Monday, 20 October 2014

High Seas Drifter

Never judge a book by its cover. Sage advice. Except of course if that book cover has on it the words Jeffrey Archer - in which case judging is entirely appropriate. It has to be said though that it's sometimes difficult not to appraise the merits of a book by what's presented on its cover and the art work which adorns the front of it is as important as what's contained within those covers. And yes, I know the phrase "don't judge a book by its cover" is not meant to be taken literally but its use in that context allows a neat introduction for the new novella from Pendragon Press - The Derelict by Neil Williams, the context being that Neil has made a name for himself already in the small press with some astounding cover art. His credits are too many to mention here but anyone enjoying the current Terror Tales series from Gray Friar Press or Spectral's serialisation of Simon Bestwick's Black Mountain will be very familiar with his work. (Scroll down slightly and you'll see more of his work adorning the cover of Horror Uncut).
As might be expected, Neil has provided the art work for his own book and quite a cover it is too, absolutely dripping with atmosphere. The good news is, that atmosphere is created just as effectively by the words within - this is an extremely well written, and crafted piece of work.
Presented The Rime of the Ancient Mariner style, with an "old, mad drunkard" sharing his tale for the price of an ale, the story relates events surrounding the discovery by the schooner Albin Grau of the seemingly deserted brig Persephone. And yes, those names are entirely significant, Grau a production designer on a famous 1922 horror film and Persephone the daughter of Demeter, the goddess whose name was appropriated for the name of a ship in a relatively famous novel of 1897.
Nods then to iconic works from the past but also to more contemporary horrors, the discovery of the "deserted" ship referencing Event Horizon and Alien as well, of course, as the Marie Celeste. It's no surprise then that the Persephone isn't quite as deserted as it first seems.
The use of these familiar tropes in way diminishes from the power and effectiveness of the novella however. As I stated earlier, the atmosphere is beautifully created and that results in the reader becoming completely immersed in the story which unfolds. And quite a story it is too, cracking along at a fair old pace and with some brilliantly constructed set-pieces. One in particular, involving a rowing boat and rope clambering will have you on the edge of your seat.
The Derelict is a good, old-fashioned (in the best possible way) horror yarn and I had a whale of a time reading it. It's the prefect tale for a Halloween night so get one now before the end of the month. Get one anyway (which you can do via the publishers), it's a great read. The novella is available in paperback (as a limited, signed edition) or as an e-book though I would recommend the former simply for a full appreciation of the art work which adorns it.
Neil's There Shall We Ever Be was the highlight of the Ill at Ease II collection - a subtle, slow burner of a story which demonstrated his skill at creating an atmospheric piece of writing. The Derelict is further evidence of those skills and I recommend it highly.

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