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January 1, 2020

4 Books of Horror & Dark Fantasy

by MK French


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Maybe The Dream Knows What Is Real by Steve Grogan

Maybe the Dream Knows What is Real
June 2018; ebook (74 pages); horror
The narrator, "an American middle-class male," was bullied as a child and believed himself to be better than others since birth, understanding the true nature of love. He took no responsibility for any of the things that happened or tried to understand the viewpoint of others. With no distinct personality of his own, he depended on romantic relationships for that. When he felt betrayed, however, it all went downhill from there.

Steve Grogan describes this novella as "splatterpunk," and it's certainly a graphic look at the mind of someone descending into violence. There's no name given for the protagonist and reads like the manifesto of those MRA's or mass shooters that get almost glorified in the news. For someone that professes to understand the nature of love, he has zero empathy and feels the entire world owes him because of indistinct greatness he can't even demonstrate. He tosses around names of authors and philosophers, but it reads more like a laundry list that has to be checked off to qualify as a "superior" mind when he's just as narcissistic and elitist as the bullies he hated. Toss in a healthy dose of misogyny and self-loathing, and this is certainly the kind of guy I have zero interest in getting to know, and that's even before we get to the graphic parts.

This is not a pleasant guy, and not a fun or happy read. It's well written, in the sense that you can see the action happening and the thought process (or lack thereof) behind it. But it's not a comfortable story, and would probably be useful in book club discussion along with revenge porn stories or movies.

Buy Maybe the Dream Knows What is Real at Amazon

The Indivisible and the Void by D. M. Wozniak

The Indivisible and the Void
January 2019; 978-0578447155
audio, ebook, print (577 pages); dark fantasy
Void magic has to be carefully taught and managed, and Master Voider Democryos sends a student into the war-torn countryside each year to work that magic. Lady Marine, his wife and former student, leaves him for a mysterious voider. Obsessed with his missing wife, Democryos sets out on a quest into the countryside to search for her. The King sends Chemeline, a member of his harem, to comfort Democryos. He also interacts with Blythe, who leads worshipers of the "Unnamed," as well as Colu, the wounded soldier with a patch over one eye. Together, they discover the means to understand voidance itself.

There is a lot of worldbuilding, from the inherited ability to manipulate voidstones in the voiders, to the Effulgents, hairless cultists that preach the use of voidstones is evil. The nature of magic and the voidstones is fascinating, as is the eventual revelation of the "empowered," who can manipulate the axion of the series title. That is the ultimate power, and involves the axiondrive, which had once upon a time powered a starship the size of a citadel.

In addition to the main story are several side stories that eventually weave into the main plot. Once they all pull together, the story picks up its pace and is a fantastic ride. Dem has his prejudices challenged as the story progresses, and the teachings of both the voiders and the Effulgents interweave. Some of their shocking discoveries are easily guessed if you read enough about magic and fantasy novels, but the horror that they feel is very real, and they deal with it appropriately. None of the characters mentioned are there for no reason, and the hints at a larger world and universe are really tantalizing. I wished there was more about Chemeline's background and culture, but large parts of it actually aren't explained. Maybe in future books, it'll play a larger part.

While the main story is wrapped up fairly neatly, we get a bit of exposition after the fact in the mysterious voider's journal, as well as the chilling They're coming at the end. This is book one of the series, so that hook will absolutely get dealt with.


Hex Life: Wicked New Tales of Witchery edited by Rachel Autumn Deering and Christopher Golden

Hex Life
October 2019; Titan Books; 978-1789090345
ebook, print (384 pages); horror anthology
Hex Life is an anthology of tales written about various styles of witchcraft. The included authors are well known, including Sherilyn Kennon and Kelley Armstrong, and play off of universes and stories that the reader thinks they know well. The topics run the gamut, so there's urban fantasy, classic horror, and post-apocalyptic wastelands looking to burn a witch or two. In fact, that's the core of our opening story, Kat Howard's "An Invitation to a Burning." It's told at the outset that towns need witches to do the little and big magics that make life bearable. This didn't stop the people from trying to burn them, or the witches from holding onto their power. It's short yet layered in meaning, and pretty much sets the tone for the rest of the anthology.

