Her Dark Voice edited by Theresa Derwin (book review).

April 28, 2015 | By | Reply More

It is always good to welcome new, independent publishers to the field, especially those prepared to produce anthologies of new stories. It is a pity they have to go through a steep learning curve before the product is right. Knightwatch Press is a relative newcomer to the playground and is still learning the rules. This is one of their early volumes and, as such, exhibits many elementary mistakes. It does, though, get some things right. It is better to begin with the positive.

HerDarkVoice

This book, subtitled ‘An Anthology Celebrating The Female Voice’, was produced to raise money for the Breast Cancer Campaign, all profits going to that organisation. For that reason, all those involved gave their services without charge. There are twelve stories here (not ten as stated in the forward) and all but two are previously unpublished. They range from contributions from well-known authors such as Jaine Fenn and Liz Williams to the relatively unknown. Most of the stories are worthy of being included in almost any quality magazine and, unlike many anthologies these days, there is no particular theme, the only connection being that all the authors are female and the stories are of a sinister bent.

Normally, it is good practice to have the strongest story as the first in a volume, for the simple reason that this is what a potential reader will look at first (other than the cover) and decide whether or not to buy. The second strongest goes last. It is a shame that this convention was not used here as the weakest story in the whole volume is ‘Honour Among Thieves’ by Lynda Collins kicks off the book. Somehow, I cannot believe in antiquity thieves in Egypt called Edward, Bill and Fred. It is not even an original plot. It doesn’t help that the final story ‘The Tenant Of Rosewood Abbey’ is also by Lynda Collins. Although this is a far better story in which the title character is either having hallucinations or is being genuinely threatened by the supernatural not only is it a story that could be further developed but there are other female writers who would have been happy to contribute to this volume.

It is not all bad news. There are some delightful stories here. ‘Fear Not Heaven’s Fire’ by Jaine Fenn is not only powerfully written but the kind of story that I would expect an anthology with this title to contain. The narrator is a strong, female character, in this case a blind nun who discovers a man hiding beneath the granary of the convent. This is a mediaeval setting when the power of faith was stronger but not all those who took the veil necessarily did so as a matter of vocation.

The idea of these stories is to have a dark edge to them. That is certainly true of ‘The Clinic’ by Jan Edwards. This is a variation on the idea of being careful what you wish for. Making deals without fully considering the consequences can be disconcerting when you don’t read the small print. The sister of the narrator is in the last stages of Motor Neurone disease and it is pulling the family apart. Sarah wants the ordeal over and, when she is made an offer to resolve the matter, she seriously considers it. This is a story with subtlety. Jacey Bedford’s story, ‘Kindling The Flame’, is much less so but is still an entertaining piece of writing. The cover of the book is an illustration from the story but more about that later.

Have you ever wondered how demons are recruited? Although the title character in Gaie Sebold’s ‘Ice-Cream Man’ is never described as such, he is definitely has a demonic bent and is looking for an apprentice. Unfortunately for him, there are rules as to how his successor is recruited. This is a powerful story and shows how low some youths can sink because they think that no-one cares about them.

‘Cyndy And The Demon Asmodeus’ by Rhiannon Mills is almost another recruitment story. Asmodeus is supposed to arrange protection for the child Cyndy but things go wrong. Cyndy, it seems, is the key to winning the war between factions of demons. Although not a particularly sophisticated story, it has a lightness of touch in the writing.

‘Everywhere Eyes’ by Rececca Fung is one of these silly stories that is not meant to be taken seriously. Ellie wants to know what her husband is doing when she’s not looking at him, so has spare eyes implanted in the back of her head. But eyes can be planted anywhere and so it escalates. While intended as humour, there is a more serious side to the story. Pity the very beginning wasn’t edited to make the relationship between Ellie and Paul clearer from the start. Whether you liked it, depends on the type of humour you like.

There are some writers who retell old tales in a different fashion, others who like to invent their own myths. Misa Buckley belongs to the former group as in her ‘Seiren Shadows’, a young man is lured to a night of lust with what he thinks are three beautiful women.

Liz Williams belongs to the latter. Her ‘Blanchenoire’ is a fable. Blanche is approaching adulthood, signified by reaching her Age of Reason. She lives in a world that is totally monochrome. Events after the Winterfair Ball change her perspective and allows colour to enter the world. Williams is a complex writer and, even within a story this short, there are themes that need teasing out. Nothing here is superficial. Lynn M. Cochrane’s ‘Leaf Green’ also plays with myth but in a very different way to other two. This story feels like a fragment of something longer.

L.E. Robertson’s ‘The Muted Scream’ is potentially a very nasty little story. The main thrust of it is a misunderstanding between two women that turns into a stalking situation. That would be fine but the element missing is a rationale for the denouement.

So, this is a mixed bag of stories, some excellent, some enjoyable and a turkey. But readers don’t always agree with an editor’s choice. The downside of this book revolves around two factors, cover and layout. The cover illustration is amateurish, drawn by an artist who, in this instant, shows no skill in illustrating the human form. Covers sell books. This deserved better. The other big issue is inside. The content list fails to acknowledge the authors of the stories – a huge omission – and the author biographies at the end are too detailed. On a personal note, I find the actual layout of the text a little annoying. I prefer a larger indentation at the start of paragraphs, but it is consistent throughout.

Whatever the shortcomings of this volume, the important reason for buying it is that is had been produced to aid a very worthwhile charity. You don’t have to read the book, just buy it as a contribution.

Pauline Morgan

April 2015

(pub: Knightwatch Press, Birmingham, UK, 2014. 130 page enlarged paperback. Price: £ 9.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-505625-82-0)

check out websites: www.knightwatchpress.co.uk and theresa.derwin@yahoo.co.uk

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Category: Books, Scifi

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