The Mortecarni: Book Review

Stories about ravenous undead are a dime a dozen, and they all have pretty much the same core plot: A virus/disease/catastrophe unleashes mindless, flesh-eating revenants, and the humans who remain fight to stay alive. Every zombie book I’ve read is set in the present day and describes a post-apocalyptic world. It’s popular because it’s familiar and readers know what to expect. For prolific readers like me, the repetition gets old. When authors shake things up and deviate from the norm, it gets my attention.

The Mortecarni by Kelly Evans is a unique take on the undead, set in an actual apocalypse—the Black Death—that killed 30-90% of the population of Eurasia. I received a reading copy with no cover, no blurb, and no idea what I was getting into, so I was completely surprised by it.

The prologue is vague but tantalizing. Why were a group of soldiers and archaeologists tearing apart a monk’s grave? One scientist mentions that the monk was a physician, and the book they find in his tomb is a triumphant discovery. To my surprise, the next chapter plunged me into medieval Wales, circa 1347 and my question from the prologue is answered in the first sentence:

“My name is Brother Maurice and I hunt the mortecarni, pathetic creatures unnaturally risen from death to pray upon the innocent.”

My interest was immediately piqued. I have enough knowledge of Latinate languages to know “dead flesh” when I see it, but…a Monk? In 1348? Hunting zombies? Part of me was thrilled, the other part cringing. Would the author do right by Medieval history or was this going to be full of “olde tyme” myths that are endemic in modern media?

The third son of a wealthy merchant, Maurice is taught to read by his mother and learns rudimentary healing from farmers and “wise women”. Since he has two older brothers to carry on the family business, he’s sent to a monastery for further education. His talent in the healing arts convinces the Brothers to send him to study at Salerno’s Schola Medica Salernitana to become a physician. There, he befriends Falayh, an Arab raised in Spain as a Christian.

Brother Maurice’s holy duty takes him across Europe to teach the skills in healing to his monastic brothers so they might heal the sick in body and spirit. At one stop, he encounters an illness never seen before: an infection of rotting flesh that robs the afflicted of their senses and drives them to attack others. The infection spreads, and the only cure he can find is death. The monastery is ravaged, and when word reaches Pope Clement in Avignon, Maurice is sworn to secrecy and sent on a mission to end the mortecarni—by the sword or by a cure—and it endangers both his life and his faith.

I was riveted and read the book in two sittings. It’s like the author took historical fiction, mystery, coming-of-age, and zompoc, and combined them all like an alchemist to make something new and different. Brother Maurice’s conflict over faith and duty is heart-wrenching. And oh, what he must do. Evans assails us with horror that doesn’t turn away from the blood, madness and rotting flesh that this kind of story calls for. It’s definitely not for the squeamish. Even day-to-day “medicine” was a horror with leeches, bleedings, and the worst: draining the buboes of plague victims to save their lives. Evans does her research, and you can get a taste of it on her Twitter page. Her feed is full of links to medieval arts, sciences, and history, and she also writes historical fiction in addition to horror.

Evans did an excellent job showing this historical period, and at the same time acknowledging the realities of the age, like literal witch hunts and the erasure of women, extreme measures taken to stop the bubonic plague, and the indifference of otherwise “holy” men.

One thing I loved was that this book can easily stand alone, although the author’s site shows a sequel in the works. The story wraps up in the modern age, where the answer to the mystery Brother Maurice pursued is rediscovered. We don’t need to know who these modern-day people are; we’ve seen their struggle play out in the 14th century and know what they’re up against. The words of a humble monk will once again have meaning, his work and soul redeemed.

It’s good stuff, so if you’re looking for a completely different take on the zombie genre, this is the book for you. Kelly Evans is an author to watch!

THE LOG HOUSE (Guest Review)

“I know that they are strong and fast. They don’t feel fear, don’t even know what it means. You can’t ward them off with charms and urban legends. They can climb and run and they never tire. Only the light can distract them, and once that has gone, you have nothing. They will see you, and once they have, they will never stop until they have you. If they knew we were here, we’d already be dead.”
-Penny, protagonist of The Log House

Imagine a forest that loses its serenity the longer you inspect every individual piece of its whole, evolving into a looming fear that can only be alleviated one of two ways.

Pull your focus back to ignorance and rejoin the lie of serenity, or keep looking closer to learn the truth, no matter how ugly it may be.

That’s where Baylea puts you, not only within the story, but with the characters as well.

