Epeolatry Book Review: Alien: The Cold Forge


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Title: Alien: The Cold Forge
Author: Alex White
Genre: Horror
Publisher: Titan Books
Release Date: 24 April 2018
Synopsis: With the failure of Hadley’s Hope, Weyland-Yutani has suffered a devastating setback—the loss of the Aliens they aggressively sought to exploit. Yet there’s a reason the Company has risen to the top of the food chain. True to form, they have a redundancy already in place… the facility known as The Cold Forge.

Remote station RB-232 has become their greatest asset in weaponizing the Xenomorphs. However, when Dorian Sudler is sent to RB-232 to assess their progress, he discovers that there’s a spy aboard—someone who doesn’t necessarily act in the company’s best interest. For Dorian, this is the most unforgivable of sins. When found, the perpetrator will be eliminated with extreme prejudice. If unmasked, though, this person may be forced to destroy the entire station… and everyone on board. That is, if the Xenomorphs don’t do the job first…

Dorian Sudler knows he shouldn’t smoke.

When I was given this book to review, I got excited. It was the kind of excited that only horror fans could recognize. This wasn’t any run-of-the-mill space horror book; this was an expanded universe novel in THE space horror franchise: Alien. This is the franchise that has left an incontrovertible mark on popular culture since the 1979 release of the first film, not to mention the veritable scar that H. R. Geiger’s grotesque and unnerving alien designs has left on our collective psyche.

Alien: The Cold Forge by Alex White is not only rooted in this lore, it has expertly incubated inside the franchise itself, bursting through its chest as a dramatic, horrific, and harrowing narrative experience.

Firstly, readers who know of at least the first movie will get the most out of this book, however it is not exclusively limited to fans. White clearly has a deep well of knowledge of the lore and draws upon it extensively for his novel. Fans of Alien will be able to see each of the environments and objects—from the retro futuristic computers to the dirty, industrial space station—using only a few but choice words. The Xenomorphs and associated creatures appear in all their gruesome and suggestively phallic glory. Even people picking up an expanded universe book for the first time should be able to imagine the stage upon which all of this is playing.

However, more important than the physical is how the book feels psychologically. What makes an Alien type of narrative is something beyond a few hissy, dribbly, penis-monsters; what makes it is the predatory type of environment. The ultra-capitalist company Weyland-Yutani is the top of the food chain that is the world and everything beyond, and everyone is trying to find their place within that power structure. Lives are lost or ruined, trust is betrayed, and any humanity is abandoned all in pursuit of a profit.

This destruction, as expected, has something to do with the iconic Xenomorphs. The book does not deviate from the seeming obsession that Weyland-Yutani has with these aliens. It is still baffling when company executives, the people that have risen to the top of a world where one’s job longevity is always in question, greenlight alien related projects that continually result in slaughter and property destruction on a tremendous scale, all in the name of making a few bucks off. How this is supposed to happen is still vague. But perhaps it’s more than that; perhaps those in control of the company see a kindred spirit in the aliens, as one of the main characters eventually does. When the faeces rockets toward the fan with speed and inevitability regarding the Xenomorphs (that is not a spoiler at all, it is expected to happen in an Alien story), it strips away the suit-and-tie façade that people have put on and reveals that the world is inescapably nothing more than those that can survive and those that cannot; brutality is not only encouraged, it is rewarded. It can be refreshing when one’s allowed to be one’s true self.

Though White’s expertise at the rendering of the Alien franchise is not where this book shines its brightest. What makes The Cold Forge a stand-out work is its characters, their interactions, as well as their reactions to the growing madness around them. The “good news, bad news” situations occur at a break-neck speed, and the characters’ increasingly desperate and atrocious actions simply makes the reader more intrigued to know that happens next. This is embodied in the two protagonists.

What makes these two protagonists—Blue Marsalis, the genus geneticist with a death sentence from an incurable disease, and Dorian Sudler, the cutthroat and predatory company auditor—such great characters are that they are completely unlikable yet compelling at the same time. They fit perfectly within, and are a product of, the world around them. Even though Blue Marsalis’ medical condition, which has given her a pronouncement of doom, should make the reader sympathetic with her, she reacts to her condition in such a way that turns her into more of a monster than the Xenomorphs. But, here’s the important part, the reader is still able to empathize with her. Even if we don’t agree with her actions, we can see why.

