Wednesday, 4 March 2020

Pale Illuminations

Mark Valentine,
Reggie Oliver
Peter Bell
Derek John
Sarob Press

Sarob Press is delighted to announce the publication of “THE PALE ILLUMINATIONS” ~ four all new darkly supernatural stories and novellas (each imbued with a sense of the mystery and the legends of landscape and place) by PETER BELL, MARK VALENTINE, REGGIE OLIVER and DEREK JOHN.
“Labyrinth” by Peter Bell ... set mostly in the 1960s this is a story of ancient well worship in the Peak District, and the cult of Proserpina in Roman Britain.
“A Chess Game at Michaelmas” by Mark Valentine ... a tale set in south-west England, and of strange customs and age-old ritual, a secret game, and a dark shadowy visitor.
“The Old Man of the Woods” by Reggie Oliver ... a new home in rural France, legends of the misty past, and a weird haunting story of the dark and deeply sinister woods.
“Cropmarks” by Derek John ... an Irish setting for a modern tale of witchcraft, dark ceremonies, a centuries-old place of worship, strange discoveries and a malevolent curse.


 I had the pleasure to read a previous Sarob collection a few years back and so was very happy to grab a copy of this new collection.  Inside we have four tales, two by authors who have featured in these pages before - Mark Valentine & Reggie Oliver - and two who are respectively new and newish to me - Peter Bell & Derek John.  Three of the stories I enjoyed very much indeed but one I found to be less to my taste and it's that one with which I'll start.

Derek John's 'Cropmarks' has at its heart a story that weaves communal life, neighbourly conflict and new age witchery into a tale that feels far too soap opera to satisfy me.  On the flipside though we have a trio of very fine stories beginning with Peter Bell's 'Labyrinth' a storythat tells of a student researcher investigating the remains of a 'forgotten' cult of Prosperina, the Roman Goddess of fertility, wine and agriculture.  Into a landscape drenched with the detritus of myth and folklore.  It's an absorbing tale that I could have lingered with longer and would have enjoyed watching Bell tease more out of his supporting cast of locals and yokels, particularly the stranger ones.

Reggie Oliver's 'The Old Man of the Woods' is a gentle story of a farmhouse haunted by loss and of the shadows we leave behind. As with the other stories of his that I've read - which admittedly isn't as many as I'd like - this is a delicate tale that unfolds around you and gently insinuates itself into your affections via the chills it sends up your spine.

Which leaves us with Mark Valentine's 'A Chess Game At Michelmas', one of Mark's signature strange little Machenesque / Dunsanyish / Blackwoody tales of neglected rituals and rural faery tale.  It is, of course, a wonderful read and Mark is, for me, alongside the creme of the weird fiction writers - I chose those names back there deliberately.  His writing is perfectly measured and I want to live in the worlds of his imagination and whilst I don't suppose that would be the most comfortable, or indeed safest, of existences what a time you'd have.

I've a couple of these Sarob Press collections now and they've been most excellent and whilst I'm pretty sure this lovely and very limited book is now sold out this is a publisher who deserves to be on the radar of everyone with a love of strange tales.

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