“One of the brightest young stars in the firmament of dark speculative fiction, Daniel Braum is among the best short story writers we’ve encountered.”
A relative newcomer to the realm of dark speculative fiction, Daniel Braum has published stories in various publications, including the very prestigious Cemetery Dance Magazine and Savage Beasts, the music themed horror anthology from Grey Matter Press. This information becomes more interesting once you know that The Night Marchers, Braum’s first single author collection, has recently been published in electronic form by Cemetery Dance Publications and in paperback by Grey Matter Press.
When Braum talks about his work, he describes it as horror that’s out there on the fringes, and when talking about The Night Marchers in particular, he’s made the statement that he’s unsure how people will react to it. While we can’t speak for all people, we can say that it works for us and it does so on a multitude of levels. It’s true that, as he describes it, the stories in The Night Marchers are out there on the fringes of horror. In fact, you could say that “horror” is maybe too vague of a categorization to properly convey the essence of Braum’s stories, which are really a conglomeration of magical realism, mysticism, horror, and “strange” fiction sort of in the vein of Robert Aickman, but never approaching pastiche.
When you start reading The Night Marchers, it’s readily apparent that you’ve discovered something special, possibly even transcendent. The stories are sometimes sad, always haunting, and written with a style that is extremely accessible and easy to read, yet never simplistic, presenting you with layers of complexity, multi-dimensional themes, and some of the most memorable character voices you’re likely to encounter in a collection of short stories, as in the opening story, ‘The Music of the Spheres’, a haunting tale of music, friendship, and loss:
“The song was a year long and had been playing for months when I stumbled into the room. Sometimes I imagine I’m still there, my hands chasing the Shepherd’s up and down the keys. On late August afternoons, especially when the cicadas are singing, I think I’ll never drive the spiraling refrains of his song from my mind… “
That poetic and captivating narrative is exemplary of the entire book. Braum is a practiced master of description and mood-setting dialogue and imagery, his prose poetic, enchanting, and mesmerizing, drawing you through the narrative with all the prowess of a virtuoso conductor as he introduces his various players in the form of perfectly broken characters and beautifully strange, emotionally charged tales.
The reference to music in the above paragraph is by no means frivolous. It’s a common theme throughout the collection and one that Braum is obviously passionate about, as demonstrated by his knowledge of language and terminology and an authoritative tone. It’s there in that first story, and again in ‘The Ghost Dance’, though in that case it’s a secondary theme. The primary theme there is a demonstration of Daniel’s unflinching willingness to take on sensitive issues, drawing our attention to white oppression and the slaughter of America’s indigenous peoples in the process of settling the United States:
“At Wounded Knee, hundreds were slaughtered by American soldiers when they refused to stop dancing the Ghost Dance. The dance itself would not bring back the buffalo and herald the downfall of the invaders, like they claimed, neither then nor now. So why the Bureau-wide alert? Why all the fear?”
He takes on subjects like this all through the collection, doing so in a way that adds dimension and flavor to his stories without ever becoming judgmental or preachy. ‘The Ghost Dance’ is a perfect example of the multi-dimensional themes mentioned above, and also an example of the dedication to research that is apparent throughout the book, particularly in that story and in the titular story, ‘The Night Marchers’.
The title story and the aforementioned ‘The Ghost Dance’ are also strong examples of few other common threads, one of those being a deep and thoughtful mysticism and the other being ancestral pride. ‘The Night Marchers’ is another hard look at whites oppressing people of color and exploiting their lands and their heritage, telling us the story of the theft of Hawaiian artifacts and the desecration of sacred spaces that Americans have been prone to throughout their evolution. It’s the story of a Hawaiian priest tasked with protection the bones of the great Hawaiian warrior chiefs and striving to teach a group of young children to respect and honor their heritage.
Whether by design or as the result of a fortunate accident, ‘The Night Marchers’ is the best story in a book full of great stories, an impressive feat but not a surprising one given who his publishers are. Grey Matter Press and Cemetery Dance Publications are known for their discerning tastes and remarkable knack for publishing nothing but the best of fiction, both short and long, and Braum is a perfect example of what that results in. The interwoven themes in The Night Marchers are fascinating in their simplicity, yet complex in the very noticeable but natural way that they segue one into another. Braum’s stories flow in liquid color like paint from the brush of a master painter, taking on themes, subjects and exotic settings that would fall flat beneath the pen of a lesser author.
One of the brightest young stars in the firmament of dark speculative fiction, Daniel Braum is among the best short story writers we’ve encountered, an author who marches to the beat of his own drum, whether that drum is that of a master jazz musician or a Native American war drum. If you haven’t read Daniel’s brilliant, poignant, and often heartrending short fiction, we can recommend him and his exceedingly beautiful collection, The Night Marchers, highly enough.
SHANE DOUGLAS KEENE
Publishers: Cemetery Press Publications and Grey Matter Press
Release Dates: 5 May 2016 (eBook) and 11 May 2016 (Paperback)
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