The Black Wind’s Whispers by Various Authors – Anthology Review [Bane of Kings]
Bane of Kings shares his thoughts on The Black Wind’s Whispers, a self-published collection of historical horror stories from authors who are all members of Black Library Bolthole, as well as a short story by CL Werner.
“An intriguing mix of horror stories that proves that the genre can be very varied indeed. Giving classic monsters new twists.” ~The Founding Fields
Before we start this review, I’d just like to say that the Black Library Bolthole is one of my favourite forums on the internet if not my favourite, and if you’re into the works published by Warhammer 40k/Fantasy publisher Black Library, then you should certainly sign up for it, it’s a great environment frequented by some of the authors themselves. Although I was unable to contribute to the Anthology, I was glad when James Fadley, aka He2etic, the mastermind of this project and the contributor of a story himself, approached me through twitter to write a review of this anthology. Having seen some of the fanfictions of various contributors before, I leapt at the chance – wanting to see what work they’d be able to do in their own setting.
And I really enjoyed it. It’s a great mix of stories, and you don’t have to be a fan of Black Library in order to enjoy it, as there are no short stories set in the either the grimdark far future or the Warhammer world here. This is horror, and enjoyable horror at that.
In generations past and, surely, generations to come, ancient tales of demons and monsters persist. Ghosts, vampires, werewolves, mummies, gargoyles and more. Some endure, familiar as they are terrifying. Others wear new faces and take new forms. From the twisted minds over at the Bolthole writing forums comes nine fantastic and dark tales of horror. Edited by Andrew Aston and CS Barlow, including a story by special guest author, veteran horror writer CL Werner, here is proof that you can teach an old monster new horrors…
The Birth Howl by James Fadeley
This anthology contains several short stories that take place across a wide range of settings. First up, we have James Fadeley’s great opener, The Birth Howl, which is split into two parts and really sets the tone for the anthology to come. The story focuses on Detective Inspector Ian Stewart, and Fadeley has chosen 1972 as a backdrop for what is essentially a murder mystery short with a supernatural element. Unpredictable, The Birth Howl delivers a stunning cliffhanger and will keep readers wanting to read more. I really think that the cliffhanger was timed perfectly here, allowing what would have otherwise been just one large story to be split in two, increasing the tension with some awesome results.
Ian Stewart is the main narrator and it is through his eyes that we get a look at the mystery. Having the main character as the narrator allows Fadley to pull a surprise for us in the second part of The Birth Howl allowing for a thoroughly enjoyable short story with a satisfying ending – one that kicks off this anthology with a bang and will make readers want to stick around for more.
Plague of the Krakenmari follows on from James Fadeley’s The Birth Howl and changes the setting completely, taking us to not just a whole new place but a whole different time. We not only get a perspective change, from third to first, but also a gender switch, the main narrator is a female rather than a male. All of these things allow for a refreshing change of pace and an interesting mystery which for me is probably another strong installment in the anthology. Howers’ story is set in Shureham, a small quiet neighborhood that is about to be plunged out of its depth when confronted with a monster that I’ve never encountered before in fiction – the Krakenmari.
It’s a very interesting option for a horror story and the Krakenmari really do help show the variety of what the horror genre can give us. I particularly liked the solution to how they could be defeated as well, and how the whole thing was resolved.
Whilst it wasn’t perhaps the most page-turning of reads, Plague of the Krakenmari was another solid entry in the anthology and one of the best.
The Sculptor’s Torment by Jonathan Ward
The Sculptor’s Torment is the third story in the anthology and again takes place in a different time and setting from the two stories that came before. With an even smaller dramatis personae than Plague of the Krakenmari, The Sculptor’s Torment is another strong instalment in the anthology telling another different type of horror tale from what we’ve seen before.
This is a great contribution, with a strong lead character in the form of David Lerman, and the only other major character, his Uncle Zak, are explored in great depth in this short. Whilst it is only a short, we do get to learn a lot more about them but of course the main focus is on the horror, and this tale is, like the ones before it – another chilling read. So far, this anthology has gone from strength to strength and is a really promising debut from the Black Library Bolthole Crew, and The Sculptor’s Torment really shows just that stories with minimal characters can also be the most powerful.
Unmarked by Andrew Aston
Unmarked is the next story in this anthology inspired by Ancient Egypt, and is another great contribution. I loved the way the characters interacted and Unmarked, along with the rest of The Black Wind’s Whispers, really shows why you shouldn’t underestimate self-published fiction. Sure, there are some disappointments, but overall, I really enjoy finding a self-published story (or in this case, anthology) that reminds me why I don’t overlook this method of publishing.
Another, chilling, atmospheric tale that really proves the strength of this anthology. So far, we’ve had four enjoyable tales out of four.
