Simon Marshall-Jones’s Spectral Press is setting itself up as a force to be reckoned with. Spectral releases limited-edition, professionally-designed chapbooks. I reviewed the first two releases last year. Both shared a theme of loss, guilt, and coping with that loss.
So it’s no surprise that the next two titles in the catalog share a theme, as well. The third published title from Spectral is Nowhere Hall, by the wonderful Cate Gardner. I was familiar with her quirky style and prose from her connection to Shock Totem (her story “Pretty Little Ghouls” was featured in issue #2).
Nowhere Hall follows the bizarre adventures of Ron, a man who seems to teeter on the edge, both courting and fleeing from Death. He ends up in a dilapidated hotel, peopled with odd mannequins and living shadows. Ron plays cat and mouse with Death and learns the power of a good umbrella. A more whimsical one-man version of The Shining through the looking-glass.
The visuals are strong, and though sometimes the prose gets a bit coiled and confusing at times, there is a lot to process here. Incredible descriptions and a depressing mood ooze from the pages. Were I not already a fan of Cate’s work, this would be a step toward winning me over.
The next release was Paul Finch’s King Death, a daring story set in 1348.
A plague-battered England is a smorgasbord for Rodric, a morally bankrupt looter and opportunist. He trolls the countryside stealing from the dead. As he roams, he encounters a strange young boy and presents himself as King Death in order to scare the boy into leading him to his estate, where he envisions wealth and shelter.
The boy does in fact lead him to his manor, and it is here where things begin to turn, where Rodric learns things are not always as they appear and that Death is, in fact, an entity that is best not toyed with.
Incredibly deft writing is what makes this story so enjoyable. These types of tales, set in this period are usually dry as hell and leave the reader frustrated at trying to decipher what they just read. Finch tells his tale with ease and in a way that flows smoothly. The few characters are strong and the atmosphere presented is bleak and hopeless.
So far, Simon and Spectral Press are four for four, and I can’t wait to read what comes next.