Reviews of The Tension of a Coming Storm
By John S. McFarland,
Author of the gothic stories of Ste. Odile
The grandeur of fiction, in my estimation, has always been the glimpse it provides into a world of familiar, yet alternate, reality. The familiarity of human personality and failings and strengths must be there to make it relatable and, to the reader, recognizably 'true,' but there is also a component, in varying degrees, of unreality, of extension of the plausible, of the suspension of disbelief. These elements are a given to anyone who takes up fiction writing. The degree to which they are mastered dictates the proficiency the writer will gain and the following the writer will enjoy. Adrien Ludens, in this fine collection, has gained the proficiency, and the following will be close behind.
The glimpses of the worlds Ludens’ characters inhabit have an extra dimension to them beyond many I have seen in contemporary horror fiction. It's like standing in front of a mirror. You see yourself and what's behind you if you stand directly in front of the glass. If you move in closer and look to each side or up or down, you see the rest of the room even though it is not in front of the glass. It’s that extra dimension, the peripheral world in which the narrative at hand exists, that Ludens so skillfully implies, that sets these tales apart.
As a purveyor of mostly historical horror myself, I was drawn in to Ludens’ take on the further adventures of Jack The Ripper in the story "The Monster’s Leather Apron." Like The Fates of Greek Mythology who shared one eye among the three of them, the frontier Montana family in "Blind Faith" uses ancient rituals and wisdom to combine their sensory perception of the world into one new and invincible entity. And "Reynolds' Tale" offers a new and unexpected conjecture about the mysterious, final days of Edgar Allan Poe.
Ludens moves into the modern world with equal deftness. The horror may come from the character’s own incompetent misjudgment, as in "Inside a Refrigerator," their own horrific nature, as in "Wendigo, Going, Gone," or from the hopeless circumstances in which life has placed them, as in my favorite story, "Calliope." These worlds, whether historical or contemporary, take no comfort from the civilizational sanctuaries of religion or rationality or order. Those have failed or proven weak and ineffective. Ancient spirits of dead cultures roam the earth, the old, magical ways of paganism supersede newer, established faiths, and the perverse monstrosity of human nature outshines any fiend concocted in the imaginations of mythmakers throughout history.
The Tension of a Coming Storm deserves its place on the bookshelves of any true lover of weird fiction. The writing is sensual and tactile, and stylistically brilliant. The characters are complex and extremely well-drawn. Do not miss this masterful book and make sure to not miss future volumes inscribed: By Adrien Ludens.
By Jack Wells,
Reviewer and Author of Monochrome Noir
Twenty tales of sickos, strangeness, and suburban soul-searching.
A new author to welcome into my ever-increasing "yes please, and thank you" stable? Why, yes please! And thank you! I’ve said it before (and likely will again), but the indie scene is near bursting at the seams with fresh ideas, fantastic prose, and hidden talent… many of which rival anything being released by the big-name publishers. Straight up: if you’re not reading indie, you’re missing out!
And, as I have just recently discovered, I need to add Mr. Ludens to my watch list. This guy has talent to spare, in addition to seeming like a truly down-to-earth sort of chap, both of which I respect and appreciate.
I was given an ARC of The Tension of a Coming Storm by Andrea Thomas, owner/editor of Dark Owl Publishing (love that name!) in exchange for an honest review. Considering that this request was based on some of the other reviews that I have posted on Facebook, and seeing as how Andrea just seems to be just about the coolest person ever, I felt it both a privilege and an honor to tackle something for her. If this is indicative of the overall quality that Dark Owl promotes, then they are absolutely a publishing house to follow. Andrea, you can sling as many ARC’s my way as you’d like!
And… holy damn… that cover! Yup! Whether it was a pre-made or not, it’s just imminently fitting for both mood and motif. There are some authors out there that are like “meh, the cover isn’t that important.” Trust me, as a reader and a writer… yes, yes it is.
As with all my reviews, I will attempt to keep spoilers to a minimum. My reasoning for this is two-fold; first, I firmly believe that books of any and all genres are simply more enjoyable when the reader goes in blind, stripped of all preconceived notions and expectations; and second, out of respect for the author, who spent countless hours crafting their tales. Robbing stories of their intended impact, in my opinion, is a considerable disservice to the people who penned them. As such, if it’s not mentioned in the official synopsis, I will do my level best to avoid mentioning it here.
