Launching next month The Roots Grow Into The Earth was a delightful read. It’s the premiere novel by horror author Bert S. Lechner. And after reading it, I hope it’s not his last.
The Roots Grow Into The Earth is a collection of nine short stories and novellas, including three previously published stories. The tales are all part of one larger story. A story of darkness, and madness. A story of a creature released that should never have been. That begins then to sink its roots into the Earth and infect innocent people far and wide.
One such example is The Wall. This is the story of a man named Sam and his wife Nat. They have a lovely normal life full of morning coffee and weekend pizza nights. Until Sam notices something on the wall of their home. While it appears to be nothing, a vision starts taking shape. With Sam’s help.
Another story that really moved me was The Orchestra.
Let me first stay that this was not a particularly fleshed out story. We do not see The Conductor before she’s infected. We don’t see the fallout. No real picture is painted for us, it’s more like a sketch.
In the case of The Orchestra, though, this is exactly the right choice. We don’t need to see the whole picture in gruesome technicolor to get what’s happening in this ill fated concert. We understand perhaps too well what’s occurring. And I thought that was brilliant.
I just want to start by gushing over this storytelling style. Short story collections always have a soft spot in my heart. In the case of The Roots Grow, all of the short stories come together to create one truly dark tale.
I also loved the clear Lovecraftian influence of this story. It’s clear that this was something that the author was going for, from interviews and social media comments. But I could tell before I saw any of that.
The story in The Roots Grow is one of madness. But more than that, it’s one of madness and destruction that the victims could not have avoided. There was no being clever enough to avoid these dark roots that touched them. There was no being strong enough, or selfless and good enough. If the roots reach out and touch you, you’ve already lost.
Finally, I want to extend some praise to my favorite character, Joanne. She is dealing with her own madness, her own demons. But she still finds kindness and strength to help others when they need her. Even against some truly dark odds.
What didn’t work
All that being said, I will say that some of the short stories felt incomplete. One prime example is What Lies In The Icy Soil. This appears to be nothing more than the tale of a person possessed by the need to dig. He digs up something that for sure shouldn’t be dug up. But there’s nothing more to the story. We don’t know who this person is. We don’t know who might be missing him, or what might come of this thing he dug up. As a part of the whole story, it fits. But if we are to consider every tale by its own merit, this one doesn’t have much of anything going for it.
That being said, this is one story in a round ten that wasn’t much of anything. The rest of the stories were wonderfully eerie, both on their own and as part of a whole.
The Roots Grow Into The Earth comes out on October 7th. And I think it would be a perfect addition to your Halloween reading list. (4 / 5)
Strange Eons Review: Cornfields and Eldritch Gods
“The elder gods arrived in the sky in early September, like an unholy aurora borealis stretching across a midnight sky. Their vastness blocked the sun, an unending eclipse, a liminal state, a breath that was inhaled but never let go. Lovecraft got it wrong, I think. It was not the sight of the gods that made humanity go mad. It’s what they destroy that hurts us. Somehow, these elder gods, these aliens, had killed time itself.” – Strange Eons by Keria Perkins
Strange Eons is a short story published in Bourbon Penn Issue 30 by Keira Perkins. Perkins, is an Indiana writer of short fiction and poetry that has also appeared in Non-Stalgia and The Heartland Society of Women Writers. Bourbon Penn is an online and print journal that specializes in speculative, odd, and surreal fiction. All issues are available to be read online for free or can be purchased as a paperback from Bookshop.org.
Strange Eons follows a young woman struggling to adjust to a life post-Lovecraftian apocalypse. This is a cozy story, the majority of which takes place as the woman lays in a cornfield and hides from well-meaning but unhelpful family members. While cozy, the piece is ominous, tackling the terror associated with pregnancy. Specifically, the terror that comes from living in a Red State and finding a significant lack of resources or options.
