Wednesday, March 25, 2015

When it's Time for Dead Things to Die: Review

Alexis had provided scant, agitating hazy details, but those were enough to reshape Lowe's perception of reality and the things that subsisted on the fringes

My body is chilled, my soul engulfed in shadows. Why? Because I read Clint Smith's novella, When it's Time for Dead Things to Die. I was in the grip of Smith's ice cold, tenebrous prose; immersed in a labyrinthine, stygian landscape filled with shadows, empty streets, and abandoned, dilapidated buildings. My abyssal experience didn't happen in another world; it didn't happen in some fairy tale realm; and it didn't happen in a city hidden beneath the surface of the earth. No, it happened in a small town on the outskirts of Chicago. Smith brings otherness--he brings the alien--to urban streets in the form of a man (I use that term loosely) who has been around for centuries. A sinister man who was bestowed a dark gift. 

Published by the leader of Weird Fiction, Dunhams Manor Press, When it's Time for Dead Things to Die revolves around Joseph Lowe, a street-smart man who has been in and out of foster homes since he was eight. Now, in his mid-twenties, Lowe works as a line cook at a private club called The Tudor Quoin, owned by Gregory Bath, a Godfather (Krestnii Otets, крестный отец) in the Russian mafia. Lowe didn't get the job on his own, however; it was given to him by Bath because Lowe is in his debt, in the form of an undetermined term of servitude. Lowe got himself into this mess because he had been sleeping with Alexis, Bath's granddaughter, and got her pregnant. Rather than kill him, Bath spared him, making him part of the family,  which, in some sense, is worse. While cleaning the dishes one night at Gregory's house, Lowe is approached by Arthur Bath, Gregory's son. Arthur offers Lowe a proposition, one that puts Lowe in conflict with himself. He has to make a choice; he has to make the right choice that will ensure his survival.

Smith's novella is a dark, soul-chilling tale about survival, family, and loyalty. Since the death of his parents, Lowe has been in and out of orphanages and foster families since the age of eight. He had to endure an endless barrage of "cold-blooded counselors, useless church organizations, and the conveyor belt of flaky foster families." These unfortunate, harrowing experiences shaped him, at an early age, into a survivor; someone who grew to depend on himself and no one else. He alone is the master of his own destiny. The only thing he actually relies on are his cooking recipes. Growing up, he had become a kitchen apprentice, and honed his skills over the years. While life can be chaotic and unpredictable, Lowe's recipes never changed or let him down. Once Lowe finds himself in the grip of Gregory Bath and his family, he loses all control he had over his life; it was now in the hands of Gregory. He was "fortunate, he supposed, that he was still among the living. More or less." He really wasn't among the living, in a sense, though. His life no longer being his, he never knew if he would live to see the next day. Each time Bath approaches him for something, he immediately thinks this is it, he's done. He constantly contemplates running away, but knows he won't make it very far, for Bath's power extends far and wide. Lowe sees his life as an "existential cul de sac." His life is at a dead end, and having no control over it is a fate worse than death.

On the surface, the Bath family seems like your typical mafia family. Everyone has their place, and their unquestioning obedience to Gregory, the pakhan, is tacitly expected. What sets the Bath's apart from every other mafia family is Gregory being over six hundred years old, and Arthur, Gregory's son, is ready for a regime change. The relationship between the two is shown as Arthur expecting to do what he is told, and Gregory will not tolerate anything less than obedience. He does not hesitate to cut Arthur off from speaking. Arthur is incredibly ambitious; he has the ability to "achieve and possess anything he wishes." Gregory, at his frighteningly old age, is on the precipice, and Arthur is prepared to give him that extra nudge to push him over; he wants what he feels is rightfully his, and is tired of waiting for the old man to die. When Arthur informs Lowe of his plan, and his wanting Lowe to be a part of it, Lowe considers the benefits of Arthur's betrayal to his own father. Lowe thinks he'll be safe under Arthur's "venal wing." He sees himself as no longer merely surviving, but thriving. Arthur's takeover will gave way to a more "tranquil period," dispensing with the old, and bringing in the new. Lowe, however, comes to a swift revelation. Gregory spared his life, instead of taking it. Despite the near nine months of servitude, Lowe has--I feel, at least--come to view Gregory as his family, of sorts. No orphanage or foster family ever "spared" Lowe. He has been a loyal member of Gregory's family, and here his own flesh and blood, Arthur, is ready to do away with him, and Lowe must quickly decide where his loyalty lies.

