Saturday, September 26, 2009

"Dead Souls" edited by Mark S. Deniz

"Dead Souls"
edited by Mark S. Deniz
Format: Paperback, 286 pages
Publisher: Morrigan Books

Before God created light, there was darkness. Even after He illuminated the world, there were shadows — shadows that allowed the darkness to fester and infect the unwary. The tales found within Dead Souls explore the recesses of the soul; those people and creatures that could not escape the shadows. From the inherent cruelness of humanity to malevolent forces, Dead Souls explores the depths of humanity as a lesson to the ignorant, the naive and the unsuspecting. God created light, but it is a temporary grace that will ultimately fail us, for the darkness is stronger and our souls…are truly dead.

“The Collector” by Bernie Mojzes – Zoran, a warrior, tired of the war and the horrors of war asks Baba Yaga for an end to this war and for his enemies to be driven out of his land. The story is a mix of mythology and history, with the location and the belligerent forces only hinted, but without a great importance since its development can apply to any known conflict. There is a twist within the main character wish and the story ends with the conclusion of that twist.

“Licwiglunga” by T.A. Moore – Gudrid, a nun from the early Christianity, is asked by Lawspeaker Orm to journey into Hel’s realm and to bring his fiancé back from the dead. T.A. Moore shows great talent in her story and I really liked how she played with the Norse mythology and how she crafted powerful and unsettling scenes, with a plus for me in the sequences of scenes involving Loki. The end of the story leaves the reader, besides the horror guessed behind its outcome, with a sense of justice.

“The Blind Man” by Carole Johnstone – A fisherman comes home only to face a terror settled deep within himself and in the middle of his family. Carole Johnstone doesn’t set anything clear in her story, leaving everything rather ambiguous and guessed. The reader is left to put the pieces together at the end of the reading and to discover the origin of the fisherman’s terror.

“Dry Places” by Tom English – Few monks from the Brotherhood of the Holy Veil travel through the Syrian Desert only to find themselves followed by a mysterious stalker. The story begins with a familiar scene from the Bible, but with a personal twist from Tom English. This is a quite violent and action packed story.

“Begin with Water” by Sharon Irwin – Alluna is bought from a slave trader and brought into the harem of her new owner only to fulfill her disturbing destiny. This is another story playing with a religious theme. I liked here how Sharon Irwin depicts a decaying world, with a few issues of our world disguised into her story. But the story will leave a ray of hope in the end.

“In the Name” by Robert Holt – Addu is brought to the Marduk’s temple to be sacrificed in the name of her god. This is a really short story, but enjoyable nonetheless. Especially since, leaving the terrifying elements aside, the story offers a funny and subtle irony as its outcome.

“When They Come to Murder Me” by Bill Ward – A half-god recollects his life while he awaits his execution. Well, I have to admit that, with all the respect for the author efforts, the meaning of this story slipped past me. With all the honesty I say that this story is not what I am looking for in a reading, being it longer or shorter fiction.

“The Unbedreamed” by Christopher Johnstone – While hunting, Dughall discovers a wee man in a cave working on a mysterious mixture over a pot. And that will explain quite a few things for him. A very nice story speaking of the power of dreams and what can be achieved with that power.

“Goldenthread” by Elizabeth Barette – Haimikiran tells the story of her life and that of her sister’s life. It is a sad story with a development and events very similar with a fairytale, but without a happy ending. But this story failed to engage me in the fullest and I found the main character to be a bit too whining and a bit too close to be an annoyance.

“When the Cloak Falls” by Catherine J. Gardner – Sunniva and Tristan face the farmers of Bedburg over an ancient curse. I read this story twice, because the first time I wasn’t able to put all the things together. I still can’t put my finger firmly on it, but I believe it’s a story of lycanthropy and preconceptions.

“The Price of Peace” by Anna M. Lowther – An ice storm separates Ernst and the crew of his tank from the rest of his division. Isolated, Ernst is captured by a few Russian locals. In this story an old legend comes to life through the narration of the Russian locals and Ernst will face not only a hostile enemy, but also a hostile environment. An interesting story, especially through the legend embedded within, but with an end that tends too much toward a moral conclusion.

“Your Duty to Your Lord” by James R. Stratton – Saito Otsu is an orphan, left only with two valuable swords after the death of her father. One day Lord Ieyshu, under whom her father served, hires her in his service only for Otsu to save Ieyshu’s family honor after a period of time. The author manages to catch the atmosphere and the culture of a Far East nation, Japan. Although not a horror story in its core, this tale will depict customs and values that will seem strange at some point.

“Mercy Hathaway is a Witch” by Ken Goldman – Jonathan Browne is engaged with Amelia Worthington, but he is lead by Mercy Hathaway in the nearby forest only to find out strange things about the members of his society and his fiancé. A story of witchcraft that like the one before, it captures the atmosphere and the customs of a certain period, this time set in United States near Boston.

“Immortal Beloved” by Lisa Kessler – The story teller, listening to an interpretation of the “Moonlight Sonata”, recollects his love story with Ludwig van Beethoven. Immortal beloved is the name given by Ludwig van Beethoven to an unknown person in his love letters and Lisa Kessler gives in her story an identity to the unknown lover. I find her personal interpretation to be intriguing, but interesting nonetheless.