Thanks to an event through Pigeonhole, I was fortunate enough to read Baylea Hart’s debut novel in advance.

And what a hell of a debut novel it is.

Though her first novel, Baylea is no newcomer to the horror scene. From writing and directing short films to having her work published in horror-writers.com’s very own anthology “Dreams of Desolation”, she’s had her toe dipped in the bloody waters for some time now.

The Last of Us meets The Village meets Children of Men, The Log House is a survival horror on a quaint scale. A whatnot of suspenseful dread lurking in tranquility that haunts you with lingering imagery.

After an unexpected attack, Penny finds herself on her own, separated from the safety of her village, unable to be rescued. Now she must journey through the cold wilderness alone and find a way back home to her son before her passage is closed off for the winter, sealing her fate as well. But is she truly alone?

Penny’s mission is one filled with questions, doubt, and unquestionable fear. And as each footstep she takes reveals more truths about her past and present, the more uncertain the future becomes.

Penny herself is flawed, but to what extent is the driving force. Her heart is cold and buried, but does it still beat? And what buried it so deeply?

Ultimately, it’s not about Penny’s goal to survive the living rot from a dying world and rescue her son, but rather or not if she deserves to be reunited with him. What does the darkness and the silence hold for Penny in addition to “them”?

To say more would rob the reader of the experience of learning the ugly truths, for it’s not what we see that frightens us, but what we don’t see. The unraveling of the unknown is the driving force. But all questions, all paths, all conflicts and resolutions, all begin and end at one place.

The Log House

You can find her book at:

Amazon US

Amazon UK

And follow Baylea on her site or at Twitter

Papercuts: A Passage In Black

Papercuts: A Passage In Black

By Ryan “HB” Mount

**Spoiler Free Review**

As the fall approaches and the cool air fills the night, we all start to think about what lies ahead.  For many, Halloween is around the corner and horror movies begin to dominate our watching experiences.  However, this year, the best scary stories won’t be on film, but will be told on black and white pages.  That is because author, Cullen Bunn, releases his newest work, A Passage In Black.

Cullen Bunn may be most known for his works in comics.  Currently he is writing Marvel’s X-Men, but has been working in comics for years not only at Marvel, but also at DC, Oni, and Darkhorse.  However, he is no stranger to the horror genre as he is currently writing Harrow County which perhaps has the title of best ongoing horror comic being currently published.

A Passage in Black is collection of 27 short stories, which include 8 brand new, never published tales and 19 previously only available in small press.

If you are like me and grew up on Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark series, you have been wanting to more of these tales since your childhood and every time there is mention of reviving the series or bringing it to screen, you scream in delight.  If you are like me, then you know it has been awhile as well.  And A Passage in Black fills that similar of itch of feeling terrified one moment and grossed out in another, whether by words or haunting imagines.

The themes of the tales are all over the place.  There are stories if old women in the woods, cannibals in the country, and ghost children who come out in the rain.  There are also completely absurd chapters than include mutant testicles and killer frogs.  No matter your brand of horror, there are stories that you will enjoy.

Not only will you enjoy the actual stories, but Bunn gives readers a peak behind the horror show curtain.  At the conclusion of most stories, Bunn lets the readers in on his inspirations behind them.  Sometimes, it’s about a pond near his childhood home and other times it all started with one line or one small concept.  While, some may wish to not know, you can read them as if you were watching directors commentary on a movie.  It is not for everyone, but I will say, after reading “Cold Snap” I was glad to have it there as it may have been the scariest one in the world for me, a soon to be father and Bunn himself shares those reservations after writing it.

While A Passage In Black is certainly not a graphic novel, the book does include 23 illustrations to accompany most of the stories.  These are certainly reminiscent in style to the Scary Stories, the art from Tim Mayer is the perfect pairing.  All the illustrations are black and white and scratchy which gives it an unfinished look.  The unfinished style is like looking at the difference of a brand-new home versus one that is decaying and run-down.  It tonally made sense for the book and will help give you nightmares if you are reading before bed.

I promised to keep this review spoiler-free, so any more information would lessen the absolute joy I had while reading A Passage In Black.  It is very hard to compare this full length book to what we normally review for this column, but this was the absolute best work I have read since launching the column.

This is a must own for any real horror fan.

A Passage in Black will be released THIS FRIDAY, October 6th from OmahaBound.com There will be 100 limited edition hard covers available there or head over to amazon.com and order a paperback copy.

I implore everyone to order their copy.