Smith infuses his craftily weaved tale of family and loyalty with elements of the Weird. As stated in the previous paragraph, Gregory Bath is far from normal, and Lowe clearly knows this. Speaking with Alexis about her grandfather, he is provided with "scant, agitating hazy details, but those were enough to reshape Lowe's perception of reality and the things that subsisted on the fringes." This is key, because Lowe now knows that there are things that exist outside his periphery; things that shatter the perceptions and barriers he has created for himself. The world is not as it seems. This makes Bath ten times more terrifying than he would be, if he were a regular person. Arthur is not exactly like his father, but is still not your average human being. Smith's use of atmosphere and language paint a dark and sinister portrait of both Gregory and Arthur. Gregory is never fully seen, always obscured by shadow, dim street lights, or moonlight. The lights in Gregory's Cadillac are disconnected, so Lowe never gets a clear look at him, except when thin streaks of light come streaming through the windows. "Bars of industrially bloodless light bloomed and faded, bloomed and faded, as Gregory, with those spidery-maestro movements, narrated a route back to Highland." Other instances when Lowe does get a look at Bath, are of a nebulous nature. He sees Gregory's angled face, vultured head, distracting long fingers, and beak nose. He catches a scarecrow silhouette of him. It can be said that Bath walks between light and dark, life and death, which makes sense when considering how old he is, and the gift he received centuries ago. He is in a "homeostatic extension." Perhaps, the dim light shone on him represents his fading humanity, as he is always vaguely described as being more animalistic, his human side fading more and more as the centuries come and go. Even though Gregory is far older than him, Arthur is the more savage and feral of the two. A confrontation between Arthur and Lowe depicts Arthur as such:

Arthur weakly pushes himself up on from the concrete, up onto all fours; he is still on the verge of where the paltry curtain of light gives into the darker recesses of the basement, and in this in-between space Arthur's face is the carnivorous mask of a feral thing--his eyes catching the light with silver-flash iridescence, the pale flesh, where not glistening with dark fluid, is wrinkled around the folds of a sneer. Teeth. Though, in the gloom, Lowe cannot discern if Arthur's teeth have shifted to an unnatural sharpness or if they've simply broken unevenly as a result of the violent fall. Arthur lifts a hand, his long fingers forming into shivering claw

This paragraph not only exemplifies Smith's dark, fluid prose and bone-chilling atmosphere, but, in an obscuring manner, depicts Arthur as something less than human, whether it is because he's Gregory's son, or because his ambitions, desires, and greed reduced him to such a state. Vagueness and obfuscation are key elements in Weird Fiction, and Smith utilizes those elements masterfully. 

Clint Smith has written a truly dark and terrifying tale that takes you into the seedy underworld of mob affairs. It also illuminates family matters and themes of betrayal, loyalty, and survival. It's an exemplary work of Weird Fiction, showing us that we don't have to be taken to other realms to be terrified, but to the very streets we live on. We have no idea what's in the house next to us. 

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Alectryomancer: Review/Analysis

What's the use if the Engine makes it so all is bound to happen the way it does?

Christopher Slatsky's Weird tale, Alectryomancer, has fractured the foundation I have built my entire world on; it's on the verge of total collapse. I've seen--at least, I think have--fragmented images of the Engine that lies beneath the Earth's crust. Aeons of archaic heritage slowly creeping out from dark vaults located in the vast, remote recesses of my mind, triggered by Phainothropus and its ancient influence. 

