The Crimson Pact Volumes I and II
Ed. Paul Genesse
Alliteration Ink, $4.99 each (Kindle)
Review by Darkeva
The Crimson Pact, an anthology that has (so far) produced two volumes with a planned third, started as a round robin where submitting writers continued the core concept in the first story of the collection, “The First Crusade.” Each story changes the meaning of what a crimson pact is. In one case, it binds a demon to a cell. In another, the Pact represents people who have fought demons for centuries. Every story puts its own spin on the concept, and the tales run the gamut from historical to modern with varying influences.
“The Failed Crusade” starts us off by introducing a group of warriors who have made a pact with demons to prevent their entry into our realm. The main character and his allies capture and torture a demon into telling them how to access the gateway between the two worlds. A fitting conclusion ensues.
“Solitary Life” by Donald Bingle continues the historical bent with the writing as a Victorian, epistolary style. The protagonist recounts in a diary looking for a prisoner who has a creature in the cell with him. The crimson pact in this tale is blood that seals the monster and prevents it from escaping. But as the warden learns after his encounter with the prisoner, some curses are best left undiscovered.
“Inside Monastic Walls” by Chante McCoy explores the lives of Greek monks who encounter murder most foul with a surprise ending. In the second volume of The Crimson Pact,, “Body or Soul” resumes the protagonist’s quest to save himself from the demons inside him-literally.
As a side note, those who enjoy supernatural monk stories with demons have their fair share to choose from in both volumes.
“Brother’s Keeper” by Lester Smith is a new twist on the Cain and Abel myth about a farmer looking for his brother. The demon Asteroth gets mixed up, and well, you can imagine the rest.
A Brotherhood of monks with enhanced supernatural abilities gets the spotlight in “To Duty Sworn” by Jess Hartley in which the protagonist, a female admitted to the prestigious Brotherhood, gets a scroll with a crimson seal. Although I found the concept cool, the pacing lagged a bit and the narrative went a bit too much into a biographical summary of the main character’s past. She must kill someone of high rank, which, of course interferes with her ties to the Church and to God, but it makes for an interesting tale.
My favorite story of the anthology was “Hidden Collection” by Sarah Kanning, about a research library student whose research advisor is hiding something, but when revealed, it leads to good things. As with most of these types of stories involving libraries, an evil or possessed book tries to influence its owner. The Crimson Pact in this tale is a group of witches who fight evil, and it left me wanting more, which the continuation found in Volume 2 of The Crimson Pact satisfied.
“Dark Archive” continues Danielle’s story when she meets another Pact member, Ambrose, who wants the book from the first story. The poet, Rilke, may have been writing more than emo poems. Rilke’s book is a first draft that may be an instruction manual to summon angels who can kill demons. The angels Rilke wrote about are real, and Danielle soon finds herself about to start a celestial war.
CSI fans who like a dash of the supernatural should check out “Monsters Under the Bed” by Patrick S. Tomlinson. Similarly, “Still Life” by Steven Diamond, featured in Volume 2, is another supernatural police procedural type about a guy nicknamed Lazarus, because he has come back from the dead twice. He’s after the Photographer, who abducted his child, Aaron. “Son of Fire, Son of Thunder”, also in the second volume, and this time with some help from Larry Correia, reveals Lazarus’ history as he goes on searching for his son.
Although the first story from Gloria Weber, “Crimson Mail”, felt more like flash fiction and barely had time to introduce a Crimson Pact member, Veronica, who finds her boyfriend, Matt (also a Pact member) at the end, the second tale in Volume 2 of The Crimson Pact, has her trying to help Matt recover from his life-threatening injuries and laid things out in a clearer way.
Admirers of Jim Butcher’s popular crime-fighting wizard, Harry Dresden, will want to peek at “Chicago’s Finest” by T.S. Rhodes, which deals with a cop protagonist who has to interview a demon hunter. She has to go to her kid’s school play afterwards, but that turns out to be the least of her worries when a demon shows up.
My second favorite story was “Frankie’s Girl” by Kelly Swallis, which reads like a supernatural version of Goodfellas. The main character, a mob boss’ mistress, is told to join her main squeeze, Frankie, at his club. Suffice it to say she finds a lot more than she bargained for when she barges into his office, and let’s just say there’s a reason she’s not allowed in there.
If you thought Night at the Museum was a fun family film, you might want to skip “Shell of a Man” by Daniel Myers, which sees a woman who suspects her husband of cheating enlist a detective’s aid to help her find out what he’s up to at the museum where he works. What they discover is a lot more than either of them bargained for.
“An Ideal Vessel” by Sarah Hans takes things from a demon’s perspective. It’s hard out there for a demon. Kids and animals can push them out, and possessing corpses is less than ideal. But artificial life forms are undiscovered territory. A female robot, Elspeth, learns this the hard way. In the second story, “A More Ideal Vessel” Elspeth has an operation to get rid of the demon inside, but as the old saying goes, if something seems too good to be true, it probably is.
If you wished that Cowboys vs. Aliens had demons, you might enjoy “Bull King” by Larry Correia, which is more like cowboys versus the undead. In the same vein, another tale from Volume 2, “The Wayward Brother” by Elaine Blose reminded me of Dungeons and Dragons set in the Wild West.
Finishing off the first volume is “Of the Speaking of Stars” by Chris Reasson, a folk tale in the epic fantasy vein, evoking shades of Sara Douglass. The stars are dying and it’s because a strange being is consuming them; definitely an interesting tale.
The second volume features new stories that aren’t continuations of those in Volume 1. “History of the Flesh” by Adam Israel is one such offering. Histomancy, a variation on psychometry (finding out the history of people or objects by touching them) involves the divination of history and has interesting consequences here.
For the more urban fantasy inclined, “Karma” by D. Robert Hamm follows a woman, Karma, who fights the things that go bump in the night but finds love with a fellow warrior along the way. “The Demon’s Tomb” by Elizabeth Shack proves that what lurks beneath a cemetery can never be good while “Last Rites In the Big Green Empty” by Lon Prater is like The Exorcist meets Patton.
“Hunters Incorporated” by Kelly Swallis marked another highlight for me. It’s a supernatural version of what “Inglorious Basters” might look like if it focused on Diane Kruger’s character. Anna had to find a Mr. Smith, but the CP beat her to it. On top of that, she’s pregnant and afraid to tell the father, a co-worker she screws around with. Her boss also happens to be a demon running a Nazi training camp. The story does have an optimistic ending, though.
Another highlight is “The Inventor” by KE McGee, about a crone who asks the protagonist to make her a mirror. But he knows she’s a demon. Read the author’s note for his hilarious but relatable inspiration for the story.
Overall, both volumes have interesting offerings, although I liked the first one a bit better. However, I’m a huge demon fan with certain expectations. Hardcore demon fans expecting something new and fresh should look elsewhere, as this anthology, while it features its fair share of the hellish beasts, delivers interesting stories but sticks fairly close to the traditional representations of demons in fantasy and horror fiction. Still, The Crimson Pact Volumes 1 and 2 are well worth checking out as the writers, most of them starting out in the field, have compelling tales to share.