I'm restarting my almost-popular practice of running reviews with Written in Darkness by Mark Samuels, forthcoming from Chomu Press. I received a PDF copy for review.
The first story could not be more timely. 'A Call to Greatness' begins with a Eurocrat in Paris who is disillusioned with the current state of the West. Enter a mysterious stranger bearing a story from the Russian civil war that followed the October Revolution of 1917. The story-within-a-story is that of a White Russian cavalry force led by a ferocious Christian mystic, A reporter for a British newspaper sets out to get an interview, and finds himself conscripted by a White commander, the Baron. The Baron is a far from sympathetic character, and his troops slaughter their way across Eurasia until sustained Bolshevik attacks wear them down. Eventually the hapless British reporter is the Baron's only follower, whereupon the anti-hero heads for Tibet in search of wisdom.
In terms of style it's a flawless effort. Samuels has a slightly ironic detachment from his characters. The Baron is a complex figure - a barbaric yet erudite man claiming to be the saviour of civilisation. Is he the lesser of two evils? With the benefit of hindsight perhaps the Whites, for all their brutality, were just that. The Russian angle, which informs a slightly predictable twist ending to the framing narrative, is so prescient that the tale might have been written last week. All in all it's a very promising start to the collection. So this is a 'weird tale', certainly, but one that that at its core is no stranger than many of today's news headlines.