After experiencing the geological shock wave of Slatsky's mind-shattering story, I had to do some research on him, and it bore strange fruit. One article I found on a website centered around eschatology said he was the result of immaculate conception. Another site said he has been around since before the Big Bang, originating from the universe that existed before this one. I've even read that Slatsky is a conduit for the Earth, maybe even the universe. Despite the multiple theories regarding the genesis of Christopher Slatsky, one thing is universal among all: Slatsky transcends any and all knowledge--if we can even call it knowledge--we inferior humans possess. Slatsky knows secrets that could destroy your psyche, and Alectryomancer is proof of that. 

A chapbook published by Dunhams Manor Press, Alectryomancer tells the story of Rey, a field laborer in California. By day he sweats and toils in the desert fields, trying to hold on to the fading memories of his past, of another life; a life, perhaps, from another time. By night, he partakes in cockfighting, pitting Little Cerefino, his prize gamecock, against other gamecocks. One particular night, Little Cerefino is set to go against Alectryomancer, the gamecock of El Amarrador. Alectryomance is undefeated, a monster of a gamecock, "otherwordly," and "black as space." Rey has no idea, though, that greater, incomprehensible things are at work, and Little Cerefino's fight against Alectryomancer will set something gargantuan in motion that "shoulda been left alone."

Slatsky's story is by far the weirdest Weird tale I have read thus far. There is much going on, comprising layers upon layers of themes and concepts, rivaling any of Laird Barron's cosmically-charged tales. From beginning to end, Alectryomancer is nothing short of surreal, and you aren't certain if anything Rey experiences is actually real. It's possible, that the crushing weight of poverty and vague memories weigh on Rey, to the point of hallucination.The hallucinatory qualities of the desert landscape conjured thoughts of Jodorowsky's "El Topo." At the beginning of the story, Rey experiences a vision (or is it?) of a burning horse. Rey swears that everyone else saw it too, but wouldn't admit it, as "the meek refused to acknowledge this violation of their world." It's possible that Rey was the only one who saw the burning horse at that time (others would later admit to seeing it), or perhaps no one wanted to acknowledge it because something of that magnitude is better left unacknowledged. It's said by a boy that the burning horse is responsible for taking other workers to the "heavens." Another instance saw Rey being attacked by a feral boy, who the previous day was normal. Rey chased him, yet no one seemed to notice. Again, all in Rey's head, or others just wanting to avoid such strange occurrences? 

Much stranger and disturbing things are afoot in Slatsky's story. Rey is in possession of a book, and has no idea how he acquired it. The book speaks of primates being "hardwired to assist in the construction of Antediluvian engines," exploited by a species dubbed Phainothropus. Phainothropus exploited the proto-humans' "predilection towards engineering skills to build Antediluvian Engines in anticipation of the Flood." These mind-fracturing passages are beyond Rey's depth. The book, in his limp hands, is of a "dreadful weight." The passages speak of archaic slavery steeped in Deep Time, taking place in a time we can't even fathom. Additionally, each time Rey opens the book, he can never remember anything he reads, always discovering something new. Along with the book, Rey is in possession of various photos. Some photos evoke fading memories, and others are completely unfamiliar to Rey. One photo in his possession is of a group of people wearing masks. He recognizes a child in the photo, but the handwriting on the photo is not his, yet it looks familiar to him. 

Later on, Rey would read more from the book. It reveals that a Phainothropus head lies submerged beneath the Mohorovičić discontinuity, which is the boundary between the Earth's crust and the mantle. The book further states:

It is suspected to have evolved from crystalline substrates, recalibrated fractal connections within cognitive clouds drifting from planet to planet, accumulating minerals to repopulate, rebuild, reconstruct, and reproduce. Perpetually. Of this comes the dawn of the new intelligence. The birth of Phainothropus.

