Short Story Review: “The Swell of the Cicadas” by Tenea D. Johnson

4 of 5 stars.

This is a lovely little ghost story in that it’s written from the POV of a Civil War battlefield ghost. In life, the speaker was not participating in the war, but rather Cat was shot by a stray bullet while crossing the adjacent woods while on an errand for her Mistress.

The slave’s ghost was left to mingle with those of the blues and grays left on the battle field and other non-participant causalities. While the world moved on from the war, the spirits were largely trapped in their animosities for decades until peace settled across the ghostly valley. Now, all of the spirits watch crowds of tourists come to gawk at their history oblivious to the unsettled around them.

This tale stands out in the interactions of the ghost with her environment. She notice of, reaction to and interaction with the play of the forest, the dappling sunlight through the leaves overhead, the whirr of the cicadas. Things as simple as wind and rain pull and disperse the ghost as she moves through her environment:

The sky darkened as the raindrops turned fat and multiplied. Cat struggled to keep her composition as parts of her were saturated and fell to the ground, trying desperately to rejoin the whole before she moved on. She slowed and waited for herself to catch up . . . Cat could see no more. Her vision blurred and prismed as the rain became a downpour and washed her away.

The night came and, painstakingly, she reconvened. As she materialized a wet wind blew through the grove, lifting the hem of Cat’s dress. She made it across the road and to the swollen ditch. She stood in the dark, at the edge of the water, willing herself to disappear. Around her the wilderness swelled with the sound of cicadas, until she could hear nothing but their reedy eruption. . . . She fell slowly, piece by piece into the water. Where the moonlight had moments ago picked out her edges, the glow of her was gone now, and each part of the spirit and once-flesh was lost to the liquid darkness.

This tale appears in Shades of Blue & Gray: Ghosts of the Civil War edited by Steve Berman.
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “Raw Recruits” by Will Ludwigsen

2 of 5 stars.

This is a ghost story without showing any ghosts. In the style of many 19th century stories, the tale is related through letters without depicting any of the action firsthand.

During the Civil War, a Northern Colonel writes a series of letters to his commanding general. In the first he relates a visit to a psychic with another officer. The psychic accurately relayed the location of a dead uncle’s hidden wealth by allegedly channeling the uncle himself. This lead to a plot to channel the spying capabilities of deceased Union soldiers to best the Southern army.

The psychic is leery but is convinced for double money. A vague suggestion sends troops to their doom. The location of the troops was correct, but the level of preparedness was not. Perhaps the ghosts or the psychic have other motives . . .

The breadth of the story is limited by the singular speaker writing to, not just a singular reader, but to his boss. It’s also levels removed from the action by the filtering process of time [the delay between action and relating those same events] and letter-writing. A mix of letter writing and action would increase the immediacy of the tale.

This tale appears in Shades of Blue & Gray: Ghosts of the Civil War edited by Steve Berman. I’ve previously read Ludwigsen’s “Acres of Perhaps” which I liked and recommended.
 
 
 
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Novella Review: Clay Tongue by Nicholas Conley

Clay Tongue: A NoveletteClay Tongue: A Novelette by Nicholas Conley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a delightful modern day folktale as a girl explores the scary and wondrous world beyond her house in order to alleviate the family’s frustrations in the wake of her beloved grandfather’s stroke. He’s been left aphasic, and the stress of caring for him weighs on the girl’s mother. The tale builds on the Jewish lore of the golem, a clay-made servant that has the ability to grant wishes. Though, with a girl turning toward fantasy, albeit unknown potentially scary fantasy, in order to solve a family’s problems, one is reminded of a less-dark Pan’s Labyrinth.

The seed for young Katie’s adventure is planted when she secretly reads her grandfather’s notebook containing either a story he’s written or a journal entry he’s made. The tale is unfinished, but tells of a young married couple many decades ago moving into a house just like her grandfather’s house that she lives in with him and her parents. The house in the notebook is in her town. And the name of the young bride is Kate’s grandmother’s name. When the couple move into the house, they are told of a cave in the back forested part of the property which–legend holds–houses a golem made by the original owner of the house. The golem was created to grant one wish to each person who dared visit it.

Even with such ripe fodder for the imagination, Kate’s brave adventure amusingly cites other fantastical creatures. With a mysterious key in hand, she finds a cave in the forested back part of the property:

Right above her head was an iron lock with foreign characters cut into it. Katie knocked, waited for a moment, hoping that maybe a friendly troll or fairy might answer. No answer came–so if there was a troll on the other side, it wasn’t a nice one . . .

The cave rumbled, as if from a minor earthquake. Katie stopped, and a deep growling noise reverberated from deep inside the cavern–a low, guttural moan, as if a dragon had just awakened . . .

“I’m here,” she whispered to any friendly trolls that might hear her.

This tale is highly recommended.

I received my copy of this novella directly from the author through bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com.
 