Dorian Sudler is the worst idea of an upwardly mobile company man, and an auditor at that. He has no sympathy towards those he audits and takes an almost sexual pleasure in destroying peoples’ lives. This is a person one would enjoy, and be justified in, punching in the mouth. And yet, he is interesting, and intelligent. His machinations are a main driving axle of the story, especially as his mental condition fails throughout the book and he becomes an increasingly unstable psychopath.             

When it comes down to it, each story in the Alien franchise is not about any chitinous monster, it’s about people. Alex White’s The Cold Forge shows in the most page-turning way that the cold void of space is not only incapable of supporting life, but a person’s humanity as well.

You can order ‘Alien: The Cold Forge’ on Amazon

Epeolatry Book Review: Contrition


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Title: Contrition
Author: Deborah Sheldon
Genre: Horror
Publisher: IFWG Publishing Australia
Release Date: 3 September 2018

In her late teens, Meredith Berg-Olsen had all the makings of a runway model. Now in her late forties, after everything she had been through – including horrors that John could only guess at – she looked bloodless instead of pale, skeletal instead of slender, more dead than alive.
John Penrose has two secrets. One is the flatmate he keeps hidden from the world: his high-school sweetheart, Meredith. His other secret is the reason he feels compelled to look after her.
Contrition is a horror story with noir undertones and an atmosphere of mounting dread.

The nurses burst into Meredith’s room….What do you reckon they saw?…..Bite marks.

This is the latest horror/thriller from Australian writer Deborah Sheldon, published on 3 September 2018 from IFWG Publishing and is available on amazon to purchase. Sheldon has created a seemingly ordinary Mr Average, John Penrose, as her protagonist, however it becomes clear very quickly (and at 240 pages there is no extra fat on the bone in this tale) he lives a not so ordinary life. He might have a boring dead end job, rent in the suburbs, no friends and no social life and drink too much beer, but he has an extraordinary secret lodging with him. Both literally sharing his rental home and sharing his back story, set 30 years previously, which still casts long toxic shadows into the present day.

The unravelling of the past when the young, shy college lad John Penrose meets and becomes entwined in the lives of the twins Lyle and Meredith Berg-Olsen, both of whom he loves in different ways but with deadly consequences, is slotted in beside the current day narrative describing John’s tedious existence – moving from rental house to rental house, whenever issues arise with Meredith and her behaviour.

John still loves his Merry, he still sees her with the eyes of his first teenage love, but to us the reader, it is apparent Meredith is not the girl she once was and John is blinded by devotion. Sheldon cleverly gives us clues and hints, but avoids the full reveal about what ails Meredith, until the climax, which is exciting and well constructed and takes an unexpected turn in the last few pages.

A neighbour, a single mother, Donna with a daughter in tow, takes a shine to John, and they begin a sweet gentle courtship but in the neighbourhood animals keep going missing, Meredith never goes out of the house in daylight hours, a ‘witch’ is seen outside Donna’ s windows and John learns new facts about his past from an old school mate now working for a circus performing in town. The mundanities of life are being undermined.

 John has a truly unnerving night time encounter with Meredith’s homeless friend, Sebastian, which has John racing for his life through the suburb’s back gardens. Meanwhile at home the tension mounts. Long before John asks the killer questions, we the reader are suspicious – of Meredith and her hobby boxes and of what did happen that summer day with Lyle down by the river, for which John has carried a lifetime of ‘Contrition’ and provides the motivations for all that he does thereafter.

This is a pacy, exciting read with strong horror content and some gruesome scenes which are well written but not for the faint hearted reader. If you don’t like shocks and scares this is not for you. There are noir currents at play here too, John Penrose is very much a man trapped by his femme fatale and one fateful act carried out one long ago summer’s day, which changed his life and from which he cannot get out from under. The guy just never catches a break. You’re hoping he will turn things around, but just like for Elisha Cook, Jnr in all those noir B movies of the 1940’s, you know deep down, it’s not going to happen.