This decapitated head, even in death, retains immense power. The brain continuously transmits an "array of magnetic resonances," well into the cosmos, "spreading units of contact across planets, focal points, ascribing ley lines of derivative neo-axiomatic postulates on Earth's continents, photovoltaic vitalization reaching an apex in the Afar Triangle region." The energies from Phainothropus have influenced the evolution of Homo sapiens, with the strongest influence being found in the Afar Triangle, a geological depression that is one of the cradles of extinct hominids, site of the world's oldest tools, and home to the discoveries of Ardipithecus ramidus, and Australopithecus afarensis. The influence of Phainothropus also spread to other geographical locations, homes to megaliths and ancient monuments. Slatsky turns up the volume on the whole idea of human insignificance in the grand scheme of things. People like Rey have their belief in God, in some form or another, but that belief is incredibly simplistic and lacks true understanding when compared to the complexities of Phainothropus. El Amarrador has some semblance of what is going on. After Little Cerefino defeated and killed Alectryomancer, the Earth trembled, and El Amarrador said to Rey, "Wasn't supposed to happen like that. No telling what machinery been set in motion now." Rey pays no mind to the words, only wanting the money he won. El Amarrador doesn't have it, and tells Rey he'll get it tomorrow. Rey says, "suppose I got no choice." El Amarrador replies with, "None whatsoever. Like that little tremor we got right before the earthquake. Metal orbs shifting under our feet. Can't control none of it." Rey and everyone else are subject to the whims, fancies, and manipulations of a puppet master entrenched in the Earth. It should also be noted that Alectryomancy--one aspect of it--is cockfighting as a means of communication between gods and men. It's obvious that Rey has no knowledge of this, but there may be some sort of connection between that, El Amarrador and Alectryomancer; perhaps the death of Alectryomancer was a communication of sorts. 

There's more, though. The Phainothropus distorts space-time. The trajectory of time can be manipulated and bent, which can explain the fading--or completely forgotten--memories of Rey, and those of others. When Rey went to collect his money from El Amarrador, the day after Alectryomancer died in the cockpit, the three men who guarded the entrace to the gallera had no idea who he was, even though they talked him just the other day. Additionally, the gallera was no longer there!! Tachyons and tachyonic antitelephone, signals being sent back in time, field workers disappearing, and perhaps the many worlds interpretation, play a role in time being skewed, and the possibility of alternate histories bleeding over into Rey's reality, which could explain why he doesn't outright know or recognize something, yet is vaguely familiar to him. 

Honestly, it's difficult for me to go into this any further, as there is so much to digest and discuss. Slatsky has brought the big guns to Weird Fiction, and is a powerful force beyond our comprehension. He is also quickly solidifying himself as a master of the genre and his craft. I must admit, I'm somewhat afraid to read his other tales, for fear of collapsing from mental stress caused by the weight of his cosmic revelations. Christopher Slatsky is here; he is now. And if you aren't reading his stories, you are doing yourself a huge disservice. 

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Vox Terrae: Review

/ This is the gift of knowing what I know / Of knowing too much for the average puny minds of you human beings

I've been familiar with the fiction of John Claude Smith for some time now, yet I never got around to actually reading any of it, until now. After reading Vox Terrae, a chapbook published by the ever amazing Dunhams Manor Press, I regret not having read any of his work sooner, because I've been missing out on what everyone has been praising. Before I get into my review, let me just say this: if you like Weird Fiction, or anything in the realm of the strange, macabre, and body horror, do yourself a favor and read the tales of John Claude Smith, you won't regret it, I promise. Now, on to the review.

