MARTUK THE HOLY: PROSEUCHE by Johnathan Winn (2014 ADC / 249 pp / eBook)
Movie announcer voice guy says: In a world of sprawling, lavish, Biblical epics … a world of dark faith, sinister demons, blood, and belief …
Only this is not today’s kind of Biblical epic, with badass Noah vs. CGI floodwaters, or whipping crucifixion torture porn. This is not your tepid dumbed-down Da-Vinci-Codified history/conspiracy mush.
This is deep, dense, intelligent, complex. This could only be more elaborate if it were an illuminated medieval manuscript with all the gilding and calligraphy. This is really, really cool.
This is also the second in the series, which I somehow failed to realize until after the fact, and it didn’t matter because it’s well-written enough that I read right along without feeling like I was missing chunks of the background.
But, of course, it makes sense. An immortal’s life story isn’t going to be told in just one book. Not when it spans pretty much everything from early Rome to modern day, but focusing primarily (not to mention intimately and personally) on the turbulent times around the dawn of Christianity.
The author’s skill shows in one of the better-handled frame narratives I’ve seen, skipping back and forth between past, present, paster-past, and way-past-past without leaving the reader lost. That’s a hard technique to master, and an easy one to bungle badly, and one that works very well in this kind of sweeping historical story-within-story multilayer drama.
I stand impressed (well okay, I sit on my couch with a cat impressed as I type this, but, you get the drift). And this being the second book in no way detracts from a desire to read the first one; instead of feeling like you’ve already got the spoilers, it’s an encouragement to want to flesh out the details.
Besides, on a purely horror-fan level, the evil scenes in particular are amazing. Lush descriptions, beautiful detail. Not only was I reminded of illuminated manuscripts, I was reminded of oil paintings, those old and classic manuscripts that, even in their depiction of terrible things, are as breathtaking as they are creepy.
WITCH! Edited by Jordan Krall (2014 Dynatox Ministries / 232 pp / trade paperback)
For those thinking of picking this up (which at this point will only be on the secondary market), be assured these aren't your standard witch stories. In fact, most are off the wall, bizarro, and quite violent, which will either lure you in or scare you away. I had a blast with most of it, and among my faves were Vincenzo Bilof's 'Pazuzu Combo Meal,' about a witch gone nuts inside a McDonalds Restaurant, Jess Gulbranson's 'Witchfucker Genreal,' about a slick monster hunter, and 'Metal Witch' by Jon R. Myers, a hysterical bizarro/scifi romp.
Among all the weirdness there are some traditional-style witch tales, and 'Her Presence' by Joseph Bouthiette Jr. is actually one of the finer pieces here. Throw in some poetry and even a very short tale by a 4 year-old writer (!), and this benefit anthology will make your next Halloween a bit stranger than usual.
THE TICK PEOPLE by Carlton Mellick III (2014 Eraserhead Press / 126 pp / trade paperback)
The author’s note at the beginning warns that it had been a while since he did a weird sex book, so maybe it was due … and this one certainly fits the bill. Not just weird sex, but really gross nasty squelchy sex. Special kudos to cover artist Ed Mironiuk. For what must have been a dubious “you want WHAT?” assignment, the results are staggeringly awesome in a sanity-destroying way.
Which is about the same as can be said for the book itself. The setting has an almost Seussian quality; a complete civilized society built on a giant sad dog. They have to keep the dog sad so that no happy frolicking destroys their cities. Fernando Mendez is one of the Stressmen, the people in charge of maintaining misery. It’s not a fun job. His is not a good life.
He’s also single, to the annoyance of his sister. In their day and age, finding your true mate is not just some ego-fancy. Certain body parts have, in fact, evolved to the degree that, unless you’re with your matching partner, sex is difficult at best and reproduction impossible. With your match, however, it’s damn near a biological imperative.
Luckily for society, they’re able to register and find each other. Unluckily for Fernando, when he gives in to his sister’s pressure, he learns that his already-wretched life has just gotten worse.
See, his people aren’t the only species to make their homes on the back of the big sad dog. The big sad dog has ticks, which have themselves evolved, living as second-class citizens. And guess who – or what – Fernando’s match turns out to be?
I’ve never been a fan of the whole destined-one thing, or any kind of overriding urge that forever bonds or forces two people together regardless of their own will and choice. Looking at you, ElfQuest, Pern, Sholan Alliance, etc. Even in stories I might otherwise enjoy, that’s always bothered me. So, it’s nice to see an author take it on in a way so abhorrent, repellent, and all-around disgusting.
Nobody’s ever been paired with a Tick-Person before. The scandal is too juicy not to make the news. Fernando, when he makes the mistake of seeking out his match to tell her it’ll never happen, discovers that as revolting as she is, as much as he hates her, his body has other ideas.
What follows is … well … see what I said above about sanity-destroying, nasty, gross, and squelchy. I got through it with several instances of involuntary shudders and sickly cackling noises, then promptly added it to the small list of books that it’s probably much safer to warn certain of my friends against rather than recommend to them.
Certain other of my friends, however, are depraved enough to get a huge kick out of this one. So, if that’s you, go to it and enjoy!
SAVAGING THE DARK by Christopher Conlon (2014 Evil Jester Press / 207 pp / trade paperback & eBook)
Mona Straw is living the perfect American life. She has a faithful husband, a cute young daughter, and is a beloved school teacher. But when one of her students--an eleven year old boy named Connor Blue--catches her eye, she begins to drift into territory even she can't explain. Young Connor, like herself, is a huge fan of old films and books about film, and before long they become involved. Connor even claims to be in love with her, and she with him.
I usually avoid stories dealing with child abuse or adults preying on children, and I almost stopped reading this one a few times (it does get a bit graphic). But Conlon handles his characters and situations in a way that we just can't stop reading. It's interesting to see the tidal wave of emotions Mona goes through on this unusual journey. Her paranoia that Connor will tell someone about them grows at a relentless pace, bringing to mind some classic Hitchcock (which is fitting as our couple are fans of the late director).
SAVAGING THE DARK isn't a pleasant read nor is it for everyone. There's a lot of horror fiction that claims to be dark and disturbing, but this actually is. Conlon crafts a human monster in Mona Straw, yet even I hate to admit that we also see her human side and at times I actually felt for her. The book is told from her point of view, but in the clever epilogue that's told from Connor's, the tale comes together in a most surprising way.
This is a challenging, horrifying portrait of a seemingly ordinary woman that won't be leaving my mind any time soon.