Contrition is for sale at Amazon.

Epeolatry Book Review: The Auguries


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Title: The Auguries

Author: F.G. Cottam

Genre: Occult Horror

Publisher: Severn House Digital

Release Date: 1 April 2019

Synopsis: An unexpected lunar eclipse. A poisonous fog that cripples the capital. Statues that weep blood.

As the catalogue of calamities mount, fear and paranoia provoke rumours of terrorist attacks. But from whom?

History professor Juliet Harrington is an authority on sixteenth-century mysticism and a long-time believer in the existence of the Almanac of Forbidden Wisdom, a potent spell-book legend insists was compiled in that period by a cabal of powerful occultists. Its magic is summoned though only at disastrous cost, signaled by The Auguries. Juliet is convinced that the recent plague of disasters means someone reckless is using the book – and she has little time left to stop them.

“Dawn Jackson frowned, (It’s) ‘The Auguries’, she said . . . It’s like fallout, a … contagion. It’s a phenomenon they called ‘the unrestful dead.’

I have read all of F.G. Cottam’s book – so I am a fan of his dark horror with its accompanying chills and creepy settings ranging from a haunted house to a haunted boat. His trilogy, The Colony, is in my opinion a peak piece of writing for Cottam and when I read the first Colony novel I could almost believe it was a true story with a bit of faction thrown in – it was grippingly realistic and set on an isolated island. I think claustrophobic settings might be part of the Cottam charm; when the walls close in you know there’s nowhere to go..
This latest novel from him is, I felt, rather different in scope, tone and even style. In The Auguries the whole of London is showing signs of entering the End Times :- statues weep blood, a poisonous fog descends, a plane falls from the sky, the city floods and the infrastructure breaks down with bloated bodies floating in the streets and the accompanying looting (only Crouch End remains barely touched- there is a reason for that). However of these staggeringly devastating events are somewhat skimmed over as though they are a list to get through, but then the entire novel is a compact 208 pages, and Cottam has a lot to fit in and he does set a terrific galloping pace. So on the plus side this story is speedily told, fun, action packed and cracks along. You could read it in one or two sittings.
However the choice of a teenager, Dawn Jackson, (harbinger of a New Dawn perhaps?)as the main antagonist who holds the ‘Almanac of Forbidden Wisdom’ (inherited from her looter great grandfather) doesn’t work for me. She may/may not be autistic (a comment which is repeated to lesser effect each time throughout the book) but as she ignites the ancient spells to gain her own desires – she seems more of a psychopath than anything else and a not very believable one at that. Perhaps it’s an attempt to attract the Y.A. horror market?
The creepy scenes in her basement where Dawn imprisons what was once her rather nice brother, Peter, one of the most likeable characters, work very well indeed. They are miniature gems of Cottam writing at his best and her weird reanimated grandfather sent chills through me; but the good guy adults – a rather two dimensional female Professor and her academic male colleague (with military training which comes in handy) chase around Europe as though in a speeded up caper movie, (if it’s Tuesday it must be Belgium) following the clues to the sixteenth century Almanac and its origins and creators. There is much jumping back in time and changes of points of view. The sixteenth century magical almanac chapters are interesting enough but there is too much detail.
This leaping around is somewhat disjointing and there is a lot of it for a 200 page book; so there is not much chance to settle into one point of view or time period.
I would say this is for Cottam die hards and if you knew to his oeuvre, start with an earlier one.

The Auguries can be found on Amazon:


Epeolatry Book Review: After Dark


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.

‘After Dark’ is written by one of our ongoing contributors and this in no way influenced our review but wanted to have full transparency.

Title: After Dark
Author: Liz Butcher
Genre: Horror
Publisher: Self-Published
Release Date: 1st May 2018
Synopsis: What’s waiting for you in the shadows?
Ghosts, curses and creatures of the dark, these stories take you on a journey from the secret whisperings of the trees, to the torments of the subconscious mind.

“Death clapped his bones together in approval. “Chatter-chat-chatter?”

