Book Review: Lilitu: Memoirs of a Succubus by Jonathan Fortin

Review by Daphne Strassert

Content Warnings: depicts graphic violence and sex

In 2017, HorrorAddicts.net ran the Next Great Horror Writer Contest. Over the course of the season, the writers (myself included) submitted horror writing of various types and competed for the top spot and the final prize of a book contract with Crystal Lake Publishing. The winner was Jonathan Fortin and the book was Lilitu: Memoirs of a Succubus.

I have waited literal years for this book to come out. Jonathan Fortin embodies the heart and soul of what it means to be a horror writer and I’m absolutely privileged to have competed against him. Lilitu shows the countless hours of hard work that he put into crafting his story.

HorrorAddicts.net helped to find a truly gifted author and bring a wonderful work of horror out into the world.

In 1876, Unbeknownst to the masses of Victorian England, humanity is about to change forever. The immortal denizens of the Earth—the vampires, the lilitu, and the necromancers—are tired of hiding in the shadows of the night. They’ve hatched a plot to take the world for themselves.

Maraina never felt as if she belonged with her aristocratic family. She never felt pretty enough or charming enough. She was stifled by a future that held no hope for her. That changes with The Nightfall. When the demons rise to take England, Maraina faces a choice: renounce her humanity and become a succubus, or remain human and die a slave.

She is introduced to the world of demons by Salem, a powerful incubus who is fascinated by Maraina’s strength of mind. But the new society brought about by the immortals is just as cruel and evil as the one that they overthrew. Maraina may have forsaken her own humanity, but she won’t turn her back on it entirely.

Soon she finds herself at odds with Salem, as both he and the world spiral further into darkness. Maraina must find a way to save everyone from evil on all sides, in a way that only a demon can.

Though Lilitu is a long book, it never feels that while reading it. Scenes flow together seamlessly, each action leading to the next in a manner that pulls the reader along. Fortin lays the groundwork for plot twists early without giving too many clues that would reveal them. The result is a gripping story that keeps the reader engaged throughout.

The heart of the story lies with Maraina Blackwood. Maraina is a feminist icon trapped in the Victorian era. Plagued by the restrictive values and burdensome expectations of her time, Maraina is often her own worst enemy. Watching her grow to discover her potential is satisfying. She explores what true humanity means outside of mortality and damnation. Though her understanding of the world is turned on its head, she finds the core of who she really is.

Salem is a fantastic antagonist. At first, he’s sexy and alluring, his dark nature luring Maraina in. As the book progresses, the very things that made Salem appealing begin to lose their shine. Salem changes throughout the book, but it is not a fall from grace, rather a reveal as the scales fall from Maraina’s eyes. Salem becomes more purely himself in all his sinister glory. He becomes a more powerful enemy as Maraina herself comes into her own power.

In Lilitu, Fortin has created a wholly unique and fantastical world. The elements of the Nightfall perfectly highlight the injustices faced in Victorian England (and today). It’s clear that Fortin did his research. The details of Victorian society are seamless, creating the perfect backdrop for the horror elements that are introduced. The mythos of the immortal characters is thorough. Fortin hints at a much deeper world than the one that’s presented in Lilitu, making the reader hope that there will be more to come.

Fortin’s writing is deliciously gruesome. He strikes the perfect balance in his descriptions between the beautiful and horrifying. The emotions of the characters come through clearly and the horror to come creeps up slowly, giving the reader a sense of dread that can’t quite be explained.

The story is a delight to read but provides more substance than a shock-and-awe horror thriller would. Lilitu explores the nature of sexuality, war, and morality. Fortin lays bare themes about prejudice and justice that are just as timely now as they are for the characters.

In Lilitu, Jonathan Fortin has created a horror masterpiece that defies many genre expectations. He weaves together elements of social commentary, coming of age triumphs, and Lovecraftian horror with ease, packaging them neatly in a story that leaves no room to put the book down.

 

Book Review: Wild Hunt by Nancy Kilpatrick

Review by Daphne Strasert

Content Warnings: depictions of graphic violence, torture, and sex

Nancy Kilpatrick, author of the Thrones of Blood series (reviewed here at HorrorAddicts.net), brings a gripping novella set in a modern world of vampires.

Lorelei lost her vision as a child. For her, the world is composed of blurry smears. But there is more than one type of sight. Lorelei makes a living as a psychic, traveling to fairs and music festivals wherever someone may want their fortune told. One night, her fate catches up to her in the form of the mysterious vampir Vlad. Vlad needs Lorelei’s help to fulfill his destiny and save himself from the clutches of his terrible father. Though they don’t initially get along, Vlad and Lorelei eventually come to and understanding: they can’t escape their destiny any more than they can escape each other.

