Book Review: The Perfect Wife by: JP Delaney

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Title: The Perfect Wife

Author: JP Delaney

Genre: Science Fiction, Thriller

Publisher: Penguin Random House – Ballantine Books

Release Date: August 6th, 2019

Synopsis: Abbie awakens in a daze with no memory of who she is or how she landed in this unsettling condition. The man by her side claims to be her husband. He’s a titan of the tech world, the founder of one of Silicon Valley’s most innovative start-ups. He tells Abbie that she is a gifted artist, an avid surfer, a loving mother to their young son, and the perfect wife. He says she had a terrible accident five years ago and that, through a huge technological breakthrough, she has been brought back from the abyss.

She is a miracle of science.

But as Abbie pieces together memories of her marriage, she begins questioning her husband’s motives—and his version of events. Can she trust him when he says he wants them to be together forever? And what really happened to Abbie half a decade ago?

Beware the man who calls you . .

Are cyborgs our future? Are they machines or if we build them in our image do we automatically give them a soul? Surely if you kick a Roomba he makes nothing of it, but what if you impose relationship on a cyborg that has ‘feelings’ or at least is programmed to feel just like you do? The legendary Isaac Asimov’s first law of robotics is that a robot would never injure a human. But what if it’s the other way around? These ethical questions are just some that rise from “The Perfect Wife”, JP Delaney’s latest book.

Is “The Perfect Wife” a thriller? Is it Sci-Fi? Maybe Psychological? The book seems to escape standard definitions, which gives it immediately that X-factor. The certain fact is that the author uses this novel to teach us about autism, its related stigmatism and ABA (Applied Behaviour Analysis – a method trying to embed “normal” behaviour to autistic patients), subjects which are no doubtfully close to his heart, and thus making this a rather educational experience as well as an entertaining one.

Tim Scott is a multi-millionaire Silicon Valley founder of an AI robotics company. He has built a ‘Cobot’ (Companion Robot) to replicate his wife Abbie Cullen-Scott, who disappeared five years before, presumed dead. The story is told from Abbie the robot’s point of view, who had been uploaded the memories of the real Abbie through social media, videos and pictures, and her brain was built in a way which is meant to “fill in the gaps”, by using her deductive AI abilities.

The story shifts between timelines, making narrative not altogether straightforward, and leaving confusion between someone who is telling us the alternate story of Abbie and Tim’s history. The couple also have a ten-year-old autistic son Danny who is the source of much tension and is essential to the development of the plotline. The more we read about Danny’s autism ‘outbreak’ the more we learn about Tim & Abbie’s marriage, which is far from the utopian relationship that everyone imagines.

This is a compelling story, well written by an experienced author. However, there were a lot of problematic points which disturbed me personally, as a critical reader. I‘ll endeavour to point these without giving away too much of the plot:

Abbie disappeared, so the upload of her memories is done from social media etc. If this is the case, how can she remember other events? How can she possibly know all of a sudden what Tim had told her during their wedding in India, as an example. The readers are intelligent, and the author should have sorted this issue, and not just hand the reader a “black hole” of data, expecting us to think nothing of it.

The second main issue lies within the story’s characters: while it is apparent that Tim is more sinister than he seems from the start – his true nature is even worst than you’d suspect. This is revealed only later in the story, which is very implausible, given how intelligent Abbie is. In comparison – while real Abbie is this cool-surfer artist who ‘rebels’ against society’s norms, Cobot Abbie is an eager to please wife. That simply didn’t cut the mustard for me. Besides, these are the only two complex characters in the novel, while everyone else has a sketch of a personality, nothing too deep. This makes it a bit unbelievable as the story reaches its climax, and the necessity of these supporting characters is discovered.

Addressing again the issue of autism. I salute the author of finding a fictional-comparable situation to autism, via AI beings. This was a clear well thought of paradigm, which makes readers who know nothing about autism or mind degenerative syndromes to relate and understand the issues which parents to autistic children face their entire lives. The author himself addresses this in his afterword.

In conclusion, “The Perfect Wife” is a very interesting idea, written well enough, but story-wise its execution did not live up to its promise. There should have been at least 100 more pages to fill in the gaps in our knowledge of how the Abbie-bot was devised, and who are Tim’s friends and staff. Eager to get this out, I think the author missed the target completely. The one silver lining is that the ending as it is, as well as the mortality of the robots and the subject of AI, mean that a sequel may very well be just around the corner. Given the ethical issues that the book slightly touches and the constant technological progress in real life – I can certainly see one in the near future.

I’ve never read a JP Delaney book before, clearly a gifted author. However, this book for me is still a draft that should have been edited more, especially when it comes to the story.

You can order ‘The Perfect Wife’ on Amazon.