After Dark by Liz Butcher is a single author collection of horror short stories and drabbles. Opening the book are backstories to the stories within, written by the author herself, which are interesting insights to the works the reader is about to enjoy. I would use the word “Story-ception”, then make a dramatic and drawn out “bwah” noise, but I would then have to revoke any credibility I might have out of shame. The meaty literature part of the book is arranged in a drabble-short story-drabble pattern that is an effective method for pacing the reading. Each one of the stories are independent narratives, but many have a number of connecting themes, the most prominent of which is trees. Some are more subtle, while others have a more open arbor-based horror that you never knew you needed.   


Firstly, if you are unsure of what a drabble is, then I would suggest you read Horror Tree’s weekly “Enter the Drabble” column every Sunday. I’m sure you do this already, though, because you’re a good little reader/writer who might just get a packet of various sweets in their shoes during the holidays. But if you happen to know a naughty reader/writer who doesn’t already know what a drabble is, then, in Liz Butcher’s own words: “A drabble is a piece of fiction with a word count of exactly 100 words.”

A drabble is a deceptively simple thing: it’s just 100 words, right? As it turns out, that’s not right. A drabble is 100 words that needs to be a complete story. Not so easy sounding now, is it? There is not enough space to have a superfluous passage; failure and reader boredom loom with every press of the space bar. Drabbles are the writer equivalent of blitz chess.

Liz Butcher, on the other hand, has shown how a writer makes a drabble: little information is given but a wealth of information is suggested with a masterful use of the right word in the right place. It is a treat for a reader to be compelled to think about a story after it has been read, with revelations coming long after the page has been turned. And before you think that this collection is a one-trick pony – the short stories have been written with no less skill and care.

Moving on, hopefully I do not need to explain what a tree is. I know you’ve seen them at some point: they are those tall, rough looking things with colour changing tops and reside in the not-phone-screen place (formerly known as “outdoors”). While trees cause horror every Spring for those with allergies, Liz Butcher has taken these plants and brought a cosmic horror of sorts to them.

  1. P. Lovecraft himself stated that the oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown. There is no stronger representation of the unknown in Butcher’s works than a forest. She takes these otherwise coincidental collection of trees and recalls in the reader the ancient human fear of the dark recesses trees harbor between their bark, and the kinds of creatures or horrors that can dwell within them. Butcher takes it a step further in some stories, moving trees from scene elements to feature them as antagonists, directly harming characters, especially the protagonists.

While trees are a reoccurring theme and element – going so far as to have tree themed art for the story beginning and page breaks – it isn’t the only thing that brings this collection together.

Self-sacrifice rivals trees for the most common theme, but is not as overt about it. Characters, from protagonists to secondary, throughout the collection are given difficult choices to make. These are no mere salad or soup choices either, they concern the character’s own wants versus the needs of the world/ others around them. It lends a drama and sympathy to protagonists who are already well characterized to begin with, achieving that all-important empathy in the reader.     

Later in the book, we move from the forests to underwater, following merpeople and their aqua shenanigans. These characters have been crafted with an artful hand, making half-people, half-fish beings into something that lives on the page, with sympathetic human drives and emotions. Those emotions are often centred on today’s age of climate change. Most of the time the underwater habitats these creatures dwell in are in danger from malignant human influence, adding a very real, dramatic, and topical element to something that is often treated with whimsy and explorative optimism.

Piggybacking on that last point, a technique that Butcher uses to great effect in a number of stories is the unusual point of view. There are several stories, especially among the drabbles, that have the reader following a protagonist who is more villain or anti-hero than hero. One is even from the point of view of an infant, the most difficult of all anti-heroes to relate to. This bares noting because of the success with which Butcher makes these characters; it is far more difficult to make a believable character of dubious nature and morality than it is to make one that loves petting kittens and calls their parents at weekends, but Butcher pulls it off with a masterful stroke of the keyboard.   

 It comes as no surprise that Liz Butcher would create such great works. Many of the stories included have been featured in anthologies that have won/ been nominated for a number of awards. But you don’t come to a reviewer to hear about accolades in the same way you don’t go to a glassier to get a hot dog. What follows will be some of the standout stories that I’ve found in this collection. This is by no means a mark against the others, as there isn’t a bad apple in this entire basket of literary fruit, these are just the ones that deserve a particular note.