 For a chance at immortality; for a chance at gaining hidden knowledge, and discovering truths shrouded in darkness, how far would you be willing to go? How far would you let your obsession take you? For Kenneth and Alicia, two people whose love for one another runs deeper than any system of rivers--a love so profound, it cannot be expressed by any word from any language--they will find that their obsession will take them to realms unimaginable. As long as they have been together, Kenneth and Alicia traveled to far off lands in pursuit of their mutual goals, their interests in the black arts, and occult matters of the "bleakest nature." They wanted to piece together dark puzzles that they found most intriguing, and would spend countless hours researching. Their latest occult endeavor was an attempt to search for, and ultimately procure, a copy of an alternative translation of Vox Terrae, The Voice of the Earth. It was written in 1841 by the infamous necromancer Alessandro Vernielli. It was a tome of the blackest arts; it granted one the ability to communicate with the dead. Kenneth and Alicia saw it as a "deepening well of hidden knowledge to be gleaned." A means to eternal life. The alternative translation was written by a woman name Lorraine Blackthorne, and Kenneth and Alicia had been doing months of research and searching, exhausting every avenue they ventured down, until they came across a rather short article found a website that specialized in the occult and black arts. It wasn't much, but it did confirm the existence of the translation; however, later that evening, when Kenneth went to their library to gather Alicia for bed, he found her in her comfy chair, dead (this is not a spoiler, trust me). She was surrounded by empty bottles of pills, pointing to suicide. On her lap was a note saying she had found the alternative translation, that Blackthorne was the key, and that he needs to join her. Kenneth's pain and anguish was so great, he couldn't bring himself to do anything for several months, until he finally began feeling more like himself. Determined to solve the mystery of Alicia's death, along with discovering the secrets of Blackthorne, he calls on the help of his friend and fellow occultist, Ivan Sangkor. After much searching, they find an address for Blackthorne's house, in a town called Dry Creek, and the two set off to meet her. What follows is a journey into territories charted by only a select few.

A tome shrouded in darkness; the black arts; cryptic messages; mysterious deaths; hidden knowledge; the unknown. These are all potent elements that make for a classic Weird tale; ingredients for a dark, maddening recipe. I think Smith took all these elements, put them in a box made of yew, then went to an old graveyard, and, at the witching hour, put the box in the hollowed-out trunk of a tree. He then let it sit for twenty four hours, letting the ingredients mix with one another, allowing time for gestation. After that period, Vox Terrae was born. There is a poetic nature to Smith's prose, and he infuses it with darkness, morbidness, and the occult. The opening paragraph lures you in and immediately captures you, tethering you to the tale. You are then fed a phantasmagoria of horror and mystery. You are injected with grotesque and disturbing imagery, leaving you with a mark of taint on your soul, ensuring you will never forget.

The theme of obsession leading to ruination plays a major role in Vox Terrae. Kenneth, Alicia, and Ivan's unending pursuit of hidden knowledge, of truths that hide under the veil, can only lead them down the road to ruination. Sometimes, there are fates worse than death. With this obsession comes a certain lack of respect for their passions, despite their erudition in the occult and black arts. Couple the lack of respect with feeling no fear, and your fate is sealed. When Kenneth retells the first time he met Ivan in a bookstore, Ivan recommended some books to him, and then said to him, "For some souls, it's a matter of opening the door. Stepping through without fear. So many lose themselves to the distractions of this world, but you, young man, you show no fear." Ivan and Kenneth will learn that, sometimes, it's best to leave yourself to those distractions. Some things are better left unknown, and not having any fear is dangerous and foolhardy.

It's not until Kenneth and Ivan reach Blackthorne's house that they begin to realize that all is not what it seems. Their perception of reality slowly begins to fracture, like the beginning of a crack on a wall, it will continue to run up the wall until the whole thing is cracked. A feeling of repulsion sets in them, as Blackthorne's house defies common sense and logic. It's aged in the center, yet new, unfinished additions jutted out from the core, seeming to be inspired by whim. Unease slowly begins to settle in them, yet their quest for the truth forces them to press on. Blackthorne herself is an unproportional monstrosity. "Her neck bloated and deflated as she breathed, frog-like before the turkey ripples took over, while her upper arms were lumpy as cottage cheese, her fingers wiry and lacking distinct bends for joints." Her body is more like a shell, or a veneer ready to be peeled away. She knows of Alicia's death before they can even address her about it. Kenneth sees that Blackthorne's interests dove-tail into theirs; they all knew "broader vistas of light and dark." In this display of both ignorance and arrogance, he truly has no idea what Blackthorne really knows. Ivan is the first to come to the realization that he and Kenneth are out of their depth; that everything they have ever read about the occult, and anything pertaining to it, means absolutely nothing. They are street corner occultists in the presence of something beyond their comprehension. They feel the house shift, throwing them off balance, giving off the notion that the house is still taking shape, and their reality cracks more and more, pieces of it falling away, revealing something too horrible for words.

