A DRM-free collection of Victorian Horror
The Price: $3
Mature Content Rating: R (for brief sexual suggestions and overtly disturbing images)
Travel with me, if you will, to January 10th, 1866. Top hats are everywhere, pocket-watches are falling from the sky like rain… and people are dying: death by disease and death by intent. What is happening on the streets of Victorian London? More importantly, what is happening inside the minds of those who roam the streets by day or night, allowing the macabre entertainment of the day to become all-consuming.
The Macabre Collection is an omnibus of three “books.” Mask of Macabre, Ballet of Bones, and Seance of Souls. The first two instalments in this collection of books are collections of short stories, the third being a novella… but is the formatting of the content what you are reading this review for? Certainly not. You want to know what lies beneath the cover of this dark collection, and whether it is worth your time. Short answer: yes. Long answer…
The first thing that stood out to me while reading this collection was the writing style. Mask of Macabre starts by telling you it is January 10th, 1866, and this is certainly not a lie. Not only does David Haynes tell us the date, but he draws us into that time using some kind of other-worldly mechanic: words. The #1 tool at any writer’s disposal is their words. They can be used in many different ways – some good and some bad – but it is imperative that they are understood. Haynes sets the scene right from the first sentence, bringing us back to a time when macabre entertainment and all things wild, dark, and disturbing were normative. Not only is the story set in the past, but Haynes somehow manages to get his head into the time so completely that even his writing style takes on the flavour of the era. He is right up there with H.P. Lovecraft and Edgar Allan Poe, the flavour of words holding many similarities to the horror authors who have gone before us. David Haynes is able to integrate so well into the time that the reader is no longer sitting on their couch sipping iced-coffee from whatever mug they could find clean that day, but is standing out in the snowy streets of Victorian London, afraid of what may be lurking in the shadows.
Though both Mask of Macabre and Ballet of Bones are groups of short stories, they are not just a random smattering of Haynes writings slapped between two covers. Not only are they set in the same universe/world/time as each other, but one story builds off of the next in a refreshing, engaging, and unique way. All of the stories in this collection are in the same world, but each book focuses on a different character, telling their story from a variety of different perspectives. When starting the second story in Mask of Macabre, I wasn’t sure how (or if) it would be connected in any meaningful way. By the time I reached the end of the third story I was so drawn in that I wanted to know what happens next (not next in the strictest sense of a natural chapter progression, but next nonetheless.) It goes without saying that each short story has its own conclusion – as any story should – but the package of Mask of Macabre and Ballet of Bones each tell their own story in their own right. By the time the “conclusion” of the first book roles around, you see how everything comes together and may say “clever” or applaud Haynes with a slow clap. The problem is that the writing style does not allow for such cultural relevances as a “slow clap” and Haynes, being stuck in Victorian London, would not understand the implications of such applause.
Each short story on its own comes together with some grotesque ending in the final paragraphs which reveal a lot about the over-arching story. The reader is enjoying a nice little day on the beach (or rather a dark day on the streets of London) and all of a sudden everything makes sense. The sun comes up, and the shadows of the night are lifting revealing the twilight demons who have been stalking there. The final paragraphs of each story often left me with an appropriate gross feeling vs. the simple darkness the rest of the tale emanates. It’s like walking through a swamp at night, not thinking anything of it, but when someone shines a light you can see the slimy mess that you are really walking through. The almost abrupt realizations that are thrown at the reader upon story’s end reveal just enough about the over-arching story to keep you interested, but not enough to be obvious. Even after finishing the entire Macabre Collection, there are still a few things that I was scratching my head about, but not in a bad way. David Haynes does not believe in hand-holding, but allows his readers to think for themselves.
No matter how good something is, there is always something that isn’t perfect. Fortunately the opposite is true as well. Concerning Mask of Macabre and Ballet of Bones, each short story within these books are from a different point of view. There is some character cross-over and the connectivity of the stories is astounding, but though the POV changes add some flavour, they don’t allow for as much character development as I would have liked. Because of the different format in Seance of Souls, this is not the case. Haynes does a good job of getting the reader into the POV character’s head, but sometimes I wished that there was more going on within their head before the story came to a close, knowing that I wouldn’t hear anything from them again, or if I did, it would be under very different circumstances.
Though each book has a distinct conclusion of its own, I wasn’t as impressed with the conclusion of Ballet of Bones. The book was not un-entertaining, but I do feel that it is the weakest of the collection. It is through much pondering that I come to a conclusion as to why this is. Mask of Macabre and Seance of Souls are more closely connected to the over-arching story than Ballet of Bones is. Yes, there is some character cross-over, and yes Ballet of Bones is still set in the same world, but it tells a distinctly unique tale of its own. Seance of Souls brings up a lot of things that were introduced in Mask of Macabre, answering some questions and asking even more. The close relation of the first and third instalments was excellent, but I feel that Ballet of Bones fell a little bit when it came to this.
It should go without saying that if you don’t like the grotesque, you probably shouldn’t read horror, but I will comment on it here. The extremely disturbing content of this book could put a lot of people off, thus limiting the collection’s audience immensely. Despite this fact, taking away the overly grotesque aspects would take too much away from the feel, and never did it feel too over-the-top or gross just for the sake of it. The disturbing “images” were less overt descriptions and more psychological disturbances which are as much as, if not more so, off-putting (for some).
All in all, this is an excellent collection, and I highly recommend to anyone who likes a dark tale (especially if you are tired of the zombie hordes and over-used ghost children). If you are not turned away by potentially disturbing content and like to get your hands dirty in the mind of some pretty disturbed individuals, this book is for you. Also, if you have ever read and H.P. Lovecraft and enjoyed it, this book will make you feel right at home. The psychological turmoil of the characters is believable and David Haynes never ceases to draw you from your reading chair, placing you right into the scene with his beautifully crafted words.
Through a conversation with David Haynes it has come to my attention that he will no longer be releasing any book with DRM attacking them (yes, attacking). Most of his works are currently available DRM-free somewhere, but from now on Haynes’ works will be released DRM-free everywhere! Thanks you Mr. Haynes for joining the DRM-free movement and treating your readers with respect and courtesy.
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