“A fearless writer who doesn’t just turn the intensity knob up, he rips the damn thing off the control board.”
A renowned cellist who devours souls. A young couple building a life away from the daily grind discover themselves lost in unforgiving nature, lost in time. A shy young man in love, forever building the courage to alter his destiny over and over again. Another man discovers his paranoid nightmares have come true in ways he couldn’t begin to imagine. Secrets buried deep underground cultivate change and love on the surface. Occasionally, a new writer rises to the top of the class, overshadowing their peers with a flair and style all their own. Fearless, confident, unwilling to compromise, they combine talent with believable characters and exhibit the very best of a genre instantly. Michael Griffin in one such writer, and his collection The Lure of Devouring Light is the epitome of what Weird Fiction can, and should, do; ask as many questions as it answers about our world, our universe, and how it all relates to us, and be massively entertaining in the process.
Griffin works in a sub-genre of Weird Fiction classified as Quiet Horror. That title is, unfortunately, the worst descriptor for the genre, because the horrors on the page are not very quiet at all. This style of horror deals with the power of suggestion, and the stories tend to be a little more cerebral while remaining completely accessible. Here we find mood and atmosphere setting the stage, using suggestion to depict the extreme gore we often find in horror. Why describe every detail of a grisly scene when the author can simply suggest imagery that allows your imagination to splash the canvas? When done properly, the effect is stunning, and very personal for the reader. Combine that style with Griffin’s superb characterization and unstable realities, and you have a fearless writer who doesn’t just turn the intensity knob up, he rips the damn thing off the control board.
The title story, ‘The Lure of Devouring Light’, immediately brings to mind the late Tanith Lee, conjuring strong imagery and compelling characters amid a scandalous cellist and a young protégé who worked to bring him to her university. Once the cellist misses a lecture, and news of the wreckage he left behind in his home land floods the media, the university begins to panic, fearing a no-show for their much hyped performance. Now that Mészáros has made his intentions clear to Lia, she is forced to confront him on his terms, allowing the predator to take her down when she’s most vulnerable. Griffin makes the world of modern classical music completely understandable here, never straying into details that could derail the story. The narrative here is visceral yet lyrical. Carefully deconstructing tropes while steadily moving the story forward, there’s never any doubt exactly what is going on, and Griffin delivers on those expectations without force-feeding the obvious.
‘Far From Streets’ features a young couple, Dane and Carolyn, as they struggle to build a life away from the hub-bub of the big city. Dane is worked to the bone, and desperately feels living off the grid is just the change they need to get back to living on their own terms. Carolyn is slow to warm to the idea, too attached to her mundane life to take any chances. Once they build their cabin in the woods and begin to spend more time there, they find returning home more difficult. Strange noises and footprints in the mud around their new home suggest they are not as alone as they first believed. Soon, they begin to lose their selves to nature’s power, and begin to shed their former lives. As time collapses, they find that there is no return to the city once nature has staked its claim.
The novelette ‘The Black Vein Runs Deep’ closes out the collection and encapsulates Griffin’s style perfectly, and allows him the breathing room he needs to flesh out his characters. We take an instant attraction to the main character Colm, an experienced hiker and cave dweller, on location with his new boss, Adison Kye, who aims to develop the landscape of a deserted mining town into something profitable for everyone in the surrounding area. Griffin sprinkles just enough aspects about hiking and climbing as needed, taking his time with the story without ever bogging the reader down with trivial details. As Colm and Adi begin to fall for one another, they discover that not everyone in the area is on board with her project, and some secrets are worth more than any land deal. They discover their selves, and each other, just as they realize their own eminent fate.
A common theme in these eleven stories and novelettes is change, more specifically transformation. We get to know these characters personally, and as we care about them, the changes they go through emotionally, spiritually, and sometimes physically, are felt even more deeply because we see ourselves in them. Griffin knows exactly how to cast that light into the mirror, revealing our own lives, and he also knows what our real fears are. His unstable realities allow the characters to change, or at the very least, yearn to change, the desire to control their fate the method to their madness. Try as we might, we are ultimately attracted to the darkness of the universe, and how we deal with such temptation determines how we will let the unforgiving universe shape and mold us to inevitable demise.
Michael Griffin’s The Lure of Devouring Light is one of those rare first story collections that defines both the writer and the genre, with stories that linger long after the last page is turned. In a year already full of amazing collections from established as well as new writers, we feel this is one collection that will remain one of your favorites for years to come.
Publisher: Word Horde
Paperback (336 pp)
Release Date: 30 April 2016
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