Shards of Shattered Darkness
Mark N. Drake
Aethos Publishing (January 18, 2023)
Reviewed by Andrew Byers
Over the last few years, I’ve gotten to know Mark N. Drake’s work through his series of novels and short stories set on the fictional Darkisle, a foreboding place inhabited by Lovecraftian horrors and cultists. Those have been a lot of fun, but I was delighted to see Drake branch out a bit and showcase his talents as a writer of some other types of fiction. Shards of Shattered Darkness is Drake’s new, wide-ranging collection that contains everything from flash fiction to novellas, encompassing crime fiction (with supernatural elements), horror, and science fiction. As far as I can tell, this is Drake’s complete short fiction output to date, which includes the novelette “The Grey Berserker” (reviewed here) and the three short stories included in his previous introductory collection Hobb’s Top and Other Horrors (reviewed here). Because I’ve already reviewed those stories, I’ll focus my attention on some of the stories that were new to me.
I would essentially divide the stories in this collection into two types: subtle horrors and overt horrors. Drake is a strong writer who excels at both types of stories, but they are very different types of stories that impact the reader in dissimilar ways, so I think it’s worth grouping them here for the purposes of a brief review.
In terms of some of Drake’s more subtle horrors, I’d note a couple stories that begin like straightforward crime stories but rapidly shift and take on new forms when it becomes inescapably apparent that something supernatural is going on. The best examples of this are “Broom Grove” and “Memento.” In “Broom Grove,” Alicia is a lawyer called in to deal with Johnny, who I’d describe as a hyperviolent gang leader. Johnny speaks in a decidedly strange manner that doesn’t actually indicate that he’s mentally ill, as the authorities surmise, but that something far creepier is going on. In “Memento,” Natasha is a police woman with a troubled, violent past who is called in to respond to a school shooting. It’s a good story, and avoids being a tragic but run-of-the-mill crime drama with the inclusion of a very nice supernatural element. Drake does a very good job with historical fiction, and “Bleaklow” is a great example of this. Here we have a couple pilots in WWII forced to crashland in a remote, foggy, and bleak area. A very nice twist ending on this one. Lastly, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention “Go Right to the White Rose,” which was one of the most affecting stories in the collection. This is the story of an elderly widower at the end of his life who has set up a large forested area near his home as a national trust. Very poignant and just a little scary.
In terms of more overt horrors, there are plenty included in the collection. “Vane Harbour” is one such story. Here we have Mia, an oceanographer investigating a company that she believes has been dumping toxic waste at sea, who travels to a remote, mostly depopulated harbor where she unfortunately finds out that this is true. And worse, the toxic waste has mutated the local kelp to become extraordinarily predatory. A fun and unexpected monster story. As a big fan of The Thing, I was delighted to read Drake’s “Meme.” This is a novel take on another polar expedition that encounters something long-buried in the ice. Not a physical threat but…something else. A very nice twist on a classic concept.
In the overt horror camp, I’d also have to include “Beyond the Night’s Dark Veil,” which is Drake’s only new and previously unpublished Darkisle story included in the collection. In the mid-1920s, four university students interested in expanding their minds and just having a good time have ventured to Darkisle for a relaxing holiday. They inadvertently enter Lovecraft’s Dreamlands and do indeed expand their perceptions and knowledge of the universe and how it really operates. They also bite off way more than they can chew. I liked this one especially because it demonstrates the menace that the Dreamlands pose to the unwary. Really nice one, and glad to see Drake return to his Darkisle setting.
The collection closes with a nice long set of author’s notes about each of the stories and how they came to be, which I always appreciate.
If you’re interested in a nice eclectic set of horror stories, including Drake’s very interesting take on the Cthulhu Mythos, check out this Shards of Shattered Darkness.