Review of The Crimson Pact Volume 1
Here’s insight into why I accepted each story for my first anthology.
First of all I’m very proud of the stories in The Crimson Pact Volume 1, which released as an eBook from Alliteration Ink in late March 2011 and is available from the major eBook stores or in all eBook formats at www.thecrimsonpact.com. The authors did a great job and I was so pleased to help craft this collection.
Here’s an editor’s review of what you’ll find in this 26 story anthology, which includes a New York Times Bestselling author, many previously published novelists, and several flash fiction authors (1,000 words or less is considered flash) who won a spot after an open call for submissions. The stories are high fantasy, urban fantasy, dark fantasy, several styles of steampunk, fantasy noir, and a few post-apocalyptic fantasy stories. There’s definitely something for everyone.
What’s it about? Well, the whole anthology series creates a shared world without a shared world with this premise: The Crimson Pact vowed to destroy the demons of the Rusted Vale . . . but the demons had their own secret plan and escaped, invading dozens of worlds . . . These are stories set in many different worlds about the men and women who have refused to let the demons win.
Here’s a short review of each of the stories in the order they appear in the eBook.
The Failed Crusade by Paul Genesse and Patrick Tracy
It’s gotten a lot of excellent reviews and you can read it for free right here. I’m very proud of it, but the lion’s share of the credit goes to Patrick Tracy, who took an idea and made it awesome. We shaped the story together, but it was mostly Pat who did the writing. Barbara Webb also helped edit this story and the end product turned out great.
The Failed Crusade is about a doomed general trying to destroy the last remnants of a demonic army. In the carnage that remains after the last great battle, he discovers that his enemies have been smarter than anyone imagined. In the moment when they should have been annihilated, the demons escaped into other unsuspecting worlds. The only way for him to pursue them and fulfill the Pact is to cross the void as a spirit . . . by sacrificing his own life.
Solitary Life by Donald J. Bingle
I chose this story to open the anthology because of the awesome voice Don used in this first person narrator story. I love the first person point of view (POV) when it’s done well. The main character recounts his final days as a chief warden in a medieval prison on a distant world. A mysterious prisoner comes to his attention and events occur which impacts everyone. I think it’s a great story and I thought it was a good way to ease people into this extremely varied anthology. Don has written a ton of excellent short stories and novels and his skill is evident in Solitary Life.
Inside Monastic Walls by Chanté McCoy
I love this flash story and my slush reader pleaded with me to accept this into the anthology. He wrote “you, want, want, want this one!!!” I also loved it and was so happy that Chanté submitted. It turned out to be one of my favorites in the whole anthology. The story is set in Greece, in an area of orthodox monasteries called Meteora. It’s set in the early 1900’s and recounts the tale of young Phideas, whose monastery is invaded by a darkly evil thing and the poor boy is right in the middle of it all. I was totally creeped out by this story. There is a sequel coming in volume 2 and it’s as awesome as the first one.
Brother’s Keeper by Lester Smith
This is a fun flash piece by a legendary writer, Lester Smith, who is one of my personal inspirations. I had a devilish grin when I read Brother’s Keeper and very much enjoyed the voice of the narrator. I think you will too.
Stained with Nightmare Juice by Isaac Bell
This is a brilliant piece of urban fantasy and I loved it. It’s in the top three best short stories in the collection. The narrator is a somewhat crazy homeless man (who has totally lost his marbles, figuratively and literally). He’s got some unique abilities and sees spirits all the time—or is he just schizophrenic? The tone and style are a bit on the profane side, but I completely thought it was realistic and I very much enjoyed this story about demonic spirits coming to the streets of a major city and causing mayhem. The narrator enlists a man with his own powers called Oldshoe to help track down and root out the demons. I was so blown away by this piece and I think most of you will be as well. I’m still thinking about the story months after I first read it.
To Duty Sworn by Jess Hartley
Jess Hartley is a very accomplished author and her skill is apparent from the first few lines. The story tells of a disciple of the Brotherhood of Saint Hubert who is given a very delicate and serious task. This is a character study set in a medieval world and I loved the archaic feel to the prose. The story itself has you wondering what’s going to happen up to the last line.
Hidden Collection by Sarah Kanning
Who knew libraries had such dark secrets hidden in them? Sarah Kanning knows and she’s shared this tale about a young librarian who wants to get her eyes on the hidden collection at the new library she ends up working in. What she finds probably should have been burned and her life is never going to be same. I’m hoping for a sequel in volume 2.
Inquest by Barbara J. Webb
This modern day urban fantasy set in the southern part of the U.S. tells the tale of a young priest with some magical talents (think about the movie Constantine and Keanu Reeves character for a reference). The priest is giving a type of deposition (it’s an inquest) to his superiors about an incident involving a small town, a summoning ritual, and multiple deaths. The twists in this story and horror elements make it so awesome.
The Things That Crawl by Richard Lee Byers
This story will creep you out. It’s an urban, or rather rural fantasy set in the swamps of Florida during a hurricane. The main character, a cop with a lot of personal issues ends up in what I think of as a really scary Stephen King movie.
There are many things that crawl and the villain is so nasty. I love this story.