The character of Blackthorne addresses the insignificance of humans, a powerful theme in Weird Fiction. She points out our arrogance in thinking we dictate the rules of the universe, and our ignorance in thinking we are the dominant species. She informs Kenneth that there are many layers, and we lack the intellect to cross between them; we are feeble-minded, lower on the totem pole than even her race is, which we know nothing about, further driving home the point of our inferiority and ignorance to what lies beneath our 'reality.' Blackthorne will show Kenneth what she knows. "This is the gift of knowing what I know /  Of knowing too much for the average puny minds of human beings." There is always a price to pay for such knowledge, and Kenneth is no exception.

All these elements: the unknown, human insignificance, the defying of our logic, otherness, our tenuous reality, obsession with finding hidden knowledge, they all serve to help define a Weird tale, and John Claude Smith doesn't miss a beat in bringing us a tale that truly embodies Weird Fiction. He takes us on a chthonic journey into a nightmarish hellscape, where the price for hidden knowledge--for eternal life--must be paid in flesh; a place where language is experienced--not spoken--in the form of agonizing pain; your flesh stripped away as your body proceeds to undergo deconstruction, reconstruction, repeat. The mutability of the flesh makes us playthings for horrors we have no business knowing. Again, how far are you willing to let your obsessions take you?

Monday, March 2, 2015

In the Light: Review

It must be  local legend but legends were based on something real, something scary

In the Light is the fourth and final book in S.P. Miskowki's Skillute Cycle. A novella that brings an end to the terror that had plagued Skillute, Washington for decades. The story takes place some years after the events of Knock Knock and Astoria. It is broken up into three parts, each from the perspective of an individual character. Part one centers on Ruth, a young girl of eleven or twelve. Part two is Alicia, the wife of Henry Colquitt. Part three is Henry Colquitt, Marietta's son, and one of the main characters from Knock Knock.

The book begins with Ruth running from two bullies, Orton and Gretchen. Desperate to escape them, Ruth clumsily slips through some barbed wire and stumbles upon the ruins of an old house, a house steeped in local legend. Stumbling through a morass of wild blackberries and grass, Ruth came upon a clearing and decided to sit. Scratching away at the cold, hard ground, she discovered a tiny metal lid. After some shifting and finagling, the lid came off. Inside were the charred remains of a baby, a secret that never should have been discovered. A secret that reawakened an ancient terror thought to have been put to eternal rest at the end of Knock Knock. Having no idea what she really discovered, Ruth takes the charred remains home, and what transpires is nothing short of terrifying, as Skillute is once again plunged into darkness and fear, ultimately leading to a climactic, pulse-pounding confrontation between the past and present. 

Miskowski weaves a tale that is charged with emotional depth, and permeated with a subtle terror that continuously builds, page after page. You can feel the terror slowly burrowing into your mind, body, and soul; eager to gestate within, as you are reluctant, yet excited, to turn to the next page. Miskowki's brilliance truly lies in her fluid prose; her ability to create an atmosphere redolent with fear, oppression, and a sense of otherness; and her development of flawed, believable characters. Just like the other books in the Skillute Cycle, In the Light is just as much a character study as it is a tale of Horror and the Weird, and Miskowski weaves it all together seamlessly.  

