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The Darkly Splendid Realm / Richard Gavin

Dark Regions Press / December 2009
Reviewed by: Joan Turner

“There are strange forces in the world, invisible to us, but as real, for all that, as you and me.”
             — Percy Bysshe Shelley
Richard Gavin’s third collection, The Darkly Splendid Realm, includes thirteen varied stories connected loosely by the theme of nature’s dark splendors. The literary quality of these contemporary tales transcends genre, but happily, their subtle terrors place them well within the horror realm. The stories, and in fact, the book in all aspects including cover art and design, inspires a sense of awe and wonder reminiscent of the work of early 20th century masters, as the cover text suggests, a rare quality in today’s horror fiction. The introduction is by Laird Barron, and the intriguing Celtic-like primal green cover by Harry O. Morris beckons the unwary reader inside where dark delights – ranging from sojourns into alternate realms to all too human atrocities – await.

Proving once again that subtle horror, the psychological terror of fear and dread of the unknown, is often more powerful than its more visceral counterparts, Gavin puts to good use the elements of atmosphere, voice and mood to imprint his Gothic terrors upon the reader’s subconscious. But the stories are primarily effective because the characters are well drawn, not stereotypes. These are stories about real people, whether good or bad, confronting real problems, as outré as they may be. 

All the stories are strong and well worth reading. The following list offers examples of what the collection has in store.

“Prowling through Throated Chambers” brings to life the terrors of an amusement park chamber of horrors revealing that the most horrendous evil can reside, not in horror’s familiar tropes, but in the seemingly benign and trusted.

“Primeval Wood” a novella, is the story of a lost weekend, hawthorn bushes that bloom with strange children and a curse that transforms a visitor forever.

In “Children of the Mound,” crusaders are sent by the Caesar to build a church in pagan land and to establish Christianity as the accepted religion at whatever cost to the dissenters. Their mission is also to learn the fate of the party who was sent before them. While the ending is somewhat predictable, this Celtic tale chronicling the encounter between faerie and Christian forces is one of the most engaging in the collection.

“Getting the Strap,” the story of an abused youngster and the effects of the abuse on the man he becomes involves no supernatural horror. It is more a cautionary tale that is unsettling in its own right.

“Following the Silent Hedges” takes readers into the unseen world that, where the boundary is thin, is only a step away. This Lovecraftian-like story is chilling in its implications as it offers a glimpse from the other side.

Richard Gavin, with two previous collections, Charnel Wine and Omens, is a relatively new voice in literary horror. He is a gifted writer, his fiction fresh, original and thoroughly enjoyable. The Darkly Splendid Realm is an outstanding collection of stories meant to be savored, reread and enjoyed again and again.

Purchase The Darkly Splendid Realm by Richard Gavin.

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