The Tree

We start as we mean to go on: with a tree. Although in our inaugural drabble, this tree is no ordinary carbon dioxide sponge. This is a quite descriptive story, rich in imagery, magic, and emotion, all in a neat little narrative.



Ever wonder what death and time do together? You find out in this story, as these concepts have been elevated to anthropomorphic and personified characters. Dormir has elements of a fairy tale, mystery, horror, and romance. Instead of being unfocused, it creates a story that is as much about the acceptance of death as it is a celebration of life.



Straight-up horror. You know those trees in the forest? They might hold a lot more than birds’ nests. They might just hold something that is integrally a part of the nearby Walton-esque town, but what that connection is is not what it appears to be on the surface.


Second Skin

A great drabble with a magnificent contrast between horror and the joy one can take in sewing.



This is a standout because it is from an unusual point of view: that of a demon. From 1888 Whitechapel to modern-day Brisbane, the reader is caught up in a desire to see what comes next from a truly horrific, and believable, protagonist.


Dorcha Scath

An example of the inevitable doom of college students in any horror situation. Far from garish slasher films, however, this story is full of heart-stopping turns and quite a surprising ending. While there were many poor decisions made that any reasonable person would stay away from like a custard and Ebola éclair, it doesn’t take much away from such a good story, leading the reader to demand to know what will happen next.


The Coin

Have you ever made a decision by flipping a coin, letting fate handle the hard part? What if that coin was flipped by a madman, and your life was on the line? Would you want to trust fate then?



Creeps are creeps, even if they’re handsome. If you’re on a girl’s night out, and you’re approached by a mysterious and attractive stranger speaking of hypnotism, it’s probably best to not cooperate with them. Because if you do, as this story demonstrates, you might end the night a far different person than when you started it.



Those strange old people living on the periphery of a forest might be strange for a reason. The real strangeness may come from what dwells within the trees, long forgotten by modern people until it once again emerges, bringing terror with it.



Be careful who you burn at the stake. Apart from the innocents that will fall victim to the mob mentality, even if you get something sinister, it’s far from time to pass around the tea and medals.


See What I See

Loss of love can cause people to do many rash things. Those things often lead down terrible paths. It’s made all the worse when magic comes into play. This is a horror story with the trappings of a great tradgey.



This story is a warning. It is a warning about retribution for the mistreatment of the planet, especially the oceans. This retribution may not come from awakened ancient beings, but it could. The depths are still, as of yet, a mystery that may hold more horror than wonder.


Thy Name is Wrath

A story from the point of view of a creature of rage and fury. What sets this revenge story apart from so many others is its surprising ending, for the reader and the protagonist.


Just a Shoe

A standout of psychological horror. It will leave the reader questioning what was real and what was a terrible manifestation of guilt.

After Dark can be found at Amazon.

Epeolatry Book Review: Across Dimensions


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: Across Dimensions
Author: Gina A. Watson
Genre: Fantasy/Sci-Fi/Romance
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
Release Date: 28 August 2017
Synopsis: Nine worlds. Nine tales. Countless lives at stake. From a vengeful ghost, to a mythical kelpie, to a mechanical dragon, and more, Across Dimensions weaves its way through multiple genres, offering something for everyone.

She didn’t speak; she was in a trance. Her eyes glazed over, and a smile spread across her delicate face. I always liked it when they smiled. She stopped on the bank of my river and stared into the now rippling water. I called to her again; I needed her to come to me.

Dragons, fairies, and corporate hacker vigilantes, oh my! Gina A. Watson’s Across Dimensions is one that fulfills its namesake, guiding us through realms of her own creation, each presenting new conflicts and the heroes and heroines that will overcome them.

Upon initial reading, Watson’s prose reads quite simplistic and very step-by-step, such basic design reminiscent of old fables, lending it a very juvenile style. Seeing as this is a short story collection, this allows for much action to take place in such a small span of time and allowing readers to be swept along for the ride. Each tale reads like a window, readers allowed a quick glimpse into a particular world that Watson has crafted before being drawn towards the next.