Wild Hunt is a fast-paced adventure. While shorter than Kilpatrick’s other works, she still manages to pack in a lot of plot, creating a fulfilling story that is hard to put down and satisfying to finish. Kilpatrick creates a good balance between character autonomy and the relentless press of fate.

Lorelei is strong-willed and tenacious. What is most interesting is that she knows she is much weaker than those she meets throughout the story. She knows that she has other advantages. She trusts in her own abilities and uses her wits to conquer.

Vlad was raised in a world where strength is the only virtue and brutality is the only means to power. As a vampir, he believed humans were useful only for food and breeding. When he meets Lorelei, a woman whose help he desperately needs and whom he cannot overpower, he must change his thinking. He realizes that he does not want to be who he was molded into.

Kilpatrick’s writing is emotional. She never shies away from uncomfortable material. She paints the world and her characters with a visceral realism that makes the story come to life.

If you like Nancy Kilpatrick’s other writing, or if you’re looking for a new author to give you your vampire fix, make sure to give Wild Hunt a read.

Book Review: Thrones of Blood #5: Anguish of the Sapiens Queen by Nancy Kilpatrick

Review by Daphne Strasert

Content Warnings: This book contains graphic depictions of violence, sex, and rape.

Anguish of the Sapiens Queen is the fifth book in the Thrones of Blood series by Nancy Kilpatrick. At this point, I would not recommend jumping into the series without reading the preceding volumes. You can see my reviews of the earlier books here:

Revenge of the Vampir King

Sacrifice of the Hybrid Princess

Abduction of Two Rulers

Savagery of the Rebel King

King Hades has a problem. Relations between the worlds of the vampir and sapiens have always been hostile, but now the existence of both teeter on the edge of oblivion. The sadistic vampir Queen Lamia has poisoned the Sapien populations with a virus that makes all men sterile. Without a cure, sapiens will die out in a generation. Without a source of food, the vampirii will follow soon after.

A compromise must be reached between the sapiens and the vampirii if they are to avert this disaster. Unfortunately, for Hades this means contending with the fierce and willful Queen Liontyne.

In Anguish of the Sapiens Queen, Kilpatrick takes a much more diverse storytelling approach than she has in previous volumes. Characters from the earlier stories still have their own story to tell. Throughout the plot, she balances the many intersecting storylines with ease, weaving them together in a way that not only keeps the reader engaged, but that also intensifies the main storyline, raising tension with the knowledge that the stakes are getting higher and higher, even if the protagonists don’t yet realize it. Kilpatrick certainly ensures that we won’t be going anywhere when the next in the series comes around.

King Hades has always prided himself on being more level headed than the other vampir rulers. Though he has been undead for centuries, he can still sympathize with the powerful emotions that rule the sapiens. Yet his immeasurable patience is put to the test when he goes up against Queen Liontyne.

Liontyne trusts no one. She sealed her heart away a long time ago, ruling through self-preservation rather than any love for her people. Though her temper has never dimmed, the light has long gone out of her life. She lives like a caged version of the fearsome cat she was named for—hopeless but ever ready to lash out.

As always, Kilpatrick’s descriptions are vivid and engaging. She handles personal interactions with ease, portraying an inventive cultural society without losing the impact of raw emotional connection. The world of Thrones of Blood continues to expand, giving us more and more to look forward to.

If you’re looking for a fast-paced adventure with plenty of romance and dark fantasy, consider the Thrones of Blood series. If you’ve enjoyed the books so far, Anguish of the Sapiens Queen certainly won’t disappoint you.

Book Review: Dark Carnival by Joanna Parypinski

Review By Daphne Strasert

I love secrets. Family secrets, small-town secrets, secrets of the universe… and I found all of those in Dark Carnival by Joanna Parypinski. If you like a good secret as much as I do, pick up a copy and enjoy.

Dark Carnival follows Dax Howard as he returns to his hometown of Conjunction, Nebraska after his father’s death. He had hoped to leave his home far behind when he went to college, but small towns have a way of pulling people back in, no matter how far they go.  The homecoming isn’t pleasant. Dax had not been close with his father—the town drunk—ever since his mother had disappeared years ago.

Returning to his hometown doesn’t just bring up unpleasant memories. Something is wrong in Conjunction, something more than drunken teen parties and the slow, creeping grip of meth addiction. Conjunction seems to be rotting from the inside.

Soon, Dax finds himself caught up in scandal, murder, and forces beyond his understanding. The travelling carnival that disappeared along with Dax’s mother comes back, and brings with it whispers of a cult responsible for missing teens in town.

