Dark Spires by Eugene Byrne, Roz Clarke, Sarah Singleton and Adam Colston (ebook review)

September 22, 2015 | By | Reply More

‘Dark Spires’ is a place themed anthology and the place themed is Wessex in the south-west of England. Despite having the Queen’s third son as its Earl, Wessex is not an actual political entity but a region largely made famous by the novels of Thomas Hardy. There was a Kingdom of Wessex back in the days of King Alfred.


‘The Preacher’ by Sarah Singleton is a haunting tale about a seaside village that falls under the spell of Obadiah, a preacher who works miracles. He wants them to cast out the beautiful Sarah-Rose, illegitimate child of a wealthy local man. Our hero is Thomas Moreton, a young man who turns up for the hiring fair and gets taken on by John Rowe, a well-off farmer with a yen for Sarah-Rose. Singleton’s poetic turn of phrase evokes a strong atmosphere of menace and this Thomas Hardy with a hint of Lovecraft story makes a strong opener for the anthology.

‘Pump House Farm’ by John Hawkes-Reed is set in a near future where an extremist small party have taken power in England after the electorate were terrified by a freak tidal wave. The Radical Greens are anti-technology and especially opposed to nuclear power. Our hero, Dave Bryce, is a reporter for his own website and frankly a bit of a fool. He’s tracking down some outlaws who are attempting to drain the Somerset levels. I found the story a bit confusing but agree with the general theme of pragmatism. Hawkes-Reed does a good job of portraying the reality of country life: bags of artificial fertilizer, concrete block farm buildings, smelly old diesel tractors and so on. This doesn’t fit in with the wildly unrealistic bucolic dream of the Radical Greens. Urban fools should not meddle in things they know nothing about.

The next two tales are by Adam Colston and Joanne Hall who, if they got married, could have an apt double-barrelled surname, for Bristol. I very much enjoyed Colston’s ‘Cobalt Blue’. Christian is a long lived life energy vampire. He drains bits of energy from people on contact but at the same time is privy to their thoughts and memories. When he shakes the hand of Smith, after a job interview in Exeter, he finds that this seemingly boring suit has a kidnapped woman holed up in his basement and is torturing her. A decent sort of leech, Christian decides to get her rescued but has to get involved personally. Recollections of his previous life dovetail nicely with the current events and lead to a gripping finale. Colston is a well-known surname in Bristol. I don’t know if this author is related to the old merchant.

‘Corpse Flight’ by Joanne Hall is about King Alfred and his men under siege in a Mott and Bailey castle near Athelney, in the swamps of the Somerset levels. The Danes are at the gates and food has run out. Alfred and Fluke, named for his luck, set out on a mission that might save them. The good thing about the Dark Ages is that so little is known there’s a lot of leeway for invention. This was an agreeable fantasy and shows that Alf could do more than burn cakes.

‘Spunkies’ by Eugene Byrne is also set on the Somerset levels but in the modern day. The entities of the rude title word are apparitions from the past which are appearing all over the place and terrifying people. The hero works for a secret government agency and has some talent for dealing with this kind of thing. As a homage to John Le Carré, I assume one of his contacts is an eccentric old lady with an near perfect memory who used to work for the agency. Spooks and spooks might have been a good title. Byrne writes pleasingly and there is sufficient drama and suspense to keep you reading.

‘Spindizzy’ is by Colin Harvey who edited the book. I read it with a critical eye as an editor who publishes himself should be watched carefully but it was great. In a near future, Wessex is given over to floods, tourism, terrorism and a crazy religious cult called Spindizzies. Richard Henchard is an innocent government worker trying to get to work on the fast train but being harassed by various types. He seeks refuge in his entertainment, ear plugs through which he listens to a story from the ‘Cities In Flight’ franchise. If only there was such a thing! A very plausible future I hope I won’t live to see and a fine tribute to the late author James Blish.

‘The Sleeper Stone’ by Christina Lake has H.G. Wells travelling into the future or perhaps bought there by the Suneaters, people who have upgraded to absorb energy from sunlight directly so they no longer need food and shelter. Other people have opted to stay in our old-fashioned fleshy form and live a low technology lifestyle not unlike that of Wells’ own time. The future Wessex was interesting and there were good characters to illuminate it.

When a large particle accelerator was used, it opened a gateway to another universe and the hagfish fell from the sky. ‘Outside’ by Guy Haley is set inside, where a small town journalist has barricaded himself in to save himself from the monsters. Initially, I was put off by the present tense narration but it works here. A nice slice of Science Fiction horror with a certain amount of ambiguity in the ending, another thing I don’t usually like but, again, it’s apt in this case.

Polly Aulder is a geneticist with a plan to save some of humanity from global warming as things fall apart. There is some opposition to her ideas. ‘Last Flight To West Bay’ by Roz Clarke has a long Afterword, justifying it’s placement in a book about Wessex. It could have been set anywhere I guess but the author’s knowledge of the area lent atmosphere and colour to her lead character’s background and the problems of ordinary family life were a neat contrast to that of the end of the world as we know it. This was more slice-of-life than plot but was very satisfying. It was something of a homage to Thomas Hardy, too. Regrettably, environmental catastrophe is getting to be more a subject for journalism than Science Fiction as good old El Nino plays up again. Time to stock up on the canned food, folks.

‘Milk’ by Liz Williams is a Dark Ages fable set in the Somerset levels which used to be called Summerland because they were underwater in winter. In truth, I thought it dull to begin with but the quiet cadence of the telling grew on me and was perfectly suited to the tale. The author’s Afterword was almost as long as the story but quite interesting.

An Angel lands on the village wind turbine and it stops. Shortly, all the others around it stop, too, and the villagers are faced with a cold future: powerless! Then lean, mean Kenya Vick shows up on his motorcycle and offers to kill it. ‘Entropic Angel’ by Gareth L. Powell is a bit like those religion vs. science stories that used to be popular in the early days of the genre when the crazy preacher always got zapped by the Martians. It’s followed by interesting notes on the contributors.

Overall, this is an interesting collection with a very professional level of writing throughout and available electronically for a bargain price.

Eamonn Murphy

September 2015

(pub: Wizard’s Tower Press, 2010. 200 page kindle e-book. File Size: 835kB. Price: £ 2.99 (UK), $ 4.71 (US). ASIN: B004HO696Y )

check out website: http://wizardstowerpress.com/

Category: Books, Scifi

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