Despite its relatively short length, Watson manages to balance both fantasy and sci-fi with both an archaic and modern flair, balancing out her settings, even going so far on occasion to inject added bits of a secondary genre into the mix.

Unfortunately, this massive undertaking in so short a length leads to many issues of pacing throughout the collection. While we do get a glimpse into the world without the need to drastically re-establish an environment with each new installment, many of these worlds lack an overall context behind them, conflicts that are the driving force behind character action holding no real importance other than to justify character action in the desired moment, leaving these dimensions hollow and almost lifeless. At times, the world can seem confusing in regard to its time period or general sense of place. Brief mentions of the incorporation of magic and technology, or just the casual mention or use of such otherworldly elements can seem almost unnecessary and superficial in the grand scheme of the story’s events.

Characters also suffer from this breakneck pace, going through arcs at a rapid pace, failing to invigorate any emotional resonance from the reader, the protagonists then lacking any depth or true motivation for their actions. Watson also writes many characters with a certain sense of morality and justice, but in certain stories, this morality is not nearly as explored as it should be, especially when crucial decisions need to be made with resounding consequences. Characters can appear far from heroic because of this, losing much of their empathy and humanity, severing that connection between book and reader.

With such a stilted pace present in each tale, they read more as ideas of potential beats than fully fleshed out stories. Plot elements are introduced right as they’re needed to progress the story without any prior build-up. Romances form from so few interactions that it lacks a believability. Characters can switch personalities at the drop of a hat, shifting between antagonist and potential ally.

Across Dimensions tries to maintain a diverse range of lands for readers to explore and, as previously mentioned, can be a monumental task, which is to be commended. However, many of these worlds felt recycled, characters and elements reused without much differentiation other than character names. Dialogue can seem out of place and inconsistent in some, and certain rules or technologies of a world are forgotten when they would have been instrumental to the plot. This along with an extreme lack of cohesion between stories or a single thematic element tying everything together, made the whole venture seem empty and lacking meaningful substance, further reinforcing that these feel more like cliff notes than universe-traversing adventures.

Along with these major pacing issues, are several errors regarding tense, constantly shifting leaving a skewed sense of time and making it difficult to tell when exactly a tale is taking place.

Also, as previously mentioned, despite saying that this anthology reads closer to fables directed towards children, there is a far greater emphasis placed on graphic detail involving romance and violence, leaving a tonal dissonance. Across Dimensions has content certainly not directed towards children, but the simplistic fairy-tale like structure of its prose certainly does not suggest an adult audience, which begs the question who the narratives are really for.

With a busied narrative stream and a lack of variety, Across Dimensions is quite disappointing when proceeding its initial premise. However, for those curious enough for a quick read and a guilty pleasure for romanticized genre fiction, Across Dimensions may be worth a slight peek to sate the magical literary beasts.

Epeolatry Book Review: The Way of All Flesh


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: The Way of All Flesh
Author: Ambrose Perry
Genre: Thriller/Suspense
Publisher: Canongate Books
Release Date: 2 October 2018
Synopsis: Edinburgh, 1847. City of Medicine, Money, Murder.

Young women are being discovered dead across the Old Town, all having suffered similarly gruesome ends. In the New Town, medical student Will Raven is about to start his apprenticeship with the brilliant and renowned Dr Simpson.

Simpson’s patients range from the richest to the poorest of this divided city. His house is like no other, full of visiting luminaries and daring experiments in the new medical frontier of anaesthesia. It is here that Raven meets housemaid Sarah Fisher, who recognises trouble when she sees it and takes an immediate dislike to him. She has all of his intelligence but none of his privileges, in particular his medical education.
With each having their own motive to look deeper into these deaths, Raven and Sarah find themselves propelled headlong into the darkest shadows of Edinburgh’s underworld, where they will have to overcome their differences if they are to make it out alive.

“Possibly because to some, being found with a sick whore was no better than being found with a dead one, so why draw attention to yourself? That was Edinburgh for you: public decorum and private sin, city of a thousand secrets.”

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