“And tell me, will we never hear the end
Of puir bluidy Charlie at Culloden yet again?”

— Brian McNeill, “No Gods and Precious Few Heroes

Review: Culloden!, William Meikle, 2016.

Cover by Wayne Miller

As in our history, Bonnie Prince Charlie, the Bloodking, has a rendezvous with destiny at Culloden, and much of this novel takes place in Scotland.

In some ways, this, the conclusion of the Watchers trilogy, is more leisurely than its successors. Oh there are battles and gladiatorial combats and lots of bloods and new methods of killing vampires en masse. (I would like to see the final battle at Culloden in a graphic novel or movie, so I could linger on the details Meikle doesn’t get into.)

But there’s also a lot of time spent with ale and agony, song and memories. I suppose some might view that as padding, but I liked hearing the back stories of the supporting characters including the Prince, and I also liked Meikle smuggling in a bit of his inner musician with invented ballads. I could almost hear them being sung.

Here Sean and Martin have largely come to terms with not being “men-and-only-men”. Sean’s strange amalgam of man and vampire proves handy in infiltrating the Edinburgh stronghold of the Bloodking. Martin has learned to control the wolf-like berserker side of himself. Sean is still on the trail of Mary Campbell, the Bloodking’s intended, and Martin has been sent into Scotland on a reconnaissance mission by the Duke of Cumberland to make sure Bonnie Prince Charlie is found, fixed, and destroyed. Continue reading “Culloden!”

The Battle for the Throne

Review: The Battle for the Throne, William Meikle, 2016.

Cover by Wayne Miller.

In the second book of the Watchers trilogy, families are formed and families sundered, castles are besieged and castles infiltrated. Our two heroes, Martin and Sean, will doubt themselves and their new natures.

In The Coming of the King, the Bloodking, Bonnie Prince Charles, swept over Hadrian’s Wall nearly taking Milecastle, Martin and Sean’s home. Here he rampages through England with the advantage that, unlike our Bonnie Prince Charlie, his victims join his vampiric army.

Meikle cranks up the action with this book. There are many battles here, well-done, more than in the previous book. But there are quieter moments I also liked. Martin, now Thane of Milecastle after the death of his father, hears old men tell him about his father as a young man.

Except for the equivalent of jump cuts in the concluding chapter, Meikle presents Martin’s and Sean’s stories in alternating chapters. Continue reading “The Battle for the Throne”

The Collected Stories of Robert Silverberg, Vol. 8: Hot Times in Magma City, 1990-95

Review: The Collected Stories of Robert Silverberg, Volume Eight: Hot Times in Magma City, 1990-95, ed. Robert Silverberg, 2013.41deGp06PaL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_

The penultimate book in Subterranean Press’s Robert Silverberg series has what you would expect from him: tales of history (alternate and straight), time travel, and urbane protagonists. This time around there’s also alien invasions and fantasies.

As always, a large part of the book’s appeal is Silverberg’s introduction and notes even if you can find all of the stories elsewhere.

Here he ruminates on the difficult birthing of some stories and how only “sentimental oldsters”, beginners, and part-timers bother to practice the art of the science fiction short story these days. The pay rates for short fiction are worse now than when he started his career.

One new motif here is the drug addict as protagonist.

Alcohol was the original drug of choice for the main character of the fantasy “It Comes and It Goes”. Playboy made him change that before publication. He’s back to being an alcoholic of the recovering variety here and keeps seeing a house come and go in his neighborhood, an alluring blonde woman in its doorway. And the males of all ages who go in it don’t come out. He develops an obsession with the house to match his old one with liquor. It doesn’t help when he sees the house in more than one town. Continue reading “The Collected Stories of Robert Silverberg, Vol. 8: Hot Times in Magma City, 1990-95”

The Coming of the King

Ye Jacobites by name, lend an ear, lend an ear,
Ye Jacobites by name, lend an ear,
Ye Jacobites by name, your faults I will proclaim,
Your doctrines I must blame, you shall hear, you shall hear
Your doctrines I must blame, you shall hear.

— “Ye Jacobites By Name”

The fault of this history’s Bonnie Prince Charlie is that he’s a vampire. He’s not the Boy King. He’s the Bloodking.

Yes, it’s a William Meikle novel, and I’m kindly disposed to the work of his I’ve read, but I’m not a big fan of historical fantasy. I also don’t consider alternate histories based on magic to be real alternate histories.

I can take or leave, mostly leave, vampire stories.

But evil, vampiric Jacobites is another thing. I’ve heard a lot of Jacobite songs in my time, so that intrigued me. So I got a free copy awhile back, (and you still can too), but that didn’t mean I was going to read it anytime soon.

However, for reasons I won’t get into, I wanted to read some fiction set in Scotland, so I took this one out of the kindle queue.

Review: The Coming of the King, William Meikle, 2016.

Coming of the King
Cover by Wayne Miller

They executed Charles Edward Stuart in 1649, burned him alive in the Tower of London – because that’s what you do with vampires, especially one who is a pretender to the thrones of Scotland and England.