Dark Carnival never lags for a moment. Parypinski creates twists in the story that are unexpected without seeming to be drawn from thin air. Elements introduced early on come back later with a satisfying payoff.

The characters feel real and believable. They tap into dark parts of American culture without coming across as contrived.

Throughout Dark Carnival, Dax struggles with bitter memories of his family and past. There is no clear answer to the difficulties he faces and there are no easy solutions to his new problems. Still, Dax faces them with determination. He does his best and wins admiration through that.

Dax is accompanied by Wyatt—the friend he left behind—and Wyatt’s sister Sarah—a teenager who has grown up too fast.

Wyatt reflects Dax’s own fears about life in Conjunction. He pushes and pulls at Dax’s resolve, testing his true convictions and bringing into question whether Dax has what it takes to solve the mysteries in his own life.

Sarah stands strong as a powerful female presence in the story. Her loyalty and fierce determination provide strength for Dax when he otherwise would give up.

All the while, the single-minded and vengeful Sheriff Anderson provides a backbone of unease throughout the story. His relentless pursuit of Dax creates an immediate sense of danger, even as a greater threat looms over Conjunction.

In her portrayal of Conjunction, Nebraska Parypinski paints a haunting picture of the Midwest. Dark Carnival leans heavily on American Gothic themes. It takes an unflinching look at what really plagues small towns in America. Conjunction feels as real as any place, even with the supernatural hiding in the unexplored forests and fields.

Parypinski is an incredible writer. She provides stunning imagery that brings the setting to life. She creates tension seamlessly within the scenes. She even tackles more difficult subjects (such as delusions, drug use, and violence) in ways that are accessible and believable. She creates an air of mystery and provides just enough explanation to elicit terror.

Dark Carnival suits fans of cosmic horror like H.P. Lovecraft or American gothic literature like Her Dark Inheritance (reviewed here on HorrorAddicts.net). If you enjoy small towns with dark pasts, terror-laced walks through the woods, and family tragedy, you should read Dark Carnival.

Book Review: The Collected Nightmares by Fred Wiehe

The Collected Nightmares by Fred Wiehe

Content Warnings: The Collected Nightmares contains graphic depictions of sex, violence, and rape.

The Collected Nightmares is a selection of poetry, short stories, and novellas by Fred Wiehe that showcases his breadth as a writer.

Wiehe takes an honest look at what we really fear lurks under the bed or in the closet (or in our own mind). He doesn’t shy from addressing deep demons like suicide and madness. Many of Wiehe’s works included novel creations of monsters and myths. His vague and terrifying interpretations of our darkest fears feel far from cliché. None of his characters are guaranteed a happy ending (or an ending at all). In many ways, it’s more satisfying to see Wiehe embrace the uncertainty of the real world in his fiction.

Wiehe has a particular skill with shorter fiction and some of my favorite pieces were his shortest stories (including “A Whistle and a Tap Tap Tap” and “Shoot Me”). While the style and themes of his stories vary, they all include a flair for the unexpected. Twist endings are nothing new in horror, but Wiehe’s hold that element of the truly shocking that make them stand out.

The two longer pieces in the collection—“Under the Protection of Witches” and “Resurrected”—deserved their prominent placement in the book. They were action-packed and complex with fully formed plots and characters. “Under the Protection of Witches” was adapted from a screenplay and I would certainly love to see it as a movie in the future. “Resurrected” fits into a larger series of novels about immortal legend Aleric Bimbai. Wiehe set the stage for a larger world while still offering an accessible taste in short form. “Resurrected” could very well be a stand-alone novel and I hope the other works in the series give the characters ample space for growth.

Overall, I enjoyed the collection and recommend it for fans of horror (particularly with a leaning toward action). The Collected Nightmares is a comprehensive sampler of Wiehe’s writing and a good read for horror addicts looking for a new favorite author.

Chilling Chat: Four Quick Questions with Zoe and Miyuki

chillingchat

Zoe Darazsdi is a writer, dog mom, podcast host, and funny bitch. She hails from the horrendous swamplands of Northeast PA, where she learned to defy cultural norms and Zoe and Miyuki 2squash deer ticks. Currently, she applies the first of those skills for Weird Kids Wanted, the podcast she co-founded with her friend and roommate, Miyuki Okamura.

Miyuki Okamura is a speculative fiction writer and pop music scholar. She is the owner of a cat who has more white privilege than she does. She is excited to co-host this podcast and maybe start a cult.

Weird Kids Wanted, is a literary and social criticism podcast for alternative individuals who are tired of their cultural experiences being curated by normies for normies. Their podcast and blog disrupt the status quo of commercialized shit lit and provide a community for weird kids to flourish. Part bitchy book gossip, part poignant social criticism, part anti-capitalist bookseller reviews, they are reviving reading for everyone who the mainstream publishing industry- and the world- has left out.