 
 
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Novel Review: Blood Rites [The Dresden Files, #6] by Jim Butcher

Blood Rites (The Dresden Files, #6)Blood Rites by Jim Butcher
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The modern day Chicago wizarding detective, Harry Dresden, throws himself headlong, as he is wont to do, into yet another deadly situation making himself the target for multiple supernatural nasties. The brilliance of this series doesn’t reside in the details of the individual cases but in the continual development and enrichment of both the urban fantasy world and in the abilities, mindset, and personal connections of protagonist Harry Dresden.

When the series started, Harry was a loner running half-afoul of the law and the ruling wizarding counsels. He quickly added Karren Murphy of the Chicago PD to his friends list as they investigated supernatural crimes that found their way into non-supernatural awareness. Other cases, but still including the increasingly less skeptical Murphy, took place entirely in the realm of the Fae or the war between the wizards and the vampires.

This installment manages many things for the series. It opens the closed book on orphaned Harry’s family. His mother’s history comes to tantalizing light. A half-sibling emerges from the ether. And seriously concerning enlightenment is cast upon Harry’s foster-parentage. This is very welcome development.

Also, the world of the vampires along with the cultures and politics gets blown open in unexpected ways. While previously established that the 3 “courts” of vampires are very culturally different, here it’s seen that they are unrelated species barely tolerating each other. This case revolves around the lust-feeding, emotion-devouring foppish White Court vamps. They may not touch blood, and they don’t, but they are no less toxic. Making them major players in the world of porn production is just plain fun–no need to stalk prey if they’ll come willingly to you . . .

I’ve previously read the following Dresden books and stories:
     Storm Front (The Dresden Files, #1)–4 stars
     Fool Moon (The Dresden Files, #2)–4 stars
     Grave Peril (The Dresden Files, #3)–4 stars
     Summer Knight (The Dresden Files, #4)–4 stars
     Death Masks (The Dresden Files, #5)–4 stars
     “Last Call” (The Dresden Files, #10.6)–5 stars
     “Love Hurts” (The Dresden Files, #11.5)–5 stars

 

 

 

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Short Story Review: “Adramelech” by Sean Hazlett

2 of 5 stars.

Demon-possessions and demon-interactions [or in this tale something residing between the two] are more often related from an observer POV, perhaps by the battler of said demon [think: Exocist]. This tale opts for the potentially more Lovecraftian POV of the person possessed or enslaved when something unknown, dark and undefined takes over the narrator and creates a 200-pg journal in an ancient dead language. The book itself then has dark power, which is also Lovecraftian.

Unfortunately, the demonic book and the series of experts consulted all drop out of the narrative as the tale pulls back and lets decades elapse showing a demon-slaved human do a couple dark things to feed his demon dead orphans in exchange for his questionable gift of being able to possess another human temporarily in order to get them to do what he wants. His own body lies inert while this is going on. The body possession implications get short-changed narratively, too.

A longer form of this tale would perhaps explore a few of the issues and situations raised, along with the relationships of the people affected by the demon.

This tale was a quarterly contest winner appearing in Writers of the Future: Volume 33 edited by David Farland.
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “The Woodcutters’ Deity” by Walter Dinjos

2 of 5 stars.

Lying between folktale and myth, this Nigerian-based tale centers on supernatural royals and demi-gods exiled together. Two gods have disappeared and the ruling king and queen are dead. The four princes have been secluded until it is determined which has been divinely chosen to rule. The youngest of the four narrates and seems the most in tune to his surroundings, including to the presence of the missing nefarious goddess within the large tree on the grounds of the princes’ cabins.

Like folkloric trials, the young prince notices a series of 3 toxic animals [a scorpion, a snake and a spider] stalking his 3 brothers [one to each] under the power of the tree-trapped goddess. He stops each. The brother demands the almost offending animal killed. The youngest brother refuses, and then is stung or bitten by each before it disappears. The same pattern replays for each.

The youngest brother alone recognizes the innate cruelty in the older brothers. But also in the goddess. And in himself . . .

The tale doesn’t develop far beyond this series of events, nor does it truly get into the pre-history between the gods and parents. Also, the brothers are merely caricatures.

This tale was a quarterly contest winner appearing in Writers of the Future: Volume 33 edited by David Farland.
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “Acquisition” by Jake Marley

2 of 5 stars.

Ghost stories come in a wide variety of flavors. In this contemporary tale, ghosts [ie souls, spirits] are collected and sold to dealers. As macabre as that seems, there’s also moral implications as the ghosts, to a limited degree, can communicate and interact with the living. And yet, the ghosts are given no choice in their binding and later selling.

The tale follows a ghost hunter as he works to bind the “hitchhiker.” Throughout the tale, he allows the memory of his wife’s guiding advise to steer him through the process. The “absence” of Karen despite her words in his mind is all the more striking considering his profession . . .

This tale was a quarterly contest winner appearing in Writers of the Future: Volume 33 edited by David Farland.
 
 
 
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