and Somer Canon are leading the way for the new generation. Each has such a unique voice and are highly readable and enjoyable.

Q8) What are you currently reading?

SC: I’ve just started Red Dragon by Thomas Harris. I’ve seen the movies and shows and it’s about time I got to the books.

WS: I’m actually beta-reading a new horror western for Kristopher Triana, which will be out soon from Death’s Head Press.

Q9) Do you gain inspiration from films and/or music? Can you name a fave film or album or artist whose work has inspired or influenced you as a writer?

SC: I get very light inspiration from music. My music tastes are all over the place. This is going to sound so weird, but I think the movies that I get the most inspiration from for my writing are those horrible, cheap, sequel movies that we got a lot of in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Like Children of the Corn III and The Howling V. These movies didn’t take themselves too seriously, and if they did it came off as hilarious as opposed to terrifying, and I really like highlighting the absurdity of a horror story. I tend to add humor to my work, or course, but I think that it offsets the heavier parts wonderfully. 

WS: My favorite film ever is From Dusk Till Dawn, and I feel that movie has influenced me more than any other. I adore the characters, the atmosphere, the tension, the dialogue, and the action and gore. I’m forever searching for my perfect vampire novel idea because of that movie.

Q10) What was the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given as writers?

SC: Take all advice with a grain of salt. There is no one-size-fits-all writing career.

WS: Have patience. This can be a painful, slow moving business.

Q11) Do you belong to a writers’ group or bounce ideas off each other, or other writing friends?

SC: I’m a member of the Mid-Atlantic Dark Fiction Society. I, personally, am not terribly comfortable talking openly about my works in progress with many people, but I like talking shop with other writers.

WS: I don’t belong to an official writing group, but I live around enough creative people who I’m constantly bouncing ideas off of. They’re a massive help.

Q12) How involved are you with social media? Where can fans and followers find you online?

SC: I’m present on social media, but I prefer to be a more light presence, a distraction. You can find me on Twitter (that’s where I’m usually hanging out), Facebook and Instagram.  (And here

WS: I’m always hanging out online. I’m pretty easy to find on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and I try to keep my website ( as updated as possible.

Thank you, Wes and Somer, for the interview. It’s been great and really interesting. 

SC:  Thank you!

WS: Thank you!

Epeolatry Book Review: Slaves to Gravity by Wesley Southard and Somer Canon


Our reviews may contain affiliate links. If you purchase something through the links in this article we may receive a small commission or referral fee. This happens without any additional cost to you.

Title: Slaves to Gravity
Author: Wesley Southard and Somer Canon
Genre: Horror
Publisher: Silver Shamrock Publishing
Release Date: 3rd August, 2020

Synopsis:  After waking up in a hospital bed, paralyzed from the waist down, Charlie Snyder had no idea where life would take her. Dejected, broken, and permanently bound to a wheelchair, she believed her life was truly over. That is…until gravity no longer applied.It started out slow. Floating from room to room. Menial tasks without assistance. When she decided to venture outside and take some real risks with her newfound ability, she rose above her own constraints to reveal a whole new world, and found other damaged individuals just like her to confide in.But there are other things out there, waiting in the dark. Repulsive, secretive creatures that don’t want Charlie to touch the sky. And they’ll stop at nothing to keep her on the ground.

This is another cracker from Silver Shamrock, and my first introduction to the work of both Southard and Canon who sharing the writing reins. (I was fortunate enough to interview them both about that, amongst other writerly matters, for a separate article to be posted on

Slaves to Gravity has an original, unique storyline. It starts off as a family drama with the protagonist, Charlie, recovering in hospital, going home paralysed in a wheelchair after a horrific accident. On the majorly plus side, her supportive husband, Marcus adores her. 

To my surprise, the narrative switches gear, which the reader must buy into when Charlie discovers she can defy gravity and fly. If you can fly along with that leap, then you are in for a terrific, exciting, fast-paced ride. Charlie, with her new-found powers, soars skyward and there under the clouds she meets up with a group of land-disabled night-time sky-flyers known as ‘volitants’.

Up in the sky the rules are different. Charlie learns there are hideous dangers above the clouds and back on earth, lurking in the shadows (like creatures that secretively change shape). The foreshadowing is genuinely scary and goosebumpy. I will never view a changing room in a clothes shop the same way again! 

