The Grimorium Verum edited by Dean M. Drinkel, Western Legends Publishing, p/b, £12.00/Kindle, £2.62, Website
Reviewed by Dave Brzeski
This is the third and final volume of the ‘Tres Liborum Prohibitorum’ trilogy of anthologies, created and edited by Dean M. Drinkel. The basic intent of the series is to publish stories that are just plain good, irrespective of trends, commerciality and other such considerations that might bar them from the major publishers, or even the established Independents. I’ve not yet read the first two books in the series, but I decided it would take way too long if I took the time to do that before getting to this volume.
The theme of this collection is basically grimoires—magic books and spells, and the people who use them. As with the previous two volumes, there are twenty-six stories in all—one for each letter in the alphabet. The fact that some of the stories have subtitles, as well as the main ‘A is for…’, ‘B is for…’ etc. title, and others don’t, tends to suggest that some were written specifically for this collection and others were independently written, but just happened to fit the bill. That is by no means a criticism, as none of the stories seemed a bad fit for the theme.
The first story, ‘A is for Annis’, by Tim Dry opens with a bang. The main character is a seventeen year old girl, and it’s set during the period of my own teenage years. I also seem to share her musical tastes. It’s very nicely written and had me gripped from the start. Sadly, I felt a little let down by the end, as it seems to follow that formula for horror short stories, where the protagonists are put into a bad situation, then it just ends. It would have made a great opening for a longer work.
Raven Dane’s ‘B is for Balefire: The Travelling Man’ is an interesting tale of revenge, involving Andro, son of Kate Nevin, the last woman to be burned as a witch in Perthshire. There’s a nice irony in the fact that Andro’s gentle, peace-loving mother would never have chosen to use her powers for such a dark purpose as he does. The story leaves Andro cursed to wander the earth, until he learns to understand his actions. Hopefully, Raven Dane will share more of his life with us.
‘C is for Creature: Belongs to Us’, by Justin Miles is the most original take on possession I’ve read for a long time. While it is satisfying as a stand-alone tale, I would like to know more about this mysterious Family and their Host.
Jan Edwards has yet to let me down. ‘D is for Drawing Down the Moon’ is an excellent tale. Trying to manipulate a centuries old worshipper of Hecate for profit isn’t a great idea at the best of times. When her ex-husband tries to force Cinthia to accede to his evil demands, things do not go well.
I have to admit that ‘E is for Eihwaz’ by Adrian Chamberlin confused me at first, due to the alternating viewpoints, one in third person, past tense, the other in first person, present tense; not helped much by the fact that the parts in present tense actually take place before the parts in past tense. Despite that, it’s still an impressive story of a young soldier of the Wehrmacht, who seeks revenge for his father’s death at the hands of a female prisoner with seemingly supernatural powers, but is transformed by his experiences.
I really liked Christine Morgan’s ‘F is for Fury: One Less Fury’, a tale of a maverick ensouled Fury and the punishment she receives after freeing all the souls she’d previously damned. It also features a hard-boiled occult detective type, called Matt Brimstone, who I hope to read more of in the future.
‘G is for Ghede: American Witch: A Spell to Ward off the Dark’, by Emile-Louis Tomas Jouvet is not a tale for the prudish. Teenage coke-heads, who scour the internet looking for new experiences should really be more careful who they get involved with.
He knew he’d get away with it. He knew the girl he plied with alcohol and raped would be too scared and ashamed to even report it. The police would never be involved. Her mother, on the other hand… Phil Sloman’s ‘H is for Herb Law’ is a tale of parental revenge that will have male readers wincing in horror.
Another tale of vengeance follows in Christopher Beck’s ‘I is for Iya and Iktomi’. I couldn’t help but be reminded of the film, ‘Soldier Blue’, when reading of how the settlers in this tale treated their Native American neighbours. Unlike the perpetrators of the atrocities in that film, this time the wrongdoers are suitably punished by a couple of local brother gods.
In ‘J is for Jimson Jane: Seither’, Lily Childs spins a delightfully weird tale of what happens when a pair of snake oil salesmen, on the run from the law in England, land at Ellis Island. One cannot blame them for not expecting to run afoul of the Norse witches/healers, the Seithr, known locally as Jimson Jane.
‘K is for Krieg: A Picture tells’, by Dan Russell is a variant on the old “cottage in the woods” trope, so commonly found in classic fairy tales. Private Daley, horrified by the atrocities committed by his unit as they make their way though the newly occupied Rhineland in the wake of Germany’s surrender, comes across such a secluded cottage. If only he’d been able to hold onto his concept of right and wrong just a little longer…
Amberle L. Husbands’ ‘L is for Legends: The Last Stand at Lake Libbey’ is an unusual tale to say the least, and difficult to describe without spoilers. I’ll limit myself to saying that I liked it.
Bullying damages people. This is evidenced by the fact that the abused so often become abusers themselves. Now, if that victim of bullying, never quite moves past the anger, even after it stops, if he finds himself incapable of trusting people, and he just happens to be the grandson of a witch who owns a powerful, but terrible book… well, Andrew Taylor shows us what might happen in ‘M is for Magic, Madness and Mayhem’.
There have been a fair few very effective stories involving body swaps between children and dolls. Sylvia Shults’ ‘N is for Nightmare’ is a very creepy addition to that sub-genre. My only complaint is that the author chose to write it in present tense. It’s not that she did a bad job of it, she didn’t, I just feel it would have worked better in past tense.