As a Hoosier capable of becoming pregnant, Strange Eons resonated with me. The imagery of cornfields and cicadas were very Indiana. However, so is a young woman covertly asking her sister to drive her to Illinois to receive healthcare. I loved how Perkins merged cosmic horror with the horror of receiving reproductive healthcare in Indiana but also the United States as a whole. All that was missing were predatory billboards advertising fake pregnancy centers! Talk about maddening and terrifying! Throughout the short story, the most horrific part of the young woman’s ordeal is not the eldritch gods appearing but her rather typical, hellish circumstances.
Aside from content, Strange Eons is well-written. It keeps you guessing where the story will go next. If you like a non-tropey cozy take on Lovecraftian horror or have struggled to receive reproductive healthcare, I highly recommend checking out Strange Eons! You can also check out the other stories in this issue of Bourbon Penn here. Or you can see what else Perkins is up to on her website.(5 / 5)
Walking Practice – A Book Review
Walking Practice is Dolki Min’s debut novella about an alien named Mumu, who must learn what it is like to perform as a human. Victoria Caudle, the translator of this unique Korean story, experiments with the English language to properly convey Min’s style. This, complimented with Min’s various drawings of the story’s protagonist, creates a poetic, outlandish reading experience that keeps you hooked from beginning to end.
Walking Practice: Never Enough Practice
After the destruction of their home planet, Mumu crash lands their spaceship in a desolate forest far from human life. They survive by having sex with humans then, with graphic violence and great diligence, eats them.
Mumu has a strict schedule and regimen for this process; they must shapeshift their body to the specific gender and personality their date is attracted to. While this process of gender conformation is a difficult one (as the alien will often tell us), it is nowhere near as hard as the ridiculous habit humans have of walking on two legs. This is one of the many obstacles Mumu must struggle with while playing the game of life.
Mumu is a rich, self-aware character who seems to trust only one human: the reader. They address us directly, asking questions and indulging us with their theories on what it is to live on Earth. They are knowledgeable about the complexities of personhood, and aware that a person’s gender and sex are complex and not one-size-fits-all. After years of experience in multiple genders, the alien theorizes that humans are treated as people as soon as they have a sex and gender assigned to them. However, depending on the sex and gender, that treatment is never equal.
While Mumu performs various genders and personalities to match the sexual desires of their future prey, they do not identify as human. At the end of the day, they go home, stock their human leftovers in the fridge and freezer, and unleash their natural form. Their only priority is their own survival and pleasure (which, arguably, is their most humanlike quality).
“I’ve learned that my face arouses homicidal impulses”
Walking Practice uses horror, science fiction and satire to create a passionate queer narrative. While Mumu is a serial killer who prides themselves on their murderous skills, it is hard not to feel for them when karma strikes back and they are hurt. The poetic elements of Min’s story and Caudle’s translation support our empathy for such a vicious character
Min’s artwork, depicting Mumu’s alien forms, complements Caudle’s stylistic choices. There is enjambment in several paragraphs, (which can be interpreted as the alien either having a flair for the dramatic or genuinely pausing to find the right words), thus enhancing their internal dialogue. There are moments when the Mumu’s stream of consciousness confuses reality from imagination. They will also lose all learned human skills and revert to their mother tongue; words either run together or are spaced apart, and sometimes there are unintelligible symbols. At the surface, it looks like a linguistic nightmare. Once immersed in Mumu’s narrative, it is a work of art.
Walking Practice‘s balance of ambiguity and transparency keeps the reader close while also allowing an array of interpretations. It is an eccentric piece of fiction that plays with the literary status quo, resulting in an entertaining affair with an unforgettable alien. (5 / 5)
Fairy Tales From the Underworld Part I: A Bedtime Story (Beauty Meets the Beast) by L.C. Moon – A Dark Romance Review
Not a Bedtime Story
When the request to review a dark romance fairy tale erotica novel came up in our Discord server, I’ll admit I was hesitant. It’s certainly not the type of reading I usually do and I didn’t know how I would review something so out of my wheelhouse.