So, as you might gather, the novel morphs into magic realism/fantasy before its finale reveal which then streamlines into sci-fi/post-apocalyptic scenarios. That’s a lot of canvas and landscape to fit into 130 or so pages, and the pace is relentless, as are the fast and furious action scenes.

More than one terrific twist took me by surprise. Charlie’s character grew as a fighter and leader on a helluva of a journey of discovery.

For me, I would have liked more world building and back story, as there is an awful lot going on in this novel. There was much to take in. Also the ending felt a little abrupt, leaving me wondering if a sequel would follow. (A question I asked the authors in my interview).

4/5 stars.

A fast paced, entertaining, thought-provoking read with brevity, allowing for one massively adrenaline soaked sitting.

Available from amazon.

Epeolatry Book Review: The Stain by Ruschelle Dillon


Our reviews may contain affiliate links. If you purchase something through the links in this article we may receive a small commission or referral fee. This happens without any additional cost to you.

Disclaimer: For full transparency, the author of this novel is a Horror Tree contributor.

Title: The Stain
Author: Ruschelle Dillon
Genre: Horror
Publisher: Black Bed Sheet Books
Release Date: 15th May, 2020

Synopsis: Born of bloodshed, a prolific stain, fed by the sins of earliest man….The Simmons moved into 228 Briar Street. With two growing children needing a stable routine and a house to call home, Marc and Claire settled into the old red brick, unaware of the neighborhood’s dirty little secret. In the dark and unfamiliar depths of the basement it lurks. It desires to manipulate the family into destructive chaos as it has countless times past and as far back as there were settlers in this plot of land, feed upon both flesh and the ecstasy of its dark influence. And not just in this house. It is old, mischievous, and inherently evil. It is…THE STAIN.

I’ve read Ruschelle Dillon’s dark fiction over the last couple of years, and enjoyed her often wacky, quirky take on tropes and the whole genre. Once or twice we’ve had our fiction published in the same anthology. Yes, she does reviews for the Horror Tree, and she also interviews writers.

So, having got that bit out of the way, and being above board about our writing acquaintanceship, I was more than happy to read her latest, this novella from indie American publisher, Black Bed Sheet Books.

The blurb was enticing: a family moves into a house, the oh-so-normal mum and dad, (Marc and Claire) and their two kids. They are hoping to build a more solid base in this old red brick with a basement than provided by their past string of short-term rentals. 

The story is told in shortish pacy chapters which crack along, and it’s heavy on dialogue. This is an accessible read, and one easy to get into.

Of course, the very first chapter which opens with the words, ‘I was born of bloodshed’, tips us off that all will not be a sunny walk in the park. There is something else, or someone else, sharing the house, living in the basement, whose history and evil heart are entwined with the foundation. And there is a lot of history, none of it good, attached to this particular house.

Familial relationships are evocatively and swiftly established. Olivia (Livy- the teen) is particularly likeable, shrewd, and feisty. She is the one who first realises something is not quite right about the shadows in the basement. Claire is a doting mum to Livy and three-year-old Jasper. Marc, though an absentee working-away dad, also seems a doting family man. Or is he?

Every few chapters, Dillon inserts a flashback, revealing another piece of The Stain’s history. The first time this happened it threw me off as it took me away from the current day narrative, but I quickly adjusted; the information gave perspective to what was lurking in the bowels of the house or, the ‘root cellar’ as Dillon called it. Never have I known anything good to happen in a fictional ‘root cellar’.

A third of the way in, there is a switch in the way we perceive the dad, Marc. The layers of his marriage to Claire deepen and darken. I won’t give away more than that, but it’s a fun ride.

Throw in the possible paedo neighbour who lurks on the sidelines, and uncle Travis—a work colleague who hangs around the family, and the human drama ramps up. Meanwhile, Livy becomes increasingly sucked into the web of tricks and games the inhabitant in the basement is playing.

There is a terrible tragedy which I didn’t see coming—it took my breath away. Dillon plays with our assumptions very effectively throughout the book. It certainly surprised me which way Dillon took the narrative.

The ending has a few more contortions to put the reader through before the final devastating paragraphs. 

This is an entertaining, fast read, which took me on a rollercoaster ride – a blend of horror and thriller with family drama. It’s rather different from Dillon’s previous fiction and not what I was expecting to read, but that’s not an issue, just a comment. 

The cover is pretty cool too.

4/5 stars.