Author Archives: Rose Blackthorn

About Rose Blackthorn

Writer, reader, dog-mom. Lives in the high-mountain desert, but longs for the sea. Has quite an imagination, too.

The City

“My name is Jonah Ellington Basie Hines Eldridge Wilson Hampton Armstrong Kirk. From as young as I can remember, I loved the city. Mine is a story of love reciprocated. It is the story of loss and hope, and of the strangeness that lies just beneath the surface tension of daily life, a strangeness infinite fathoms in depth.”

Thus begins The City. Jonah Kirk is a musical child prodigy growing up in the sixties, and here he tells about “the dark times” of his life. Estranged from his father, he is nonetheless surrounded by love in the form of his mother and grandparents. Over the course of the narrative he also builds strong relationships with Malcolm Pomerantz and his sister Amalia, Mr. George Yoshioka who lives in an apartment on the floor above Jonah and his mother, and of course Miss Pearl who claims to be the personification of the city itself. He also is threatened by dangerous people after having apparently prophetic dreams. As Jonah’s story progresses, he works to figure out what these people are up to, and what he can do to stop them while protecting those he cares about.

As a long-time fan of Dean Koontz, I looked forward to reading this latest release. His prose is beautiful and evocative, and some of the characters come right off the page. I was particularly taken with Mr. Yoshioka, a man with his own painful past and secrets to keep, yet who is unfailingly kind and patient. There are parts of the book where I was totally caught up, which is something I expect from a Koontz novel. However, unlike most books from this talented author, I had a really difficult time getting into the story. The beginning is almost painfully slow, and there are sections throughout that lagged. I would also add that the supernatural element that I have come to expect was almost nonexistent here.

The end is a true end, tying up the various threads of the story, and it did evoke an emotional response from me. But this is the only Koontz book I’ve ever read where I had to make myself keep reading, and that’s a disappointment. There are some readers who I’m certain will absolutely love The City, but it didn’t quite meet my high expectations.

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Red

Let me start by saying that I’m an animal lover. In particular, a dog lover. I have had dogs in my life off and on since early childhood, and currently have two that I spend most days with (and fight over bed-space at night). So I will tell you now, this was a hard read.

Don’t get me wrong. Red is a relatively short novel, originally published in 1995. The writing is not difficult, in fact it’s deceptively smooth and pulled me in within just a few paragraphs. But the subject matter is, for me, quite painful. This is the kind of horror story that makes me uneasy, not just because I became emotionally involved with the characters, but because this is the everyday horror that is seen all around us. There are no ghosts, no boogeyman, no mutated alien creatures or even the walking undead. This is a story of casual human cruelty, written from the point of view of a man who has already weathered many tragedies in his life.

Avery Ludlow is in his sixties, living in a house filled with memories—both good and bad—and the dog his wife had given him for his fifty-third birthday. Then one day three boys interrupt him by the river where he’s fishing. He can smell the gun oil on their brand-new shotgun, and knows immediately that these aren’t hunters. They’re rich kids who don’t care about the river and the fish or the old man and his old dog. And just out of boredom and spite, and a terrifying sense of entitlement, they shoot the dog.

This is the beginning of the story, of the loss of the dog, Red, and what Avery determines he must do to make things right. There is no flowery language or drawn-out descriptions to be had here, but I was swiftly immersed in the simple quiet beauty of this man’s life, and brought to tears by the terrible things he had to endure.

I am glad that I was cautioned (by several people) about the subject matter of this novel. But even more, I am glad that I read it. I would whole-heartedly recommend this book to anyone. It is an amazing tale of love and remembrance, about a man who would certainly be worth knowing.

Jack Ketchum is a Bram Stoker Award winning author, the 2011 World Horror Convention Grand Master, and winner of the Best Screenplay Award at the prestigious Sitges Film Festival in Germany for The Woman.

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White

White is a British Fantasy Award-winning novella by Tim Lebbon, originally published in 1999 and now the debut release under his very own Dreaming In Fire Press. The setting is Cornwall, where a group of people are holed up in a manor after the ostensible end of the world. Two of the characters have been stationed here to “keep a check on the radiation levels in the Atlantic Drift, since things had gone to shit in South America and the dirty reactors began to melt down in Brazil.”

The other characters are friends, lovers, or acquaintances who are now more or less trapped together. After losing contact with the outside world when television and radio go silent and the phones stop working, they spend their time dealing with the uncertainty of survival in their own ways. Meanwhile, it is snowing. It snows every night, and by the time they decide it might be in their best interest to travel to the nearest village for news and help, it is already impossible to get through the deep snow.

This is a tale that is grounded in the characters reactions, to their predicament and to each other. And as they find themselves confined to a small section of the manor that they can keep heated, living on the remains of food stored in the pantry, and uncertain of what is going on with civilization as a whole, they are handed another dilemma. There is something outside in the cold, something moving at the periphery of vision, only half seen and terrifying because of it. And then those who have spoken of seeing something out there in the snow begin to die. Ripped apart and left as red splatter in the pure white, they are a warning of what’s to come.

Included with this re-release of White is a short story, “Kissing at Shadows,” which first appeared in Cemetery Dance #36. This is another take on post-apocalyptic survival. Where White is definitely horror, “Kissing” is more of a love story and centers on a man who makes a solitary annual journey to visit his wife. Regardless of the obvious dangers, and the fact that his daughter begs him not to go, he has a promise to keep. A quick, immersive read, and yet quite touching.

