Epeolatry Book Review: After Dark

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‘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.

 

Dormir

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.

 

Amber

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.

 

Gethen

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?

 

Feeder

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.

 

Morte

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.

 

Burn

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.

 

Awakening

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

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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

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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.”
(more…)

Epeolatry Book Review: Old Hollow

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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: Old Hollow
Author: Ambrose Stolliker
Genre: Horror
Publisher: Radiant Crown Publishing
Release Date: 27 February 2018
Synopsis: “Come Forth, O Dark Ones, and Avail Thee of Our Blood.”
Spring, 1865. The Southern armies are close to defeat. Union Cavalry Commander Philip Sheridan has loosed his scouts into the Virginia countryside in search of an opportunity to intercept and destroy General Robert E. Lee’s Rebel army and bring the war to an end.
One such scout is Captain Benjamin Lawson, a man haunted by the scenes of senseless slaughter he has endured from Antietam to Gettysburg. On a dark, rainy night, Lawson’s party of scouts stumbles upon a large group of Rebel cavalry. All Hell breaks loose. Only Lawson, Sergeant Jordy Lightfoot and Corporal Emil Boyd manage to escape into a thick forest.
There, Lawson discovers the young corporal has been gravely wounded. Determined not to lose another man under his command, Lawson heads for a small town called Old Hollow in the hopes of finding a doctor who can help the dying boy. What he finds there is far more terrifying than anything he’s witnessed on the battlefield. Soon, he and his men are in a fight for their lives against a twisted preacher who has struck a diabolical covenant with an ancient, unspeakable evil.

Set off just a few feet from the tree was an upside-down cross. Its light brown wood stained…

In Ambrose Stolliker’s novella, ‘Old Hollow’, we are deep in the dying days of the American Civil War, (Spring 1865), in Virginia, in the company of a small Union scouting party comprising- our haunted, tortured hero Capt. Ben Lawson, his trusty, loyal, rough neck Sgt Jordy Lightfoot and the plot’s catalyst, the injured young Corporal Emil Boyd- whose plight takes Lawson to the town of Old Hollow where the real trouble begins.

The men’s characters and histories are well evoked with salty dialogue and references to the terrible battles they’ve fought in. If you are a history fan with an interest in the Civil War, then this novella will provide an added dimension to your reading. However, it is not necessary, for a reader can enjoy it as a horror, supernatural tale of dark forces at work.

The tension builds slowly, with the soldiers’ initial reservations about the intactness of the town of Old Hollow, despite a war raging close by and a disturbing encounter with a mother and teenage daughter, the violent Tessa, which warns us that all is not well in this home. Why is the Doctor so nervous? Who is the Preacher who controls the town with a will of iron? Or does he have help from other darker forces? The answers lie in the massive, gnarly tree with the dark hole at its centre from which erupts – abominations.

There is a price to be paid, and sacrifices to be made, not everyone who arrived in Old Hollow is leaving alive.

This is a fast, entertaining, creepy read, rich in detail, which resonates with the old legends of hidden towns which survived by luring in travelers to their deaths.

My only caveat is I would have liked more development of the characters, the plot and the history of the tree. A longer novella perhaps? This tale has the legs for it.

You can buy Old Hollow on Amazon!

Epeolatry Book Review: Thylacines

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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: Thylacines
Author: Deborah Sheldon
Genre: Horror
Publisher: Severed Press
Release Date: 8 January 2018
Synopsis: The Tasmanian tiger, or thylacine, was hunted to extinction some eighty years ago. Now, Professor Rosie Giuliani and her staff at The Resurrection Lab have done the impossible: created a living, breathing litter from a preserved specimen. Yet Rosie can’t share this scientific breakthrough with the world. The cloned animals are more like monsters than thylacines. By chance, a small band of activists hears about the caged litter, and their decision to free the tigers will unleash a deadly havoc upon the campus of Fraser University.

“Drying blood masked the tiger’s face, right up to its ears, as if the tiger had dunked its head into a bucket of gore.”

This bio-horror novella (122 pages) by Australian writer Deborah Sheldon, is a fast, pacy, adrenaline fuelled read which you can gobble up in a sitting or two. The author has clearly done her research into Thylacines aka Tasmanian Tigers or if you want to be cosier, you could call them Tassie Tigers and she deftly weaves this information into the narrative without making it a lecture. The striking cover gives you an idea of what Sheldon has in mind.
An older female scientist, (a well written character) has succeeded in bringing a litter of Thylacines back from extinction. This would give most people pause but not this crew. Whilst the animals are locked up in the lab they can’t do much damage. But (ironically) it is a trio of animal rights’ activists who by deciding to free T1-T6, end up being the first course on the menu. For these newly born Thylacines have significant differences to their ancestors. They are faster, fiercer, more intelligent, larger and with a taste for human flesh.
The action unfolds, contained within the university’s campus- as body parts fly and there are several tense scenes where the Thylacines are cornered and fight back. Each chapter ends on a cliff hanger in fact. Another strong female character leads the tiger chase, a local cop, pulling overtime, Janine and her trained police dog, Zeus. I was rooting for Zeus all the way. Go Zeus! An engaging and convincing partnership.
My only disappointment is that it’s a novella not a novel and the ending came really fast. I would have liked a longer played out denouement. Maybe there is a sequel in the offing?
If you liked Jurassic Park or any other novels in that vein, you’ll go for this novella. It’s the equivalent of a B movie on steroids. Have fun.

Thylacines can be found on Amazon!