And please check out the other works by the wonderful work from Cullen Bunn at cullenbunn.com and follow him on twitter at @cullenbunn.  You can find Tim Mayer’s work over at timmayerart.com .  And an additional thank you to Tim Benson at OmahaBound, who got this into my hands, and make sure to follow him on twitter @TBRAMBLIN to see all the great projects he has going on.

And if it was not obvious…

Ratings: 5 out of 5 (actually, can I give a 6 out of 5?)

 

If you like what you read, make sure to like it and share it on all your social media platforms.  If you want to suggest a book to review, make sure to tweet at me @hebruise . Make sure to follow me and check out all my comics work at horror-writers.com (@horror_writers) and over at twoheadednerd.com (@twoheadednerd)

Book Review: Feral

Synopsis:
Allie Hilts was still in high school when a fire at a top-secret research facility released an airborne pathogen that quickly spread to every male on the planet, killing most. Allie witnessed every man she ever knew be consumed by fearsome symptoms: scorching fevers, internal bleeding, madness and uncontrollable violence. The world crumbled around her. No man was spared, and the few survivors were irrevocably changed. They became disturbingly strong, aggressive, and ferocious. Feral.

Three years later, Allie has joined a group of hardened survivors in an isolated, walled-in encampment. Outside the guarded walls the ferals roam free, and hunt. Allie has been noticing troubling patterns in the ferals’ movements, and a disturbing number of new faces in the wild. Something catastrophic is brewing on the horizon, and time is running out. The ferals are coming, and there is no stopping them.

Review:
My first encounter with James DeMonaco’s work was the film Skinwalkers, which I hated. However, The Purge was fantastic, so I started reading Feral with a hopeful attitude. Having Brian Evenson as a co-writer was encouraging since I’ve read Father of Lies and enjoyed it. I’m also a fan of post-apoc fiction; another thumb on the scale for this book.

Feral started out strong. The confusion and fear during the outbreak are realistically portrayed. Scenes of sudden and horrific transformations are vividly described, as are the deaths of those unlucky enough to get caught by the feral packs of crazed men. The first few chapters hooked me, and I settled in for the rest of the book.

Allie is a bonafide badass, using her old skills as a lacrosse star in all new ways. She’s a lone hunter type of woman; hyper-alert and determined to keep her young sister and herself alive. Small camps of women who survived the outbreak live in fortified camps, keeping in touch via radio. Allie is one of the few who are brave (or reckless) enough to spend days outside the minefields and barricades while she thins out the feral population and scavenges for supplies. The ferals have a “hive” of their own and have taken over the river docks, where no woman dares approach for fear of literally being torn apart. It doesn’t take much to foresee the coming conflict.

There’s a lot to like in this book. It’s certainly entertaining. Narrow escapes, tense chase scenes, and extreme zom– er, feral-killing rampages will satisfy the bloodlust factor. The women in the camp do their best to survive while trying to create a sense of normalcy for the children and young teens among them. It’s no surprise that all of them are traumatized, but many of them pair up for comfort. There’s a romantic subplot, but revealing the details involves spoilers, so that’s all I’ll say.

Another bonus comes from the author’s skill at screenwriting. We get multiple points of view on the story that play out like scenes in a film. The storytelling here feels cinematic, so people who are more accustomed to watching TV and movies will be right at home here. As a book, it works, but it would be a kickass movie; enough so that I wonder if this started out as a screenplay.

It’s easy to see that Feral leans heavily on zombie and post-apocalyptic tropes. Catastrophic outbreak of an experimental pathogen? Horrific transformations into a bestial form? Hordes of indiscriminate killers who want to eat human flesh? Band of plucky survivors who figure out they can mask their scent with the blood of dead ferals? Forbidden romance and putting one’s life before someone you love? It’s all been done before. But as I’ve strongly hinted throughout, if you’re a fan of zompoc fiction, you’re going to enjoy Feral.

Story Review: Dead Over Heels by Theresa Braun

Dead Over Heels is the story of Veronica who can’t seem to catch a break in the love department. Tired of the grind, she turns to magic to help find that special someone.

It’s a pretty short read so I don’t want to spoil any more of it than that but it was a lot of fun. I think it clocks in at around 37 pages. Dead Over Heels doesn’t waste a single sentence in that time.

As I said, it’s relatively short but it feels perfectly paced out. The ending is satisfying and the characters are worth investing your time in. I recommend checking it out on amazon, which you can do here