Monsters Under the Bed by Patrick S. Tomlinson
This turned out to be one of the most popular stories in the anthology and I love how it turned out. It’s about a female paranormal investigator who is brought in to help solve a particularly grisly murder. She’s teamed with a male cop and the tension is quite good. There is also a missing little girl and a monster that I will refrain from mentioning, as I don’t want to give any spoilers. There will be a sequel in volume 2.
Sins of the Father by Kathy Watness
This short story is an urban (actually rural) fantasy with the feel of a traditional fantasy. It’s the most poetic and beautiful story in the collection and is about a woman named Sylvia who has powers over spirits and the dead. Sylvia and her fey partner have to battle a dark spirit that has gotten loose into her world. Kathy Watness really did a great job. The imagery, the world building, and the character are all top notch.
Crimson Mail by Gloria Weber
This flash fiction piece has it all, death, disasters, a great character in a tough situation and all in under 1,000 words.
Cherry Picking by Rebecca L. Brown
Rebecca is an excellent and accomplished British writer and she wrote an awesome flash fiction story in the urban fantasy vein about a demonic drug dealer with very beautiful hands. This is what flash fiction is all about. Check it out and see how a pro does it right.
Chicago’s Finest by T.S. Rhodes
This is a wonderful flash piece about the girliest cop in Chicago who has a very unexpected encounter with a demon at her nephew’s school. Strong character is critical and Rhodes pulls it off well. I’m hoping for a sequel in volume 2.
The Transition by Justin Swapp
A fascinating flash piece about a young language student in Spain who has an encounter with a man with a whole lot more going on that meets the eye. I enjoyed the twist and won’t spoil it here. Justin Swapp has a bright career ahead of him.
Brotherhood Fall of New York by Garrett Piglia
A diamond in the rough is how I think of Garrett Piglia, a young man with a great imagination who is at the beginning of a long writing career. This story is alternate history and is set in New York City, which has been invaded by demons that may have been released by the Nazis. The story follows squad of grunts on a very important mission and is written in the form of a journal. Gripping stuff.
Frankie’s Girl by Kelly Swails
Here’s a really fun and entertaining story set in the 1920’s and featuring the bawdy girlfriend of a really evil gangster. This is the first short story in the collection that will probably make you laugh, then will horrify you the next moment. The bad girl main character’s narration is brilliant and I hope I get to hear Kelly read this story at a convention sometime.
Shell of a Man by Daniel Myers
Who knew there would be a hard-boiled detective story in this anthology? Daniel “Doc” Myers pulls off a classic gumshoe tale with a demonic twist. The distinctive voice of the main character is spot on. I loved it.
An Ideal Vessel by Sarah Hans
Steampunk has a lot of variation and this story is set in a turn of the century America where an inventor’s robotic creation is inhabited by a traveler from another world. I was fascinated by the alternate history presented and loved the characters. Extremely entertaining story and great steampunk.
Love, Gangsters, and Demons by Elaine Blose
Wildly inventive and entertaining steampunkish romance. Love, Gangsters and Demons by Elaine Blose is a story set in a 1930’s alternate world very similar to our own, but filled with many different creatures and people with pretty amazing powers. The main character has a gift, more like a curse, and her power is needed to help defeat the demons invading the city. I loved the main character, who is a woman with some unique friends. Extremely creative story.
Bull King by Larry Correia
New York Times bestselling author Larry Correia contributed a story set in his Grim Noir novel series and Bull King is part of his book, Hard Magic. Think X-Men meets the HBO series Boardwalk Empire. The story is set in a 1930’s Earth where many humans have developed what can only be described as super powers. Bull King has lots of ass kicking, explosions and trigger-pulling superheroes wearing Fedora hats. Yes, the book is awesome and this will give you a good taste.
Run by EA Younker
I love this flash story. It’s set in a post-apocalyptic world, similar to our own that’s being destroyed by demon possessed steampunk robots. The main character, a young woman, has to flee for her life and deal with her husband who is not dealing very well with the situation.
Plastic by Craig Nybo
Plastic is a short and brutal flash fiction piece about a world where the demons have taken over and are literally “Big Brother.” The main character is a rebellious man who has run afoul of the law. It kind of reminded me of Judge Dredd crossed with George Orwells 1984. Very well done.
Red Test by Patrick M. Tracy
A young woman must pass the test to join a gang of demon killers. All she has to do is go by herself into an abandoned warehouse with a crappy shotgun and kill a demon. Excellent writing and a powerful story.
Withered Tree by Suzzanne Myers
The Road meets Mad Max in the awesome story, Withered Tree by Suzzanne Myers. It’s one of the best stories in the anthology and features a small band of survivors in an apocalyptic world who face a life and death decision. The female main character is great and I can’t wait for the sequel.
Of the Breaking of Stars by Chris Pierson
Novelist and short story writer Chris Pierson may have delivered the best story of his entire career so far when he wrote Of the Breaking of the Stars. I’ve read most of his short stories and am a huge fan of his novels, but this is my favorite ever. This story, a novella really, is in the top two in the whole anthology and that’s why it has such a place of honor, the last story in the collection. It’s set in a very unique fantasy world reminiscent of a magical ancient Babylon. It’s written in the form or journal entries and chronicles the life of a very sympathetic and scholarly man who is bearing witness to the destruction of his world. This story has it all and had me from the opening line to closing sentence.
Learn more at http://www.thecrimsonpact.com/