Edited by Brenton Tomlinson

Blade Red Press (2010)

ISBN: 978-0-9805782-3-2

Reviewed by Ross Murray

I’m constantly amazed that despite the limited, if any, promise of monetary returns gained by publishing independent books there are still bold, proud individuals out there who feel it’s their destiny to take the plunge. We should be thankful of these individuals, such as those behind Blade Red Press otherwise little gems like Dark Pages would never see the light of day.

Chosen from over 250 submissions, the fourteen stories collected in Dark Pages strike at the heart of the individual’s deepest desires and fears. Editor Brenton Tomlinson chose these stories because of their ability to excite “painful emotions”.

Lucien Spelman’s “The Stain of the Psychopomp King” tells a story of a musical legacy passed from father to son, but one which is written on the body.

Martin Livings’ “Heart of Ice” is a cold fantasy tale of magic, necrophilia, and a love triangle gone terribly wrong; of obsession and its consequences.

Lisa Koosis’ “Neptune’s Garden” sees an alien intelligence preying on the grief of a childless couple to sow its own seeds.

Naomi Bell’s “Dust” is a Hitchcockian twisted tale of loss and misplaced revenge in an arid landscape.

In S.D. Matley’s “To Die For”, a chance encounter after a funeral leads a man into a relationship of once a year sexual liaisons. But when he wants more, this black widow wants much, much less.

In Joe Murr’s “The Franchise” is set in a fast food franchises in Hell. This tale gives new meaning to being “stuck in a dead end job”.

In Marty Young’s “Clip Notes” a new pair of glasses reveals too much about the acquaintances of their unsuspecting buyer. But will he give up the chance for ultimate power even if it corrupts him?

Victoria Anisman-Reiner’s “Blood on Green” is a fantasy story where a dryad goes to extraordinary lengths to protect her arboreal cousins for her goddess, until love gets in the way.

Aaron Polson’s “Cargo” tells the tale of a strange relationship that blooms between an undertaker and an inquisitive young girl amidst a vampire apocalypse.

In Felicity Dowker’s weirdly inflected “Nepenthe”, a woman’s desire to literally bury her feelings comes back to haunt her in a most fatal way.

Derek Rutherford’s “Yellow Water Pike” creates a vivid portrait of a cyberpunkish world where a man who is employed for his imagination finds that his imagination is being employed for murderous ends. He decides it’s time to change the game…

B.D. Wilson’s “Surveying the Land” sees a simple man forced to make a terrible choice when faced with pure, unadulterated evil.

Robert Neilson’s “Nightwork” shows a society where child gangs roam and rule the streets. One man’s unsavoury profession finding missing children leads him to question the loss of his own son, and his marriage.

Trent Roman’s “Hand and Cradle” in a society ruled by a totalitarian regime, a wealthy businesswoman realises that to attain immortality she has to surrender the life she has.

The stand out stories for me were Bell’s “Dust” with its sparse but vivid prose; Wilson’s “Surveying the Land” which quickly turns a boring field trip into something close to hell; and Dowker’s “Nepenthe” which foregoes any type of realism for a pure sense of story and riffs on the idea of being “heartless”.

It’s the most difficult choices – choices driven by madness, and madness instilled by making terrible, impossible choices where whatever the outcome someone will always lose – that make the darkest fiction. For me “Surveying the Land” is probably darkest story here. It simply and succinctly interrogates the idea of “the lesser of two evils”, though “lesser” is a debatable point. The character has the most difficult of choices – to save himself or save another.

Whether by design or coincidence the depiction of women and men in the collection is also cause for some interest. “Dust”, “Neptune’s Garden” and “Nightwork” all portray women on the brink of mental breakdown after the loss of children. Sexually murderous women appear in “To Die For”, “Heart of Ice” and “Blood on Green”. Men in the collection of stories however tend to be portrayed stoically and in more stable frames of mind. Interesting…

There are a few minor editing errors which bring the generally well-produced volume down slightly, but apart from that the overall production is sound.

Dark Pages is a collection of very entertaining stories which will, if nothing else, have the reader contemplating where an unexpectedly wicked turn of events can lead a poor soul. There’s a good mix of horror, sci-fi, fantasy, and weirdness inflecting the dark nature of the tales so there’s something for everyone.

The rather large ‘1’ on the title page indicates this won’t be the last instalment of Dark Pages either.

Check out Blade Red Press at www.blade-red.com