This was my crucial mistake going into Part I of the Fairy Tales from the Underworld trilogy: A Bedtime Story (Beauty Meets the Beast) by L.C. Moon. I expected a quick smutty read – and what I got instead was an emotionally charged horror story.
I do not know much about the tropes used in erotic fiction but giving it my best go I would classify this novel as dark Mafia / captor/captive. This, of course, means reader discretion must be used going into it. There are graphic depictions of violence and heavy themes of abuse, drug use, human trafficking and trauma throughout. It is intended for an 18+ audience.
The story starts with Laura Spencer, a 23-year-old woman who mostly keeps to herself, going out to a bar for a rare night of fun. When her friend ditches her, she reluctantly accepts a ride home from an attractive man named Kayne Malkin. You read that wrong. It’s pronounced “cane.”
Unbeknownst to Laura, Kayne has been sent to collect her on behalf of the seedy criminal organization her brother Peter betrayed. She knew her brother was in hiding but she never believed the danger was real. After an intense interrogation, Kayne steps in and takes Laura to his home as assurance until they find her brother.
What follows is not a whirlwind romance where the beauty tames the beast and they live happily ever after. (Although there is a stunning library within Kayne’s palatial home.) Laura and Kayne are both creations of their environments and incredibly traumatized people. Neither knows how to love themselves, let alone each other.
In case you are concerned, Moon clearly draws a line with rape. It blurs at times as a necessity of the captor/captive trope, but it is repeated throughout that Kayne’s sexual proclivities require the consent of his partners for his enjoyment. Those unfamiliar with BDSM and its practices may find some of the concepts difficult to grasp.
As the story unfolds, readers learn more about Laura’s past and how it influences her current life. Peter served as a lifeline to Laura throughout their childhood, and she grapples with the reality of being in danger because of him. As she’s thrust into the criminal underworld, she is revolted by everything she sees – but her survival depends upon her acceptance. Her decision making is baffling and frustrating, which is exactly what you’d expect from someone in her circumstances.
Kayne’s motivations towards Laura shift throughout the novel. He struggles to reconcile the predator/protector role he’s placed himself into with her. While readers may be screaming “You love her, stupid!” Kayne legitimately does not have the emotional intelligence to understand that about himself. These character’s flaws and their current circumstance lead to a toxic horror-show of a dark romance without a happy ending.
What I Liked
Moon’s writing is captivating and emotionally evocative, leading me to finish the novel across two readings. I found myself wrapped up in the believable world she crafted and wanting more of it. I even cried during the portions of Laura’s darkest moments because they felt so real and understandable.
Moon also displays a thorough understanding of BDSM dynamics and does her best to help her audience (through Laura) also gain some of that knowledge. The sex scenes themselves are well written and do not overpower the overall story.
While Moon utilizes tropes throughout, as to be expected, she does not seem to rely upon them. The dark romance feels real and organic, largely due to her not shying away from truths of the genre. Instead of allowing Laura to roll over and take it, there is a genuine examination of her psyche and the damage the experience is causing.
What I Didn’t Like
At times the formatting of the story feels slightly clunky. There are multiple perspective changes throughout the book. Normally this is fine by me, but in this instance there are characters whose perspective is only explored once or twice purely for narrative purposes. This led to some confusion on my end as I was never quite sure if a character was important to the plot or simply important to moving the plot.
Overall, I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who is a fan of dark romance / Mafia / captor/captive erotica. For those unfamiliar with the genre – it is more difficult for me to say if you will like it. I do not consider myself a fan of the genre, but still found myself deeply enjoying this book. As soon as I finished, I immediately sent a plea out for an ARC of the sequel.
My rating:(4.2 / 5)
Fairy Tales From the Underworld Part I: A Bedtime Story (Beauty Meets the Beast) By L.C. Moon was originally released in 2014. A new version will be available in late September on all formats. It features an original soundtrack composed by Lana Chacra which can be streamed on YouTube, Spotify, and purchased on iTunes. More information about the author, the novel, and future releases can be found on the trilogy’s website.