Mark Perry was a good teacher and a nice guy, but after he was forced to fail a bad student he hadn’t been quite prepared for how the student would react. Only he wasn’t half so unprepared as the bad student was when he tried to exact his revenge. I liked Chris Dougherty’s ‘O for Ordeal: Ordeal of Cold Water’ quite a lot.
The genres in this book are quite varied, within the remit that they all involve witchcraft of some sort. ‘P is for Poison: Glana’s Basket’, by Tej Turner, has more of a classic children’s fantasy feel about it, albeit it’s in no way juvenile. The village is under the thrall of an unscrupulous lord, who controls the access to less than effective health care. He’s not happy when Glana turns up, curing people with plants and herbs from her basket.
Tracie McBride’s ‘Q is for Quackery’ starts out as a simple tale of revenge against the con-artist who sold Marisa’s mother a fake cure for her terminal illness. The ending is delightfully twisted.
I’ve become a fan of Mike Chinn’s writing of late, so I was looking forward to his story in this volume. It hits the ground running and I was soon convinced that ‘R is for Radix Omnium Malum’ might well be a contender for the best story in the book. It’s the most interesting sort of genre mix. While it does revolve around the invoking of something nasty via witchcraft, the end result sits more firmly in Nigel Kneale, or John Wyndham territory. In fact I was half expecting Professor Quatermass to turn up at any moment. As with the opening story in this anthology, the protagonists are dumped into serious trouble, then it just ends. We are left to assume things got worse and everyone died I suppose. I really, really hope that Mike Chinn will consider expanding this story into a novel at some point.
In ‘S is for Slinky, Seedy and a Cool, Calming Womb’, Martin Roberts gives us what has to be the weirdest story in the book. The protagonist is a necromancer of a sort. He works for DI Miller at the police department. He can rewind his subject’s recent memories, but to achieve that their head first has to be separated from its body. As an interrogation method, it’s a little on the drastic side. His mother is a dotty old lady, who gets her phrases mixed up. She’s older than you’d think, and a shape-shifter. His Mad Uncle Cyril is a potential child molester… or the guardian of the book. The book must not fall into the wrong hands. We learn the terrible truth about Guy Fawkes, and Westminster. Be careful when you read this one. There may be a slinky behind you!
‘T is for Transformation: Cacophony in B Minor’ by D.T. Griffith is an exceptionally powerful tale. Duane is a mute, trapped in a job he hates, constantly angered by the way people he meets react to his disability. His only solace is in his music. He composes on his piano, never forgetting a piece once played. When the anger over yet another predictably bad reaction to his inability to talk overwhelms him, he sits at his piano. His need to speak takes over as his fingers move over the keys. One is reminded of the old adage, “Be careful what you wish for”, for everything has a price.
Horror fiction takes many forms. Scary, unpleasant, disturbing and just downright nasty. Then there’s ‘U is for Umbilical: The Poison Garden’—a tale of two brothers which is difficult to describe further without spoilers. This one is going to stick in my mind for quite some time, despite my efforts to scrub my brain clean. Author, Anthony Cowin will no doubt consider this a success.
I must remember never to upset Lisa Jenkins. She probably doesn’t have the same magical abilities as her character, Antoinette, but it’s not worth the risk. In ‘V is for Voudon: Desperate Times’, Antoinette goes to an awful lot of effort to bring back her dead lover. It wasn’t her fault it never quite worked out and he didn’t need to be that ungrateful.
If something appears too good to be true it invariably is. Which is why, when Bartholomew Atkins—a not very successful horror author, suffering from writer’s block—is taken to bed by an extremely beautiful fan at the Frighteners Horror Writers and Filmmakers Festival in Brighton, we know it’s never going to end well. ‘W is for Writer’s Block’, by Barbie Wilde reminded me of an old EC horror comic story, or a ‘Night Gallery’ TV episode—if they’d had absolutely no constraints on the level of sex and violence they could portray.
Having already made the EC Comics comparison with Barbie Wilde’s story, it was interesting to discover that John Gilbert’s ‘X is for Xaphan: Corpse Candle’ is even more reminiscent of a ‘Tales From the Crypt’ story, in the way it focuses on supernaturally achieved justice, with a macabre twist at the end. More than any other tale in this book, I could easily envision it adapted as an episode of a horror anthology TV show, or film.
I really liked ‘Y is for Yearning: The Last to Remember her Name’, by Amelia Mangan. It’s another one of those stories that is hard to describe without spoilers, so I’ll simply say that it manages to avoid all the clichés of the spoiled rich kid reaping the rewards of his actions. This was my favourite in the book.
Finally, we have Mark West’s ‘Z is for Zabriskie Grimoire’. Mark Decker, finder of items lost, or hidden—for a price, is yet another character I would like to read more about in the future. He’s a classic anti-hero, mercenary and not especially moral, but not above rescuing a damsel in distress—if it happens to coincide with his personal agenda.
This is a very good collection. There are no bad stories. I criticised a couple for leaving me wanting more, but that is often as not considered a positive thing in the entertainment market. As noted, there are several characters whose adventures I’d love to see continued in further tales. I certainly hope to find the time to read the previous two volumes in this trilogy of collections.