“Subito Piano” by Lisa Kessler – Marcus, the friend of the story teller from the previous story, measures the consequences of his friend’s actions. It is unusual for an anthology such as “Dead Souls” to contain two stories from the same author, but here the second story is heavily related with the first. This second story has a different approach from the first one, with a rhythm that grows as the story advances. Lisa Kessler breaks the paragraphs of her story with the volume of the music that plays within it and the story feels like the rhythm imposed by the volume of that story. However, there is a contradiction of the first story here. Marcus in this story laments that he or his protégé will never know love, although his friend from the first story and who is in a similar situation knows an immortal love.

“The Migrant” by Michael Stone – Adolf Hitler disembarks from a train in Munich to find in the city a comrade from war and an unfortunate destiny. I am not a big fan of works that have known historical figures as main characters, because there is hard for them to change my image of that particular historical figure. But leaving this aspect aside, Michael Stone writes an imaginative story, playing with a controversy behind Hitler’s past and giving to the largest world conflict a root that goes deeper into the world history and has a biblical touch with it.

“Sandcrawlers” by Robert Hood – Mike, a private investigator, while working on a case finds himself facing painful memories from his youth. I loved this story and with ease I can say that is one of the top stories of this anthology. Robert Hood manages to inflict in his character an almost palpable terror and creates two terrifying events, a shocking horror of human nature and the psychological one, which proves on some places to be even more powerful. What I liked also at this story is that the author offers the reader some twists and turns that make the story even more interesting.

“Tatsu” by Reece Notley – Don desires an unforgettable tattoo and asks the tattoo artist Tsukoi for it. And Don will find out that the tattoo from his skin is one of the artist’s masterpieces. Again a story that successfully combines the physical pain with the psychic one, centered on a dark and disturbing character. I particularly liked the end of the story which comes with a twist that took me totally by surprise.

“Wayang Kulit” by L.J. Hayward – Scott is a tourist in Indonesia and together with his girlfriend, Kerri, and their local friend, Ramelan, he attends a puppet play which will resemble a bit too much with the story of his lifetime. As I constantly say I prefer to read psychological horror and this story fits this pattern. A traditional puppet play triggers remorse in the main character and I liked how L.J. Hayward doesn’t trace clearly the boundaries between reality and imagination and which gives more power to the story.

“Contaminator” by Rebecca Lloyd – While he makes his way into the underground station a man witnesses a random act of violence. This is a short, but powerful story, where Rebecca Lloyd manages to inflict panic, terror and a claustrophobic feeling in its few pages.

“The Dead Must Die” by Ramsey Campbell – George Saint comes to visit his brother who is hospitalized after an intervention not approved by him. This is another excellent story, in which Ramsey Campbell creates a disturbing and dark, but captivating setting and in which the interior struggle of the main character lies in the spotlight.

“The Ringing Sound of Death on the Water Tank” by Stephanie Campisi – The story teller comes to live together with his mother at the Platts’ farm only to find a fearsome figure in one of the Platt family boys. The story offers a few shocking and grotesque images and a terrorizing final scene.

“June” by Paul Finch – An undercover detective from the unconventional (strange and bizarre) crimes investigates the reasons behind the increasing violence in the month of June in the sub-division of Birmingham, Underwood. The story creates a few terrifying moments with some repellant acts of violence and with a Lovecraftian touch made by its author.

“A Shade of Yellow” by Gary McMahon – Brett Jones comes home from the Golf war with no recollection of his last actions, but with a strange memory of that last action. Almost everything is left unclear by Gary McMahon in his story, but this fact lays a strong foundation to it. This story goes deep into psychological aspects, with a same thin boundary between reality and imagination and with a rather sad than repulsive character.

“The Blue Stream” by Kaaron Warren – In the future, teenagers are sent in a facility for a few years, in order to pass their adolescence years there and this way the society to avoid their acts of disobedience. This is a story that tends more toward the Science Fiction, but a very good one nonetheless. With a very interesting concept it strongly reminded me of Anthony Burgess’ “A Clockwork Orange”.

“Dead Souls” makes a journey within the human soul through time and space, taking the reader from the times of legend to a distant future, from the Northern European shores to the Far East. Mark S. Deniz gathers 25 stories that will not try to shock the reader through violent acts, but through a series of events that can change the human soul forever. Although a few of the stories are not as powerful as the others I enjoyed “Dead Souls” in the fullest and I believe that it shows within its pages the true potential of psychological terror.


Kailana said...

I have this horrible problem with anything going near my eyes, so that book cover is not exactly my favourite book cover ever!

I have never read any of the authors in this anthology. If I can get passed the cover, I might have to give them a try!

Cate Gardner said...

What a lovely detailed review. I haven't read the antho yet, but it looks like there are a few gems waiting for me.

Cate Gardner (aka Catherine J) :D

Anonymous said...

Thanks, as always, for your detailed reviews my good man!

Mihai A. said...

Kailana, I have the same problem :)
Although it can give me goosebumps, I find the cover to be quite suggestive and appropriate for the book. And I like such anthologies, because they give me the chance to discover new authors :)

Cate, thank you very much. There are indeed a few gems in the collection :)

Mark, it is my pleasure :)

Michael Stone said...

Thank you for the detailed breakdown, Mihai! I'm very proud to be in this anthology and look forward to reading everybody's stories.

Barbara Martin said...

The cover is CREEPY! But, Mihai, if it fits the stories within then it was well chosen. I like reading anthologies to discover new authors and how they pen their stories. Some of your reviews have whetted my appetite, so this will be going on my Christmas wish list.

Mihai A. said...

Michael, thank you too. It is a good anthology indeed :)

Barbara, it seems the cover works perfectly. I discovered quite a few authors through anthologies. I hope you'll like this collection and find authors you like too :)