In Milecastle, a fort on Hadrian’s Wall, Sean and Martin and their fellow Watchers keep eyes to the north from where it is prophesied the Blood King, the newest Stuart, will someday descend on England with his army of Others.

In 1745, Campbell, a man from the vampiric kingdom of Scotland, shows up at Milecastle with a sick daughter and a tale of woe and a sick daughter. The Bloodking is afoot. He slaughtered Campbell’s people and left him alive to announce the news of his coming. This history’s Bonnie Prince Charlie is as unhuman as his ancestor; his army is made of vampires and their human allies.

Martin, the son of Milecastle’s Thane, and his friend Sean will have to grow up fast. Destiny has picked them to help fight the Young Pretender. Continue reading “The Coming of the King”

Three Derek Adams Tales

Review: “Rhythm and Booze”, “The Weathered Stone”, and “The Inuit Bone” by William Meikle.

If you had subscribed to William Meikle’s newsletter, you would have gotten those stories for free along with “The Forth Protocol” and “A Slim Chance” in a special collection, Rhythm and Booze, released on his 60th birthday.

All are Derek Adams stories. He’s the down-and-out, chain-smoking and boozing Glasgow private eye who’s Meikle’s favorite character.  I briefly mentioned the last two stories in my review of The Midnight Eye Files omnibus.

As always, these are not straight-forward cheating spouses and background investigation cases. Adams is, as he puts it, a “magnet for the Twilight Zone cases”.

As I mentioned with my last look at a Derek Adams’ story, Deal or No Deal?, Derek’s stories work best at longer lengths where more weird and sinister characters can be introduced and the plots twisted more.

Still, they are long enough to work, and they don’t just get by on Adams’ cynical, sarcastic voice.

darkmelodiesRhythm and Booze” reminded me of Meikle’s Operation Antarctica. Both have unearthly music and an important historical manuscript to explain the menace that may engulf the hero. Here big time Glasgow mobster Brian Johnson wants Adams to investigate a very weird rhythm an act is putting out at his night club – after he banters with Adams about his clothes looking like props out of all those private eye movies Adams watches. At the club, Adams hears what Johnson’s going on about: a dark, pounding rhythm of self-annihilation. And is the audience really fading in and out sight to the beat? After getting a manuscript from the drummer’s grandfather, Adams is off investigating the strange past and present of the great house at Eillan Eighe. The endings are fairly satisfying though there was one thread I would have wrapped up better. You can find this one in Meikle’s Dark Melodies collection.

Flesh Like SmokeAdams occasionally likes to annoy the clients he doesn’t like, and one of them is a man named Hynd in “The Weathered Stone”. Hynd wants a book dealer named George Jessup followed. And so Derek does and to a underneath a library in Glasgow and finds out a secret of Jessup’s. The story has a bit of a joke ending, but the rest is serious, and Meikle fans may want to note one of the Seton clan, which make appearances in other Meikle stories, is mentioned. This one is in the Flesh Like Smoke anthology.

Grimoire of Eldritch InquestsThe Inuit Bone” is fun, a good combination of Adams’ voice and the good-natured Toolemark, his client, who has a gift for sleight-of-hand. Toolemark is from an Inuit tribe that wants the “telling bone”. It was taken back to Glasgow by a Victorian explorer of Canada, and the tribe – and their goddess – want it back. Finding it is the easy part (with assistance provided by Adams’ friend Doug from The Amulet). It’s getting it back from Glasgow’s number one mobster that will be the problem. You can get this one in the anthology A Grimoire of Eldritch Inquests.

Fans of Derek and his snark and his weird work will not be disappointed in these.


More reviews of fantastic fiction are indexed by title and author/editor.

“The Daemon Lover”

This week’s weird tale.

Review: “The Daemon Lover“, Shirley Jackson, 1949.

The story occurs during the wedding day — or, at least, the planned wedding day — of its unnamed protagonist. Her intended, Jamie, seems to be a would-be writer she plans to support until he becomes famous. At first, I thought this was going to be a story about a particular form of parasitism practiced by men get women to financially support their artistic pursuits. But it does in a very different direction.

I read this story online, and one of the suggestions in the comments is that Jamie is a ghost.

There is nothing overtly fantastical about the story. The title suggests something supernatural, but it doesn’t require it. Continue reading ““The Daemon Lover””

“The Refugee”

This week’s weird tale is from a rather obscure writer.

Review: “The Refugee”, Jane Rice, 1943.

This weird story is more of a horror story with a common type of ending.

But it’s well done, amusing, and skillful example of its type.

Spoilers ahead since there’s no way to talk about this story meaningful without revealing the end.

