Four Creepy Reads

In keeping with it being October, here are four mini-reviews of some recent creepy reads (ordered from worst to best):

Title: Nothing but Blackened Teeth
Author: Cassandra Khaw
Genre: Haunted House Horror
Pages: 144
Rating: 1.5 out of 5

The author seems more interested in showing off her “writing skills” and knowledge of Japanese folklore than actually writing a good book. The prose is so purple and metaphor-laden that it suffocates the story. For the supernatural elements, she spews out names of mythical Japanese beings with little or no helpful descriptions. The plot drags with everything supernatural happening in a rush toward the end after the spiteful, shallow “friends” have made themselves so petty and loathsome that you couldn’t care less what happens to them and their self-aware discussion of horror movie tropes. Very disappointing.

Title: I Strahd: The Memoirs of a Vampire
Author: P. N. Elrod
Genre: Dark Fantasy (Ravenloft)
Pages: 324
Rating: 3 out of 5

Franchise fiction does not make for great literature, but it can be entertaining. This Dracula-like vampire origin story was competently executed. There’s nothing terribly original here, but it was fun escapist reading. I wouldn’t mind reading another Ravenloft book at some point in the future.

Title: The Living Shadow
Author: Maxwell Grant
Genre: Pulp Fiction (The Shadow)
Pages: 224
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Violent vigilante justice prevails in this first novel of the Shadow. The Shadow falls somewhere between hardboiled detective and dark superhero who may or may not have creepy supernatural powers (I’m pretty sure Batman is a Shadow rip-off). In spite of some amazingly convenient coincidences and an awkward attempt to tie it to the original radio show, this was a lot of fun and I’ll definitely be reading more in the series.

Title: The Oubliette
Author: J C Stearns
Genre: Grimdark Sci-fi (Warhammer Horror)
Pages: 252
Rating: 4 out of 5

More franchise fiction, but this one was better than most. This tale of supernatural corruption, set in the Warhammer 40,000 universe, deftly combines byzantine politics and an ancient evil. It’s a slow burn “seduction to the dark side” kind of story that doesn’t require a lot of previous knowledge of WH40k lore to make sense.

Flat Franchise Fiction

The last three free eARC books I received from NetGalley were franchise fiction, and I’ll be reviewing two of those today. No one expects great literary genius from shared-world, movie spinoff sci-fi, but I was hoping for a little better than what I got. Thank you to the authors and publishers for the free copy via NetGalley (this in no way affects the content of the reviews as we shall see).

Marvel's Black Panther: Sins of the King Episode 1 by [Ira Madison III, Mohale Mashigo, Geoffrey Thorne, Tananarive Due]

Title: Marvel’s Black Panther: Sins of the King
Authors: Ira Madison III, Steven Barnes, Tananarive Due, Mohale Mashigo, Geoffrey Thorne
Genre: Superhero
Pages: 183? (not quite sure…numbering in the eARC was squiffy)
Rating: 2.5 of 5

The episodic plot of this book would make a decent movie or TV series. There’s plenty of action, intrigue, brooding, magic-science… all the usual superhero stuff. I would pay to watch that movie.

However, what works in a movie, cartoon, or comic book does not necessarily work in a novel. Much of the writing was stilted and clunky (to say nothing of uneven since different “episodes” were written by different authors working singly or in pairs). To be charitable I’ll assume the problem lies in the genre rather than the authors’ writing talent…I have tried a couple other (DC) superhero novels in the past and found their writing similarly awkward. Perhaps superhero stories need to be told in a visual medium?

Title: From a Certain Point of View: The Empire Strikes Back
Authors: Too many to list
Genre: Star Wars Fanfiction Short Stories
Pages: 576
Rating: 2.5 of 5

Any short story collection is a mixed bag, and the mixture in this collection tends toward the “meh.” You can only read so many stories about the evacuation of Echo Base, Vader force-choking an incompetent, or the chaos caused by Lando’s announcement that the Empire has taken over Cloud City before they all start blending together.

To me, the more memorable stories focused on what main characters were doing/thinking when off-camera. Perhaps some of the ones from the “everyman”/”everystormtrooper” point of view would have stood out if there hadn’t been so many of them (and let’s not forget the compulsive need to check the “woke” box by having all 3 or 4 instances of (non-explicit) sex/romance be LGBTQ). Overall, if you’re a big Star Wars fan, you’ll probably enjoy at least some of this collection, but (as with many thematic anthologies) you should only read a story or two at a time to keep the “didn’t I just read this?” feeling at bay.