by Mark N. Drake
Shards of Shattered Darkness is Drake’s debut collection of eighteen horror shorts, arranged in five themed sections, exploring horror in all its diverse forms and realms whilst being essentially character-driven.
Having read Drake’s excellent Darkisle* series to date, I was more than a little excited when I heard he was going to publish an assortment of short horror fiction. My excitement was warranted; this is a truly satisfying and considered selection with more than a few surprises.
The themes of the sections are gently analogous but enable a neat framework for Drake to demonstrate his superb linguistic range, versatility, and intrinsic understanding of the genre.
Indeed, with ‘horror’ as the umbrella, Drake capably takes the reader through many of its nicely gruesome sub-genres using a mix of narrative styles, forms, and settings that excellently complement the differing nature of the tales.
The first part, themed, “Dark Legends” opens with a wonderfully immersive authentic, and unnerving story, “The Grey Berserker”. Set among Norsemen in 875 AD, it’s rich with historical insight and liberally sprinkled with Viking myth and unearthly magic.
The second section, “Dark Days” is fairly contemporary. “Broom Grove” has a real visual appeal, I could see this as a spine-chilling one-off, gritty TV drama. Also, the next “Memento”, with its otherworldly creeping unease and growing doubt in the stability of the main character. The last in this portion is “Vane Harbour” which I thought brilliantly terrifying, quietly clever and classic Drake.
“Dark Seasons” begins with the disturbing and atmospheric “Bleaklow”. Topography is an important theme in Drake’s writing, and the shadowy gloom and darkly rugged landscape deftly deflect from the snappy, unexpected twist.
In “The Plot”, Drake tries something a little different and the female main character is neither sympathetic nor likable. It works well, her degenerate cunning provides a sharp contrast to the twisted fairytale vibe of the narrative.
“Go Right to the White Rose” is one of the most horribly beautiful and poignant horrors I’ve ever read with a bucolic, folkloric nod. “Forever Autumn” echoes and swells with unknown menace, highlighted by Drake’s command of prose patterning.
Many of the stories have neat cyclical endings that are not always the ones you expect, although, Drake knows exactly when to give the reader what they want and is not afraid to use and explore well-known tropes.
The fourth portion, “Dark Futures” demonstrates this, with the H.G. Wells-inspired, “What Fools We Were”, and “Meme”. I love a horror retrospectively unfolded by the found diary/journal technique and this is a shiningly good example.
And, so to “Dark Isle”, which contains tales relating to that antediluvian, eldritch island that is the touchstone for Drake’s other novels. Woven with rustic ritual and delicately touched by the archaic without being over-engineered, they are compulsive to read and immensely disconcerting.
He is the master of the grisly comeuppance, as “Keeper” illustrates with such skin-crawling realism. Personally, the last, “Beyond the Night’s Dark Veil” was one of the most terrifying; the end, sudden and ghastly.
Drake’s horrendously fertile imagination, depth of characterization, and innate grasp of writing horror in all its oozing primeval awfulness ensure Shards of Shattered Darkness is a highly accomplished collection of superbly dreadful short horrors. Highly recommended.
*For my reviews and details of the Darkisle series, click here
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