"Flesh and Bone: Rise of the Necromancers" Book Review
Get her inside. Lock the doors. Take car of her. I will take care of this. – Danika, The Scarlet Cat
Edited by Jessy Marie Roberts
2010, 285 pages, Fiction
Book release on August 16th, 2010
If you were to ask me my top favorite genres to read are, I honestly don't know where I'd place "Dark Fantasy". Sure, growing up I read a ton of the more popular fantasy novels like The Lord of the Rings series, Terry Brooks' Shannara series, a lot of Piers Anthony, the Thieves World anthologies, and more. But as I grew older, I found less interest in reading about wizards and dragons and the like. I'm by no means saying fantasy is for kids, laws no. It's just something I slowly lost interest in reading for whatever reason. (Ironically, I still love watching fantasy movies. Go figure.)
So the question becomes when Pill Hill Press asked if I was interested in reviewing their dark fantasy novel Flesh and Bone: Rise of the Necromancers, why in the hell did I say yes? I had two reasons. The first is Pill Hill Press is a small publisher, and we here at HorrorTalk have always prided ourselves in helping out the artist under the mainstream radar. Second, the description given of the book was "Twenty-one dark short stories about the undead, and the persons who raise them from death..." Undead equals zombies. Sold.
I've learned over the years that I don't necessarily have to be reading a top-choice genre to enjoy the book if the writing is solid, and I have to hand it to editor Jessy Marie Roberts because she picked some very talented authors for this anthology. The first story, The Blade of Tears by Lydia Sharp, is a prime example of this. The tale opens in the midst of action, as our heroine Alinor is attempting to escape from Lord Ghislain for unknown reasons. Unfortunately, her path to freedom is blocked by the Forêt Noire, a forest inhabited by the walking dead. Since her freedom is more important than some shuffling zombies, she reluctantly enters the dreaded woods with Ghislain hot on her trail. What follows is a bloodbath as she and her pursuer fight their way through the forest. The Blade of Tears is a very strong opener to the stories that follow. Well written and action packed, I find the lovey dovey parts didn't really bother me as much as they normally would since they were brief and quickly followed by some slaughter.
Now, to be fair, not all of the stories in Flesh and Bone take place in the time of wizards and warlocks (although the majority do). One of my favorites of these, The Scarlet Cat by Rebecca Lloyd, is set in 1980s Nebraska. A young girl, Danica, tired of the local kids teasing her and her family, takes it upon herself to sublimely learn the ways of magic from her grandmother, who is unwilling to teach her. Danica learns, regardless, by intently watching the old lady any time she performs spells (which involve raising the dead) and later practicing what she witnessed. One night, the local ruffians kill Danica's sister's cat, and putting to use what she's been studying so hard for, the girl reanimates the kitty with dire consequences.
All the World a Grave by Michael McClung is another terrific story in Flesh and Bone. The story tells the tale of an unnamed man and his role in an apocalyptic world of zombies and wraiths. This is really oversimplifying it, but that is the crux of the yarn. The story is depressing while being mean and author McClung manages to make you both feel sorry for and hate the main character. It's not a happy tale, by any stretch.
Most of the stories in Flesh and Bone have rather downer endings — which is fine — but Matthew Fryer's The Stoner Bride injects some humor into the anthology. In the story, Jimmy, a low-level drug dealer, decides to call upon the local witch doctor to reanimate one of Jimmy's "clients". Suffice to say, Jimmy's motivations for this are rather nefarious, but this one doesn't end as you'd suspect. It's an amusing piece of comic relief in an otherwise dark novel.
I could easily go on describing each of Flesh and Bone: Rise of the Necromancers' 21 tales, as they all have something to offer, but then the length of this review would be overwhelming. I enjoyed some more than others, but there wasn't a story that didn't entertain me on some level. Editor Jessy Marie Roberts has done a really great job here with culling together a batch of enjoyable tales from, admittedly, authors I have not heard of prior to reading this, and that's pretty impressive. Fans of dark fantasy would do well to pick this up. For those where dark fantasy isn't their thing, Pill Hill Press has an extensive collection of anthologies and if Flesh and Bone: Rise of the Necromancers is any indication of the quality of the rest of the catalog, you'll be safe snagging something else. Me? I got my eye on Leather, Denom & Silver: Legends of the Monster Hunter.