Ruth is relatively new to Skillute. Her parents work in real estate and make a great deal of money, providing them with an affluent life. They are constantly making improvements to their house, with the hopes of selling it later, but they are also looking to buy the Colquitt property. With her parents being so busy with work, Ruth, for the most part, is neglected, and not so much treated like a child, but more like an experiment. Her parents are always trying to revise or improve her, much like the houses they flip. She's forbidden to "dwell," "wallow," or "delve" into anything they considered to be weird. Any thoughts on the grim or morbid side were also forbidden, and considered dangerous; she was to focus on only the positive side of things. All of this may be a combination of her parents being concerned for Ruth, and also because they want to keep a squeaky clean image, and to maintain a happy, affluent life. In reality, Ruth's parents know absolutely nothing about her, and any thoughts and ideas they have about her are completely inaccurate. Because of her fascination with the macabre and all things weird, Ruth is very much an outsider in Skillute, she has absolutely nothing in common with her fellow classmates, so it's no surprise that she was hoping the charred remains she discovered might bring something fun and fascinating into her life; however, as time progressed--and the remains hidden under her bed--Ruth began to undergo a transformation. She began to act differently, displaying aggressiveness and committing cruel acts; she was taken over by an ancient evil. When the big snowfall hit Skillute, schools were closed and everyone barricaded themselves in their homes. Ruth's mother was going stir crazy, and grew tired of Ruth being in the house the whole time, so she sent her out into snow-covered streets. All the snow created an isolated, alien world, and it all belonged to Ruth, as she instinctively made her way to the Colquitt's. 

Henry and Alicia Colquitt are not the same as they were in Knock Knock. The terrible tragedy that took place forever changed them, especially Henry. He used to be a man of conviction. He was a community man who loved to help in any way he could. He gave sermons in his makeshift church; he provided food and other services for the elderly. He and Alicia were always attending dinner parties, and loved to dress in nice clothes. Alicia loved to organize charities, babysit, assist Henry in ceremonies, and even made mortgage payment for a neighbor who was on the verge of losing their house. Once tragedy struck their family, though, everything changed. The Colquitt's, over time, began to give in to shyness, becoming introverts. They kept their shades down, and even disconnected their land line; they experienced social death, as they cut off contact from almost everyone. Henry even gave up giving sermons at his church. Preaching was pointless. He realized that no one ever listened to what he had to say, and never took responsibility for their actions and words. He was a broken man, whose life was mired in scandal and a bizarre tragedy. To give himself some kind of purpose, Henry came up with the idea to build a shelter for the homeless, but to no avail. He tried to persuade the Dempsey's to get on board with it, but they wouldn't hear of it. The residents of Skillute objected to change, rejecting anything that was unfamiliar to them. Henry was "upsetting the balance of the world." Through all of this, Henry learned just how stubborn and brutish the world can be. 

Developing such rich, multi-layered characters really draws you into the entire Skillute Cycle. These characters are no different from you and I. Some are nice, and some are mean. Some of these characters make bad decisions, whether it's out of selfishness or to help others. You take a vested interest in their lives, their personalities, their flaws and idiosyncrasies. And the lurking, under the surface terror that pervades everything, it plays a role in emphasizing the lives and problems of these characters, and illuminates a variety of issues that this book--and the whole series--is about. 

In the Light also delves into that sense of otherness that is such a potent ingredient of Weird Fiction. While the other books certainly have that ingredient, In the Light outright addresses it:

What did Henry call it? The vast. The unknown always beside us, breathing with us, its face inclined toward ours when the lamp is turned off. Spirit, or shadow, that which disappears in the light. It had a thousand names and no one knew its origin or nature.

That is the essence of the Weird, and it's there, right outside the periphery of everyone. In Skillute, reality as perceived by its residents is not what it appears to be. And for the case of some people involved, you are not what you think you are, and the revelations are nothing short of devastating.  

I won't give away spoilers, but In the Light is the perfect end to an incredible series. The Skillute Cycle isn't just about an otherwordly horror. It's about broken families and fractured childhoods. It's people trying to escape their past, only to learn that they must face it, and come to terms with it. It's about the power of legend and folklore, and how legend can sometimes become fact. And it's also about forgiveness and second chances. Miskowki's world has left an indelible mark on me. She has set the bar really high, and exemplifies the kind of Horror and storytelling that others in the field should strive to write. I enjoyed my time in Skillute immensely. The thing about Skillute, though, is that it will always find a way to bring you back. In fact, I can already feel it's pull. It's only a matter of time. 

Oh, one more thing. Miskowski gets bonus points for referencing Nikolai Gogol's The Overcoat.