Epeolatry Book Review: C.H.U.D. Lives: A Tribute Anthology

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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: C.H.U.D. Lives: A Tribute Anthology
Editor: Eric S. Brown
Genre: Horror
Publisher: Crystal Lake Publishing LLC.
Release Date: 27 April 2018
Synopsis: C.H.U.D. is a genre defying, cult classic film featuring monsters living in the sewers below New York. The stories in this anthology expand the world created by the film and add depth to the C.H.U.D. universe like never before. From stories of apocalyptic horror and all out monster action, to tales of underground parties interrupted by uninvited guests and evening strolls that end in death, this anthology will leave you both smiling and breathless.
Relive the fear as these original stories take you beyond the movie to events that occurred before, during, and after the scenes we remember so well.
Includes C.H.U.D. related stories by Jonathan Maberry, Tim Waggoner, JG Faherty, Mort Castle, Michael H. Hanson, Martin Powell, Ben Fisher, Jason White, Chad Lutzke, Ross Baxter, Philip C Perron, David Bernstein, Nick Cato, Alex Laybourne, Christopher Fulbright, Angeline Hawkes, David Robbins, Robert Waters, Greg Mitchell, Ryan C. Thomas, and Eugene Johnson.
With an introduction by David Drake. Compiled by Eric S. Brown.
C.H.U.D. Lives! also features in-depth interviews with Andrew Bonime (producer) and Parnell Hall (screenwriter), as well as never before seen behind-the-scenes photos from the classic 80s horror film.

I can’t sleep. Visions of Eliot gleefully swaying his arms against a glowing backdrop haunt my dreams. I woke to his voice, talking in hushed, urgent whispers with the others.

They are beings that dwell beneath.
They are beasts that feast on flesh.
They are creatures not of this earth, and yet, they are.
They are…C.H.U.D.

Paying homage to the 1984 horror cult classic of the (relatively) same name, C.H.U.D. Lives is a collection of short horror stories based in a world plagued with NYC sewer monsters known only as Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers (or the much catchier and titular C.H.U.D.). Now, this is a rather unique take on the horror anthology, having several stories from varying perspectives centred around one piece of media, especially one different than its source material. Eric S. Brown has compiled quite the gallery of fan-based world-building, expanding a quick concept done in two hours to something that transcends its cinematic boundaries. Each story is not held back by the old medium, and translates well to the page, the variety of stories allowing for a steady pace that offers new surprises with each new tale told.
The book surrounds itself with additional content, interviews with crucial players in C.H.U.D.’s origin, providing some extra background into how the film eventually became the revered product it is today. It acts as a kind gesture towards fans, and an way to intrigue newcomers as to what made the film so endearing to its creators.
The film itself totes underlying themes of political corruption and environmental awareness that allows for more dimensions to appear more than a standard B horror picture, to which the writers take full advantage. Some tend to discuss the sheer horror of encountering such ravenous and ruthless monsters, while others lament the means of their very existence, commenting on the true source of the city’s calamity, the root of these beasts’ creation. This exploration of monster flick and green-initiative never feeling mutually exclusive to one another.
The primary location does well to help centre these tales. NYC being a hub of multiculturalism aids itself to the abundancy of perspectives and acts as an excellent backdrop to both pieces, leading to interesting locales both above and below ground. Authors paint detailed subterranean landscapes and haunting urban jungles, danger and safehouse entwined in a maze of concrete and filth.
Now as someone who had not personally seen the film beforehand, I never felt disengaged or excluded from the content I was reading. While some film characters are mentioned or even make heavy appearances in some stories, none lose the reader and have them question if they had missed integral information. This is where each author excels, investing readers in their own self-contained weave allowing for easy duck-in/duck-out reading sessions. Sharing a basic group of themes allows for a sense of coherency between tales, as if all the stories are happening in the same world and really makes C.H.U.D. Lives feel less like an anthology and more like a unified novel.
There should be something here for every horror reader. Featuring deliciously brutal descriptions of death and gore, ripe with vivid dismembering, and those with a character-oriented approach for more of an emotionally charged journey. This working in tandem with the surface-level and sub-textual themes the film promotes, lends itself to a more three-dimensional experience to keep everything fresh.
From Samsa’s Party, a very personable tale of a man’s slow descent into the throes of madness to That’s Entertainment! providing a (albeit on-the-nose) commentary on the rocky relationship between traumatic events and modern media.
However, it is important to note that with such a formidable selection of stories included, the subjectivity of quality has the hazard of being an issue for some readers, certain tales standing far higher above the others.
As ambitious and extensive as its catalogue is, many tales can feel repetitious and appear a retread of something previously written, be it similar scenarios or character backgrounds without too much iteration to help separate them. The overabundance of the homeless, death by evisceration, and the blatant mention of toxic waste (hinthint) may have worked in the timeframe of a film, but when coming from several different voices in a decently sized book, it can become rather grating. This along with both the film and the book proudly displaying its main attraction: C.H.U.D. prominently in both title and story, plots can get relatively predictable once readers are a good portion of the way through. The authors themselves also making sure readers know what the titular acronym means.
And this is ultimately where it fell short for me. While I did enjoy my time reading, I couldn’t help but want more from these stories, sensing an unearthed potential. With each story being restricted by length, no story truly had an established enough character to satisfyingly wrap, leaving many stories feeling hollow and without much life, evidently so in the ones that seek a more introspective experience.
I can see where C.H.U.D. Lives will entertain and scare, but for me it left me with something a little more to be desired.
If the beasties don’t scare you, or perhaps if they do, C.H.U.D. Lives is an interesting read for both fans and strangers alike. Unless they happen to reside in the Big Apple.

C.H.U.D. Lives can be found at Amazon: https://amzn.to/2Lxk900.

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