Review by: Joni Dee

Joni Dee is the author of “And the Wolf Shall Dwell”, an intense political espionage thriller, that revolves around global terrorism and hits frighteningly close to the truth for a work of fiction. He is a military intelligence veteran and his writing of this murky world is inspired by his life experiences.

His novel can be bought from Amazon https://www.amazon.com/Wolf-Shall-Dwell-Joni-Dee-ebook/dp/B0743B58SM/ in multiple formats and directly from Blue Poppy Publishing’s website https://bluepoppypublishing.co.uk/product/and-the-wolf-shall-dwell/

You can visit his website for a chance to be a character in his next novel “Terror Within” at https://jondbooks.com

Epeolatry Book Review: Something Borrowed, Something Blood-Soaked

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Title: Something Borrowed, Something Blood-Soaked
Author: Christa Carmen
Genre: Horror
Publisher: Unnerving
Release Date: 21 August 2018
Synopsis: In her debut collection, Christa Carmen combines horror, charm, humor, and social critique to shape thirteen haunting, harrowing narratives of women struggling with both otherworldly and real-world problems. From grief, substance abuse, and mental health disorders, to a post-apocalyptic exodus, a seemingly sinister babysitter with unusual motivations, and a group of pesky ex-boyfriends who won’t stay dead, Something Borrowed, Something Blood-Soaked is a compelling exploration of horrors both supernatural and psychological, and an undeniable affirmation of Carmen’s flair for short fiction.

On the day the water turned to poison, she had done the bad thing again. When her father appeared before her, she was certain it was to scold her for her atrocious, perverted ways. But when her father opened his mouth, a river of red ran out in place of reproach.

One thing Carmen can be credited for, is that no one story is the same from a conceptual standpoint. Spanning several subgenres of horror from the classic to the cosmic, she successfully captures several distinct worlds and ideas that breathe life into every story. Slashers to spectres, darlings to demons, Something Borrowed always manages to present a unique scenario throughout each of its thirteen stories without re-treading over too much tired ground.

Carmen’s prose is eloquently done in many areas. Her narrative voice both garish and ghastly. It weaves together such detailed environments and translates an ordinary sense of dread of a character into something borderline existential, adding a whole new dimension of fear. And it is in these fanciful descriptions, that Carmen’s strengths lie.

Her most notable work in the anthology, Thirsty Creatures, is where this narrative voice truly shines. With no spoken words and just the character’s recounting of a world long since past, while a new cosmic nightmare paving the way for its future, it makes for a dark and introspective piece of how the world came to ruin.

While the ideas behind Carmen’s work are creative and engaging conceptually, it is the execution where most of these narratives tend to suffer. The major issues being that throughout this selection there is a diversity in concepts, but not character.

In defense of Carmen, many scenarios she writes do serve as more homages to classic horror tropes only to serve some form of deconstruction later on, or act to set an intended archetypal tone. The faults in the writing stem from the characters birthed from these plotlines. Many protagonists, especially in the longer-winded stories really come across as one-note, either wildly successful to begin with and are nowhere lower than they were before or left in a victimized state for its entirety. It is understandable that with horror, a grand change in character growth is not always expected to happen and it is more focusing on the circumstances with which the characters are placed, but when these characters reflect many of the same traits and attitudes across all stories, it detracts most of the empathy as these characters feel less unique to their own worlds.

From the more technical side of things, Carmen needs to put more faith in her reader-base, as well as her own ability. Many of these stories are plagued with heavy expository segments, which only serve to bog down the pace of what are already short stories. A lot of the situation tends to be explained from early in the tale to half-way through where it presents the actual conflict, making for a more fragmented reading experience, and a diffusion of tension. Her worlds and premises lay a comprehensive stage and need not be explained further, one can parse her meaning without any further explanation from the characters themselves, which tends to make the worlds feel less authentic.

Above all it’s the dialogue that holds most of this expository behaviour. Characters explaining ad nauseum, which steals from the narrative voice, which Carmen has a knack for telling from. This adds further dissonance on top of the already jarring pace of some of these stories. Many times, characters reference pre-existing material as well in an off-handed referential fashion, which serves the story well if it is acting as a form of homage, but at times appears as an over-reliance, draining the confidence and individuality of the story to where it can’t stand on its own merits.

Something Borrowed, does have an interesting clash of horror stories, from the delightful romps of the B-movie, to the unnerving and rather real qualities of an urban legend. Carmen’s testament to horror is worth looking into, if you have that insatiable love of all things spooky. Though it may not be the greatest example, her descriptions alone do hold something of value for curious readers.

Something Borrowed, Something Blood-Soaked can be found on Amazon!

Epeolatry Book Review: Alien: The Cold Forge

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

Synopsis:
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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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 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:

https://amzn.to/2HJeJxE

Epeolatry Book Review: After Dark

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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.

‘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.

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