This is a biter-bitten story in the most literal way

Milli Cushman is an American woman trapped as a refugee in France during World War II. It’s unclear if the city she lives in is Paris or someplace else. It seems to be the Nazi-occupied part of the country.  She is wealthy and regards her servant Maria, who is “almost no help at all”, as “Definitely a bourgeois” even though Milli comes from middle class stock herself. Her father, a butcher back in Pittsburgh, made a great deal of money by inventing some tool used in meat processing. Continue reading ““The Refugee””

“They Bite”

This week’s (actually last week’s subject for discussion over at the Deep Ones discussion group over at LibraryThing — I’ve been busy.

Review: “They Bite“, Anthony Boucher, 1943.They Bite

Boucher’s story smoothly and efficiently moves from spy story to odd folklore and legend to crime story to human story. That’s entirely in keeping with Boucher. He edited and wrote science fiction and mysteries and also did the first translations into English of Jorge Luis Borges.

We first see our protagonist Hugh Tallant hanging around a U.S. Army air base in the desert of California. It’s pretty clear he’s a spy, checking out the gliders there. He doesn’t seem to be working for any specific foreign power. He’s a freelancer.

Looking through binoculars can be a bit tiring on the eyes. He seems to see a “little and thin and brown as the earth” shape out of the corner of his eye.

An old acquaintance of his, Morgan shows up. He’s a “prospector” like Tallant. He knows Tallant from their days in China and implies he’s willing to spill some unsavory, if unspecified, secrets about Tallant. Blackmail is in the air. Tallant tells him to come back the next day, and they’ll talk about it. Continue reading ““They Bite””

“Personal Devil”

Looking through Joel Jenkins’ author page on Amazon, I came across a Lone Crow story that isn’t in either The Coming of Crow or The Condemnation of Crow.

Review: “Personal Devil”, Joel Jenkins, 2014.

Occult Detectives
Cover by Rob Davis and Jesus Rodriguez

Demon Hunter, Priesthood Bearer, Slayer of Dark Souls … Flapping Crow, Last of Your Tribe, and Doomed Man 

are the latest titles Indian bounty hunter and monster slayer Lone Crow gets in this story. The supernatural menace sneering that here is a kurdaitcha (though, in my bit of research, not having the powers of the similarly named being out of Australian Aborigine mythology).

Crow is summoned to California by Mormon gunfighter Porter Rockwell (who, just like in our history, is frequently accused of trying to kill Missouri Governor Boggs). Rockwell has been dispatched by Brigham Young to collect some tithes from the saints in California. They were paid to a Sam Brannan. Sam didn’t turn them over to the Temple in Salt Lake City.

The trouble is Brannan isn’t co-operating and seems possessed by some evil being. Rockwell thinks Crow, with his extensive dealings with forces beyond mere human evil, can help.

This story is long enough to give Jenkins some breathing space and deviates from the usual Lone Crow formula. The pair will go to San Francisco and confront the kurdaitcha and its freezing powers and a secret society, formed by Brannan within the San Francisco Vigilance Committee, gunning for Rockwell.

It’s another engaging installment in this weird western series with plenty of gunplay and supernatural menace. For Lone Crow fans, the story takes place after “The Vanishing City” and “The Five Disciples”, and this story has a three black and white illustrations as well.


For more reviews of fantastic fiction are indexed by title and author/editor.

By the Light of Camelot

The review copy for this one was requested mostly because it had a William Meikle story, but I suppose I had a subconscious desire to return to a bit of Arthuriana after not reading any for more than 30 years apart from Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s Idylls of the King.

I’ve watched the movie Excalibur countless times, but I’m not any kind of Arthurian buff. Not so coincidentally, I have been listening to Professor Dorsey Armstrong’s King Arthur: History and Legend lectures from The Teaching Company which actually was a bit helpful in understanding a couple of names I came across in this book. In my English major days, I did read a fair number of the medieval Arthur texts – but there’s a whole lot I didn’t read too.

Review: By the Light of Camelot, eds. J. R. Campbell and Shannon Allen, 2018.By the Light of Camelot

The stories here roughly divide into two categories. There are the stories where the Knights of the Round Table and Arthur’s reign and the Quest for the Holy Grail are honorable institutions and men engaged in worthwhile pursuits. And there’s the stories where they aren’t, literary acid corroding the legend of Camelot.

Generally, when it comes to Arthur stories, I want the former though I enjoyed the last bit of Arthuriana I read, Roger Zelazny’s “The Last Defender of Camelot” which portrays Merlin as a dangerous fanatic. (And, after hearing Prof. Armstrong’s summary of the alliterative Morte Arthure, which sounds like a real downer, I’m interested in that too.) [Actually, in thinking about it, the last bit of Arthuriana I read was Charles Harness’ Cybele, with Bluebonnets.]

Let’s start with the fictional gripes about the Camelot’s legend.

Simon Kurt Unsworth’s “The Terrible Knitter” is well-told, a grim tale of Dysig, a Round Table knight, still alive and in the wreckage of England after the Norman Conquest. Tracking down yet another rumor of the Grail, he comes to Dent, a village that’s a “thin” place between worlds, plagued by vampiric locals. Like a lot of these tales, the sting is in the end. Continue reading “By the Light of Camelot”