Monday 30 April 2018

Dead Sun

Dead Sun is the new novel from Luke Walker, a book which is undergoing a second lease of life – or perhaps, more fittingly given its plot, experiencing the afterlife – having previously been published as ‘Set in 2013.
The book’s original title refers to a location, one in which most of the action (and there’s plenty of action…) takes place: a shortened form of Sunset – a place which exists between Heaven and Hell, a way-station for the dead. Limbo! You may cry – or even Purgatory if you’re of a certain persuasion – but you’d be wrong, Sunset is its own place entirely, populated and accessed by the souls of the recently departed as well as their corporeal forms and visited when necessary by angels and demons.
It’s to ‘Set that the story’s protagonist Emma Cooper finds herself drawn, escorted there by a visitor to her home who introduces himself as Xaphan – a demon, whereupon they meet up with the book’s other main character Afriel, an angel. Emma, so it would appear, is the key to resolving a crisis within ‘Set, a refusal by a collection of souls to move on…
It’s probably best to describe the book as dark fantasy rather than out-and-out horror (although there are moments, particularly involving the “deads” – zombies to all intents and purposes – which definitely fall into the latter category) but the darkness is leavened by a dry wit in the narrative, the humour arising from the anachronistic, almost surreal interaction between the mundane and the epically supernatural giving rise to many a chuckle. I try not to compare authors when reviewing but there’s a definite similarity to this novel and the Discworld books of Terry Pratchett, a set of books in which a demon asking an angel if they want to go for a pint (as happens here) is just as likely.
As it turns out, the backlog problem turns out to be just the beginning and, once the author has (skillfully) introduced the rules and mechanisms governing ‘Set, the crisis deepens further and the plot really takes off with the introduction of a host of new characters and locations.
Luke has done a great job of creating the worlds in which his characters play out the narrative, a huge amount of imagination is on display here. It’s a clever mix – the story is epic, spanning a number of worlds and time periods and yet underpinning it all is the idea that the whole business of life and death is just that – a business, the ultimate production line, a conveyor belt of the deceased being processed by workers with their own issues and complaints.
There’s a nice mix too of “real” demons and angels with some nice name-drops going on. Samael, as might be expected, is a bit of a bastard. It has to be said there are a lot of characters, many of whom are introduced quickly and, given they are all then dispersed into different locations and time periods, it can be a little tricky to keep up with what’s going on. Fear not though, just go along for the ride and enjoy the cleverly thought out conclusion.
I enjoyed Dead Sun very much – for its humour and the huge amounts of imagination on display within. It’s obvious a great deal of work has gone into creating the worlds in which the story takes place and that shows in the final product. Humour is always a difficult thing to get right but Luke has got the tone of the novel just right resulting in an engaging, fast-paced and hugely enjoyable read.
You can buy Dead Sun here.

Friday 27 April 2018


Shiloh is the new novella from Philip Fracassi, now published in paperback by Lovecraft ezine press following the release of a limited edition hardback version. Philip is a writer whose work I now anticipate with great relish, providing as he has some of my favourite reads of the last few years. That anticipation was pushed almost beyond limits at the news that the novella has a historical setting given my predilection for horrors set in the past.
As the title might suggest, the story takes place during the Battle of Shiloh during the American Civil War, April 6th – 7th 1862. “Suggest” is appropriate however, the battle as described in the novella is never given this name –and, whilst this is undoubtedly historically accurate given the story is told in first person, present tense – it also offers up the possibility that the title refers to something else – or someone else.
The aforementioned narrative voice is an ideal choice for the novella, making the reading experience immediate and personal, throwing the reader into the thick of the battle. These passages are brutal, vividly describing the horrors of warfare and the damage human beings can do to one another and are not for the faint of heart. The narrator is Henry, fighting for the Confederacy alongside his twin brother William. His voice is an authentic one, conveying the horror of his situation alongside his own emotional responses and, as the best first person narratives do, provides insight into his own character. Most notable of these, given what happens in the story, is his refusal to subscribe to religious belief, a decision made in the context of his upbringing as the son of a preacher.
This lack of belief in anything mystical is important as it adds veracity to Henry’s observations of what unfolds during the fighting. Much of the horror in Shiloh is visceral, the descriptions of the atrocities of combat, but there is supernatural horror here too, subtly introduced with some highly effective – and chilling – descriptions of strange figures glimpsed amongst the carnage but then building to a point where it is the dominant theme of the book.
Cleverly, one of the supernatural elements references a phenomenon which was actually reported during the battle (and which has only recently been explained) and Philip shows great skill in incorporating it into the narrative, weaving it into his own story, enhancing the eeriness of the story’s conclusion.
And what a conclusion… The subtle shift from visceral to supernatural throughout the story leads to an almost dreamlike final sequence, in essence the physical becoming the metaphysical. It’s a heady mix of allegory and mysticism in which themes of destiny, death and sacrifice are explored. War is a transformative experience for those involved, its effects dehumanising, turning men into monsters and it’s these ideas which power the final scenes of the book. The startling imagery which has featured throughout the novella continues here as Henry discovers the truth of what has been happening, a revelation which will change his world forever. It’s an incredibly powerful ending to what has already been a marvellous piece of writing and is, in my opinion, the author’s best work to date.
I loved Shiloh, loved it again the second time I read it. Also included in this edition is a short story, Soda Jerk which provides a taster for Philip’s forthcoming novella Sabbath. Consider my appetite whetted...