The Sea Was A Fair Master
I wasn’t aware of Unnerving Magazine until a few months ago, but this is the second publication from them that I have now reviewed, and I am deeply impressed both by the quality of the fiction that they are publishing, and also by the quality of their editing and cover art. I first encountered them when author Mike Thorn approached me with a copy of his first anthology, Darkest Hours, which collects together a number of his previously-published horror short stories and released by Unnerving Magazine. Darkest Hours is a fantastic anthology encompassing a range of takes on the horror genre by Mr Thorn, and accompanied by a fantastic piece of cover art and first-rate editing, and was generally a credit to Unnerving. So when another new author due to be published by Unnerving, Calvin Demmer, contacted my via the blog to see if I wanted to review an Advanced Review Copy (ARC) of his first published title, The Sea Was A Fair Master, I jumped at the chance – and last week a copy appeared in my inbox.
Once again I found myself reviewing a collection of Horror fiction, which I find myself becoming more and more drawn towards as the number of reviews on my blog expands and I find new authors and publishers. It’s not my usual genre of choice, but I’m always looking to move out of my comfort zone; and given the positive experience I had with the publisher with the previous title I reviewed, I looked forward to reading this collection. As always I look at the cover art when I first decide to review a title, because a good piece of cover art can be all the difference between a reader scrolling past it, and being interested enough to take a look and potentially make a purchase as a result. Fortunately, the cover art for The Sea Was A Fair Master is just as good as it was for Darkest Hours – a simple but effective use of a dark background with the title in large white lettering and the author’s name in red lettering, with an alien eye just visible, lurking menacingly. As the cover also indicates, The Sea Was A Fair Master contains a total of 23 stories; this is an impressive number for any collection, particularly from a single author, and is also notable because all of the stories are some form of flash fiction, i.e. very short pieces of fiction, usually around a 1,000 words or less. I’ve never read many pieces of flash fiction before, preferring short stories, novellas and novels, so I was intrigued to see how effectively the author could convey a sense of horror in such a short word count.
Given the brevity of the stories, discussing them in any specific detail would risk thoroughly spoiling them, but there are some things that I can note generally. There is an impressive depth and breadth to the types of horror that are covered in all of the stories, ranging from quiet horror, to more psychological horror, and even some straight-up gruesome horror replete with severed organs and pints of blood. The quality of writing is also incredibly high – not just in terms of the editing and lack of typos, but also in regards to the skill and dexterity demonstrated in some of the stories; given the succinct nature of the stories, Demmer is consistently able to produce effective pieces of horror that fit well into the varied length of the word count, and never feel like they end abruptly or have had elements removed in order to fit into a strictly-set limit. Some of the stories in the collection particularly impressed me, and left me thinking about them after I had finished the story, and even the book as a whole. The titular story, The Sea Was A Fair Master is a chilling reversal of the notion that survivors of a battle at sea should be rescued by the winning side; Revenge of the Myth not only uses Krampus in an original direction, which is rare enough, but also gives a horrifying edge to a role in society that is usually only mocked; and Not Suicide is a grim but surprisingly up-beat tale about loss and passing over into death’s realm.
I hugely enjoyed The Sea Was A Fair Master. It’s an impressive first book from author Calvin Demmer, demonstrating an assured, confident voice and a mastery of the building blocks of good horror fiction, and is yet another striking publication by Unnerving which can only bode well for their future as a publisher. I look forward to seeing more from Mr Demmer, and will be looking to review more titles from Unnerving now that they are firmly on my radar as a publisher of quality horror.