I really enjoyed both of these tales, and would certainly recommend them. White is available through Dreaming in Fire Press.

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Alien: Out of the Shadows

I can honestly say that my favorite scary movie is Alien. I was blown away by the sequel, Aliens, as well. So I was very excited to hear about the release of Alien: Out of the Shadows, by Tim Lebbon, an official canon novel that takes place in the interim between those two movies.

First and foremost—Ripley. She is smart, strong, brave and bad-ass. She is also scared, filled with survivor’s guilt, and humanly flawed. She is one of my favorite heroines, and this book gives you the opportunity to get to know her better.

The basic premise of the book is that Ripley’s EEV is picked up by a mining operation ship in orbit around yet another deadly, inhospitable planet. While mining for trimonite, a rare and sought after mineral, the miners stumble onto another ancient derelict spaceship. Besides the dead and petrified remnants of those who had once flown this ship and the ruins of an advanced culture where the ship crashed, they also find the preserved alien eggs that started the havoc in the first movie.

This is a fairly fast-paced story, and a lot of people die—badly. There is a lot of tension, and the feeling of holding your breath as you hurry to find out what happens next. I was a little worried about how it was going to end (without fundamentally altering Ripley or anything that happens at the beginning of the second movie) and still be able to get caught up with the action and characters. Turns out I didn’t have to worry. While I might wish that some things could have turned out differently, I wouldn’t want to change the continuing story.

It’s my understanding that there will be two more official tie-in novels released this year, and based on this first one I’m pretty sure I’ll be getting them all. I would definitely suggest this to any fans of the Alien universe.

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Genre-Bending: When High Fantasy Becomes a Horror Story

I’ve been reading (and writing) a lot of horror lately. It’s kind of become my thing. So when I noticed by chance that one of my favorite fantasy trilogies, The Darwath Trilogy by Barbara Hambly), was available as an e-book, I bought it on a whim. Going back and re-reading these books that I haven’t even thought about in years has been more than just enjoyable, it’s been eye-opening. I have lost myself in the plot, gotten caught up in the suffering and joy of the characters, and become emotionally invested in their lives just like I did the first time I read them.

What’s different now (besides the fact that I’m older and supposedly wiser) is that experiencing this story anew, I’ve come to realize it’s not just a fantasy. Oh, there is magic, and good vs. evil, and sword-play. There is even a damsel in distress, until she realizes she is perfectly capable of saving herself. But this is also a horror story, and I never realized it before.

I’ve read a lot of fantasy, starting in my pre-teens. The Big Bad is usually an evil wizard/king/high-ranking royal underling/witch/spoiled but underappreciated heir…the list goes on. But my point is a lot of the time the antagonist is some variation of a human being. Then there are the beastly Bad Guys—dragons or goblins or other mythical monsters, even the magically-created or surviving villains like Sauron or Voldemort.

The main evil in this series, however, isn’t human (although there are those, too) and they aren’t your typical beastie. They’re called The Dark, mostly because sunlight and fire are deadly to them, and so for the most part they only come out at night. They don’t walk, not having legs per se, and they don’t fly as they don’t really have wings. They float through the air with the aid of their own incomprehensible and eldritch magic, with which they can cloak themselves almost to invisibility. They can change their size, from maybe the size of a small mammal, to as large as a house in a split second. They are soft and undulating with trailing tentacles reminiscent of jellyfish. Yet they have grasping claws and dripping acid. And between the space of one heartbeat and the next they can siphon the blood from a person’s veins, strip flesh from bones, or perhaps most horribly snatch the soul from the body leaving a mindless automaton behind.

When I read about The Dark and the descriptions of what they could do, and how callously, I was terrified! They look on human beings as cattle, neither knowing nor caring that the people they feed on are thinking, feeling creatures. Even now, years later, going back and re-reading this series, I get a chill from The Dark. Is it just because the author came up with a really good, scary villain? Or is it also that atavistic fear, handed down for millennia—that fear of what we can’t see but only sense? When the hairs on the back of your neck stand up, and goosebumps skitter down your spine on dainty spider feet, is it all just your imagination? Or is there really something in the darkness looking back at you, waiting for the perfect moment to strike…?

In any case, I’ve come to the conclusion that genre is just a label, and sometimes an inadequate one at that. On the face of it, The Darwath Trilogy is a fantasy series perfect for a pre-teen to pick up and enjoy. However, underneath is all the darkness and horror someone like me could wish for.

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Losing Touch

Losing Touch, Christian A Larsen’s debut novel, wasn’t quite what I was expecting. Regardless, I was quickly caught up in the storyline and clear writing, and taken to an ending I didn’t see coming but thoroughly enjoyed.

Morgan Dunsmore is a normal, everyday guy dealing with normal, everyday things—such as being unemployed and trying to make the bills, keeping a happy home-life with his wife (also unemployed due to an injury) and raising two kids. He does what a lot of us would do. He tries to put a positive spin on things, and stop thinking about the things he can’t change. But then things begin to change in ways he could never have foreseen, and can’t control at all. At first.

Losing Touch is a story that’s part mundane reality and part learning to face the scary unknown. In the real world, just trying to take care of all the things that need taking care of can be exhausting and frightening; add to that the fact that Morgan is beginning to disappear physically as well as figuratively, and what you get is a convoluted path through a man’s moral dilemma. If you can go anywhere you want to go, and nothing can keep you out…how far will you go before you lose yourself?

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