I adore "Widow's Walk," because girls left isolated and all but abandoned by parents who are supposed to care for them always bother me. Kelley Armstrong's "Black Magic Mama: An Otherworld Story" is set in the same universe as her other books, but it's easily read on its own, and is a great counterpoint to "Widow's Walk." Here, the mother goes out of her way to stay on the run to keep her daughter safe, even as she knows that it is a trauma of a different kind to constantly be on the run. "Bless Your Heart" has a mother sticking up for her queer son deep in the heart of Texas, which was especially satisfying to read. Mothering figures in a different way in "Night Nurse," and the ending is like a kick in the teeth.

"The Memories of Trees" doesn't explicitly explain the Heathen "gods" that come in response to prayers, but the references to technology and an apocalypse go from tongue in cheek to sheer horror as the story continues. Ania Ahlborn's "The Debt" is horror of a different kind, giving me chills as I picture the events in the story. "How To Become A Witch-Queen" invokes fairy tales, which I loved, and really makes the second person POV work. "Gold Among The Black" doesn't overtly hint at fairy tales, but that's the feeling I get with its medieval tone. All in all, this is a wonderfully curated collection of stories.

Buy Hex Life at Amazon

Nightmare City by P. S. Newman

Nightmare City
November 2019; 978-1698565439
ebook, print (359 pages); dark fantasy
Twenty years ago, the Surge brought aspects of dreams to life. These aspects are called Shades and have the potential to run amok and destroy people, property, even cities. Eden Maybrey is a freelance shade hunter, and her latest case is a request that threatens to expose her deepest secret, as well as the lives of those she loves.

In this world, Shades are considered deadly, so harboring them is a federal crime and would lead to punishments for treason. Eden’s dark secret is revealed to the reader fairly early: she is a shade conjured from a comic book about dream hunters and had been given an identity as a human. This exposure would mean her death, as well as the imprisonment of the family she has: Bella Perez, the dreamer that had created her, as well as Bella’s older sister Cecilia Perez, who works with the LA police. They’re her cousins legally, but this is her family by choice as well. Unbeknownst to the outside world, Cecilia’s boyfriend David was a member of an organization that hoped to win rights for benevolent Shades and had helped Eden get a legal identity. His freedom would be at risk as well. Add to this tension is a hunter that hates Shades beyond all reason that Eden has to work with, Shades she dreamed up herself, and the organization that is tasked with eliminating all Shades that wants her to join.

The case was brought forth by Sean Baptiste, David’s brother. He has a doppelganger that shoots fire, and there is a lot of reluctance in revealing the truth of the dream that built the Shade. This adds more complications to tracking down the Shade, who proceeds to wreak havoc in LA and plans to harm David. Eden’s own Shades adds further complications because the Order agent working with Eden wants nothing more than to eliminate him and every other Shade he comes across. He won’t accept that some Shades could be helpful, or that they can serve a purpose for the dreamer. The reader is also aware that Bella is trying hard to control her ability as a dreamer creating Shades, and this adds a little more for Eden to deal with.

This urban fantasy novel has a tag line on its summary that it doesn’t have vampires or werewolves. What it has are random dreams coming to life, which aren’t necessarily benevolent at all. It’s an interesting take on urban fantasy as well as dystopia, given the gritty and grim atmosphere that is beneath the surface of the novel. It definitely makes you think about the phrase “be careful what you wish for,” and I can’t wait to see what happens next in the series.

Buy Nightmare City at Amazon

Born and raised in New York City, M.K. French started writing stories when very young, dreaming of different worlds and places to visit. She always had an interest in folklore, fairy tales, and the macabre, which has definitely influenced her work. She currently lives in the Midwest with her husband and three young children.

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2 comments:

  1. Oh my gosh... the cover of The Indivisible and the Void!!!

    ReplyDelete
  2. The covers of fantasy and paranormal books are always so gorgeous. :D

    ReplyDelete

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