Epeolatry Book Review: Split Scream Volume 4 by D. Matthew Urban and Holly Lyn Walrath


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Title: Split Scream Vol 4 
Author: D. Matthew Urban – “Nonsense Words” and Holly Lyn Walrath “Bone Light”
Genre: Horror
Publisher: Tenebrous Press
Release Date: 31st October, 2023

Synopsis: SPLIT SCREAM has a new home at Tenebrous Press! Editor Alex Ebenstein brings his acclaimed split-novelette series back for a fourth round featuring:

Nonsense Words by D. Matthew Urban

An aging professor of ancient history strikes up a friendship with her new colleague, Dr. Paul Duncan, a scholar of undecipherable inscriptions. As she finds herself drawn into Dr. Duncan’s life—his brilliant wife and mystical daughters, frightened students and uncanny associates—darker forces behind his research emerge, plunging her into a nightmare of mythical absurdity and ritualistic death. Dark academia meets cosmic horror in Nonsense Words, where the incomprehensible is granted a conjured form—but too much imagination can be a dangerous thing. If the cosmos is nonsense, merely a divine or demonic joke, will she live to have the last laugh, or will she die a punchline?

Bone Light by Holly Lyn Walrath

An icy surf batters Bone Light as its beacon calls to weary souls at sea. This edifice built of bone and wretchedness sits atop a cursed rock, surrounded by death, watched over by the ghosts of light-keepers past. Their records tell of the inhospitable environment, but it is Mary Long’s writings that show the heart. Misfortune necessitates the arrival of her dear Ida, laying bear to the obstacles that shaped their history—a husband and taboo among them. These log entries illuminate Mary’s world—the banality, the heartbreak, the magic. In Bone Light, a beacon of death might finally be the thing to give life to a long-denied romance.

Split Scream is a series of paired horror novelettes which began at Dread Stone Press, and now starting with volume 4, continues at Tenebrous Press. I have not read any of the previous volumes, but after this pairing, I want to check them out. Due to the unusual nature of this publication, my review will be split into three parts – one for each novelette and one on the pairing of them together.

Nonsense Words by D. Matthew Urban

When I began Nonsense Words, I almost jumped for joy. Starring an aging professor of pre-Classical Studies, and full of dark academia, mysterious cults and rituals, with references to Latin and ancient history, this story had my name written all over it. I studied Classics for ten years in university and taught part-time for a few years after that. I was pre-disposed to love this story.

Even if you don’t share my obvious bias, this story is delightful. Told in a first-person narrative style, the story drew me in and I finished in one sitting. The main characters are intriguing, and the friendship formed between the young charismatic professor. Dr. Duncan, and the elderly emerita, is easy and believable, which makes it all the more tragic when it breaks down. Dr. Duncan studies the dark, mythical secrets of the past and uncovers something better left buried.

I thoroughly enjoyed the depiction of academic life and the ancient references filled with nostalgia. No one at my university summoned any deities (that I know of), but I really felt transported back to university and the author captured the fascination someone can have with ancient history.

Bone Light by Holly Lyn Walrath

I have long loved dark stories and lighthouses. Something about their loneliness casting light over the dark sea, and guiding ships through the night, has always intrigued me. So, imagine my delight, when after the Classics story, a lighthouse story came on its heels. 

Bone Light is presented in epistolary format mostly via Mary Long. She followed her husband to a lighthouse on the shores of New Prospect Bay, US, leaving behind her family and closest friend. When tragedy strikes, Mary is left to care for the lighthouse. However, out of that darkness, comes the chance for a long-denied romance to flourish. Mary is a sweet and gentle character with a strength inside and she really comes to life on the page. 

Part horror tale, part love story, Bone Light is a perfect comfort read.

The Stories Together

While the subject matter and the styles of narration are different, the stories pair together. They seem different at first: Nonsense Words might take place at a busy university, but the main character is just as alone as Mary Long. And Nonsense Words is not explicitly an epistolary story, but writing is key to its narrative with the focus on the ancient pseudo-Latin words and the articles the professors write. 

Both stories are also told after the fact through the lens of a lonely woman navigating her complicated relationships and discovering a window into a supernatural world she was previously unaware of. 

The two novelettes, both excellent stories in their own right, work well in tandem making for a lovely little (scary) book.


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