Here’s the nitty-gritty: The Tension of a Coming Storm is a collection of shorts by Adrian Ludens, a horror aficionado hailing from South Dakota. Twenty tales are featured, half of which have been previously published in other anthologies, while the remaining half are brand-new creations exclusive to this compendium. The entire book clocks in at around 63,000 words. Normally I would talk POV and which tense is used… but as a collection there are too many to list.
But that’s just the joy of collections like this. There’s a little something for everyone. Don’t like the current tale? Not to worry… the next one just might blow your socks off. And if you’re not wearing socks, then I guess your feet are getting blown off. Which sounds atrocious; so, in the interest of literary wellbeing, everyone read with socks on! Safety first!
You know how most albums (regardless of genre) seem to start out with the best tracks first, and then by the halfway point the songs start to become less and less engaging? Well, the opposite is true here; the first few tales in The Tension of a Coming Storm, while undeniably good, weren’t quite as impactful as I had hoped for. But then a funny thing happened on the way to abattoir, and by the time I finished the fifth tale, I was all in. Adrian’s stories just kept getting better and better, picking up speed like a runaway semi.
One of the great triumphs of this book is how it explores non-traditional monsters. Yes, the human beast is still the most terrifying creature of all, but Mr. Ludens succeeds in reaching outside of the established tropes and expectations to conjure up some truly original beasties.
Of course, horror stories largely serve to both magnify and evaluate the human condition in a frequently gory fashion. That holds true here as well, but the ways in which he goes about it are novel and refreshing. Plus, I honestly cannot recall reading another single-author collection featuring this much diversity. Third-person POV, first-person, speculative tales, revenge thrillers, run-ins with historical figures, and even transcripts from an ill-fated Apollo moon landing… The Tension of a Coming Storm is a veritable smorgasbord of options and offerings.
And, it must be said, some of these tales are downright brutal. Like "people in danger who usually aren’t in danger" kind of brutal. Not that those are the only types of stories to be found; a few are quite innocuous and/or introspective. But there are times when The Tension of a Coming Storm is a nasty customer. The kind of wicked little book that Michael Myers might leaf through while waiting on Laurie Strode, or that Buffalo Bill would peruse in between hose-enforced lotion treatments. Have you ever wondered which tomes would be found on a serial killer’s bookshelf? A dog-eared copy of The Tension of a Coming Storm certainly ought to be counted among them.
There are too many stories to give full individual feedback, so I will focus on the ones I considered the crème de la crème.
"The Value of a Dollar," one of several tales here with an interesting denouement. Not quite horror, but most certainly a gut-punch.
"Blind Faith," not sure if it takes place in our history, or some alternate reality a la Stephen King’s The Gunslinger, but it doesn’t matter. It’s just a cool little fantasy tale about old gods and the sacrifices they require.
"Wendigo, Going, Gone," a short and sweet little ditty about supernatural creatures, their day jobs, and quite possibly the end of the world.
"Animate Objects," my favorite of the bunch. Certainly not scary, but just a completely unique riff on the nature of hauntings. I would love to see this particular concept expanded upon.
"Try to Remember," a delightfully morbid take on memory loss, with a hint of meanness sprinkled over the top as a garnish.
"Hollow," a vampire-like tale of a different variety. I loved the whole concept about this one, and it is another idea that could easily be expanded upon.
"Time to Say Goodbye," a delightfully creepy rumination on loss with LGBTQ+ characters (there’s several instances of that here, much to my delight), featuring another great denouement.
Normally, at this stage of the review, I would talk about the nitpicks that my quality-control and OCD focused brain uncovered during my time with the book. But I am delighted to say that there aren’t any! I daresay that this is one of the most successfully edited collections I’ve come across. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Adrian is one hell of a writer. He avoids word repetition like a champ, and brings in some lesser used descriptors from time to time, just because he can.
If you enjoy horror collections (and if you don’t, for shame!) then you really ought to check out The Tension of a Coming Storm by Adrian Ludens. It covers a wide range of genres, emotions, and styles, and I’m certain just about anyone could find something that they’d enjoy. Just don’t forget the socks!
Five out of five variable and uncommon stars!