An Old Friend by Keanu Ross-Cabera
An Old Friend is Keanu Ross-Cabera’s entry to the anthology and is again limited to a short dramatis personae, telling the tale of an old man alone with a dog in house. Ross-Cabera really manages to make his contribution toThe Black Wind’s Whispersan entertaining one, and whilst I didn’t feel it was as strong as the ones that followed it, that doesn’t mean that I didn’t like it. It was certainly an enjoyable story that again, shows just how varied this anthology can be.
It does manage to chill you though, and although the main character isn’t as memorable as the previous characters – I had to look up his name whilst writing this review, something which I didn’t have to do with the others, the tale is nonetheless an engaging read.
Guardian by Alec McQuay
Alec McQuay’s tale is an interesting one. Whilst it may not be the most memorable of every short story in this anthology, it’s far from a weak read. Horror stories work best I find when they have a small dramatis personae and that is no different here. Guardian‘s main narrator is Victor, and is a very character-focused short story. Victor is in fact the only human character in this story, and we get to explore his fears and what his reactions are to what the threat he is faced with over the course of short story. It’s an entertaining and chilling read, and like all that followed – there are no mistakes, grammar or otherwise – that I found in Guardian.
And the ending is very chilling indeed.
Since This War by Robbie McNiven
Since This War is probably one of the most powerful short stories in this anthology for me. McNiven has taken horror and sent us back to World War Two, where we follow a group of Russian soldiers against a group of Nazis. McNiven’s tale is well researched and moves along at a great pace, and McNiven manages to deliver a mix of action and horror to make a great change of pace, setting and tone from Guardian, the previous story in the anthology.
I found this to be one of the better shorts in this anthology and couldn’t put it down whilst I was reading it. It really takes the whole idea of a historical horror setting and utilises it with a common setting. However, the strong narrative and the action keeps it from feeling dull and unoriginal, and as a result, I really enjoyed this. One of the highlights of the anthology for sure.
Burden by Jeremy Daw
Jeremy Daw’s Burden is the story that falls inbetewen Since This War and Entombed in the Dawn, and is told in a different style to all that came before it. The bulk of the short story is told through an interview transcript and is another of the short stories with a brilliant and very chilling ending. At first I struggled to remember everything about this story when I was writing the review but a quick re-read really made this more powerful for me. The interview transcript is a way of storytelling that I rarely (if ever outside of scripts) come across and makes a refreshing break from narrative of the previous tales even if it did take a while to get used to.
This isn’t the fasted paced short story of the bunch and neither does it stand out the most having the unfortunate position of between two brilliant shorts, but Burden shouldn’t be overlooked.
Entombed in the Dawn by CL Werner
It’s no surprise that CL Werner’s story is what most non-Boltholers will be buying this anthology for. I was interested to see what Werner could do outside of the world of Black Library having not read any non-tie in fiction by him in the past, and like with his first 40k novel Siege of Castellax, Werner failed to disappoint here, providing one of my, if not my favourite stories out of the whole anthology.
Told in first person, Werner’s story grabs you right from the start with the lines “There are eight hours left to me.” We know from the get go that this isn’t going to be a happy ending, and that the narrator is probably not going to make it out alive. Werner’s story is chilling, well-developed and another strong story in an anthology where not a single work has disappointed me as of yet.
In Parting by Andrew Aston
Not counting the fact that The Birth Howl was split into two parts, Andrew Aston is the only author to have contributed more than one short story to this anthology, and is probably the shortest tale in the anthology and is probably the weakest of the collection. I can see what Aston was trying to do, but it really didn’t work for me and I felt a little let down, especially after the thrilling Entombed in the Dawn that came before it. Maybe it was because I had my expectations raised even further after having a very, very enjoyable read right the way through.
I wanted to like this short, but there was one main reason why I didn’t. It was just too short for me to get a feel of it all. Sure, I understand that its intention may have been to be very short, but it just didn’t work for me and I preferred Unmarked a lot more than this, which is a shame as I know that Aston can write really well. It’s just that this second contribution didn’t really work for me, like I’ve said before. Although it’s far from the worst thing that I’ve read, In Parting doesn’t match up to the standards set by the rest of the short stories in this anthology.
In conclusion, aside from one disappointing short story, In Parting, The Black Wind’s Whispers was a very positive experience for me. Standout shorts for me were Entombed in the Dawn by CL Werner, Since this War by Robbie McNiven and The Birth Howl by James Fadeley. If you’re any type of horror fan you will love what this collection has to offer you, especially as the ebook is very cheap on Amazon at the moment. Go and buy it.
Milo, aka Bane of Kings, is a SFF/Comic reader, and watches a lot of TV. His favourite authors are Neil Gaiman, China Mieville, Jim Butcher, Brandon Sanderson & Iain M. Banks, whilst his favourite TV shows are Battlestar Galactica (2003), Person Of Interest, Firefly, Game of Thrones, & Buffy the Vampire Slayer