The Darkly Splendid Realm
Dark Regions Press
Trade Paperback,187 pp, $16.95
Review by Mario Guslandi
After Charnel Wine (2004) and the excellent Omens (2007), Canadian author Richard Gavin returns with a new collection featuring thirteen short stories, most of whom previously unpublished.
Although somehow still awaiting the recognition he deserves as an accomplished horror writer, Gavin has the narrative strength and the imaginative power of a veteran.
The Dark Splendid Realm is an uneven medley of superb fiction and of mediocre tales, but, fortunately, the former greatly exceeds the latter.
So, in spite of a few disappointing pieces, there’s a whole lot to enjoy in Gavin’s latest collection.
If you want to get an idea of how good he can be as a writer, I suggest to read, first of all, the exceptional “Dreaming While Adrift on the River of Despair,” a beautiful tale exploring the substance of death, a door which can be opened or closed but which is the only way to explain the truth of our own existence.
And if you want to be pleasantly shocked read carefully “Getting the Stray,” an offbeat tale of sadomasochism tainting the peculiar relationship between grandmother and grandson or “The Astral Mask,” a perfect mix between private fears and cosmic horrors, imbued with a dark sense of dread.
If you want something more traditional you will certainly enjoy in the extreme the dark and powerful “Phantom Passages,” an excellent story about an old manuscript offered to a greedy antiquarian.
The fascinating “Primeval Wood” is a sort of pantheistic nightmare featuring a man plagued by the unpleasant effects of hawthorn which gradually affect both his body and his mind.
The bitter, compelling “Waterburns” depicts the life of a woman whose sad life is doomed since her childhood, after the appearance of a “monster” from the waters of a lake.
“Where the Scarab Dwells” is a grim tale where the employee of an unscrupulous building company meets with a cruel, lethal punishment.
At a time when horror often sounds as a dubious label and authors seem to be worth mentioning only if they produce novels, Richard Gavin, contrary to many of his peers, is not ashamed to be called a horror writer and to devote himself to short fiction. And he succeeds in both things.