1.) What is your favorite horror novel or story?

Miyuki’s favorite is Among the Missing by Dan Chaon, which is technically a short story collection and not a novel. Zoe’s is Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane. Both books are eerie and evocative of that most primal feeling of being unsettled.

2.) What do you look for when reviewing a book?

Zoe: When I review a book, I look for something that is both extremely well-written and in conversation with the world around it. I love writers who are brave with language and subject matter, who are not afraid to be odd, irreverent, and deeply original.

Miyuki: Similarly, I look for something that I feel needs to be contributed to literature, whether I agree with it or not. If I don’t agree, however, it’s more like a warning than a review.

3.) What do you wish you could see in a book that you never see?

Werid+Kids+WantedZoe: I wish I could see more books that respectfully represent our community–the alt kids, goths, and general weirdos of the world. It is difficult to find three-dimensional characters like that, who are not just archetypes or side-kicks.

Miyuki: I can see this changing as conversations around LGBT+ communities progress, but gosh I’d love to see more asexuals in literature. Generally, I think it’s time we see more LBGT+ identities represented in literature. How are people supposed to know who they are if they don’t see examples of themselves?

4.) Do you prefer character-driven novels? Or plot-driven novels?

Zoe: I prefer character-driven novels. When I am connected to what a character wants and feels, reading about them just walking down the street can be riveting.

Miyuki: I also prefer character-driven novels. People will always be more interesting than situations, in my opinion.

Book Review: Predators by Michaelbrent Collings

This is the first book I’ve read, by Collings, and if it’s any indication of his talent and skill as a storyteller, I’m definitely coming back for more.  Predators grabbed my attention from the opening scene and kept me hooked until the climax.

Collings’ story is peopled with an incredible cast of well-rounded and believable men and women.  I feel and sympathize with Evie Childs terrified, broken and shamed specter of a woman.  Craig Jensen’s pain is evident in his eyes and voice.  Bill Childs and Barney Eberhardt are vile, despicable men, yet still human and believable.  I’ve met some like them in my own life, and Collings’ portrayal of them is spot on.  There are several other characters, good and bad, that leap off the page, each of them compelling in their own way.  My favorite of them all, though, is Grams Jensen.Predators by [Collings, Michaelbrent]

Grams is one hell of a tough, old broad; good-natured and friendly, yes, but all too willing and ready to flip you the finger and deliver a snappy comeback to a cheeky comment tossed her way.  I loved her from the get-go; she reminded me strongly of my own great-grandmother, a ninety-year-old Irish force of nature who I had the fortune of knowing in my childhood.  And that’s the mark of a true storyteller: characters you love or hate because they remind you so strongly of family and friends and enemies you know in real life.  Fictional men and women who make you laugh and cry, move you to tears and also spark anger in your soul because you know them.  You’ve seen them, met them, fought with them, loved them, hated them, mourned their loss and spit on their graves when they died.  Love them or hate them, they are real and powerful and reading about them stirs your very soul.

Now take those characters, throw them into the African wilderness, and put them all into a fight for their very survival.  Collings does this with the skill and pacing of a master storyteller.  He gets you to care about his characters; he gets you invested in them, and when he hits you with the knowledge, as they head out from their safari camp into the wilds of Africa, that the first of them will die in four hours, you find yourself fervently hoping that it won’t be Grams or Evie or Gunnar Helix or any of the other characters with whom you feel a connection.  You hope it will be Bill or Barney or one of the other more despicable people on the tour, but you know, you know in the depths of your soul, that when death comes, it will prey on good and evil alike.  And that knowledge keeps you turning the pages in feverish anticipation of what’s coming next.

Another element of the novel I greatly enjoyed was the mythic, folkloric feel of the tale.  It begins with a tale of a traditional hunt, the men of a tribe engaging in a ritual hunting of lions that quickly turns savagely tragic for the hunters.  The story then flows into what feels like a fairy tale, complete with the obligatory “once upon a time.”  Evie Childs, one of the main characters, further takes us down this path.  She is a writer, or at least used to be, and looks at the world around her and the people she encounters as characters in a grand story.  Evie assigns roles to the various people she meets while on safari in Africa; this one is a princess, that one is a demon “summoned from the Nether Kingdoms for a nefarious purpose.”  Evie’s story, and the way she sees those around her add another dimension to an already epic tale.

Predators, hands down, is one of the best books I’ve read in the last few years.  It’s going on my permanent bookshelf.  This is a tale I’ll be revisiting.