Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The High Priest

Short Story by C. Deskin Rink
Read for Cast Macabre by R.E. Chambliss
With Additional Voices by Abigail Hilton and Bob Eccles

Story Review (Audio Review Below)
This horror tale of the homicidal madness of a grieving mother is the sequel to Ankor Sabat, reviewed here last year. I saw a lot of promise in Ankor Sabat, but ultimately had to downgrade it a few points despite enjoying it. So of course, this review is heavily in comparison to the prior story. Another Clark Ashton Smith/Lovecraft pastiche. More action heavy this time, and I think a bit more overwritten. The first story's writing was delightful but two instances in this story particularly take me out of it:
"The nightmares brought with them images of a cyclopean black castle or fortress, flung up against blacker mountains and glimpsed always beneath a boiling glacial sky. The castle's jagged tiers piled atop one another, terrace upon terrace, battlement upon battlement, until its highest spires and minarets clutched at the very heavens themselves."
"Then, a hemorrhage of shadows split over the throne. The shadows waxed in depth until, slowly, surely, they took on a positive quality. The bells went silent, the figures abased themselves upon their bellies, the shadows congealed. There, sprawling upon the throne, a titan of carrion flesh, a colossus of rotten planets, a gargoyle of the death of stars, Ceocetep, the High Priest."
You can see the talent here and I do love some of the descriptions but through much of the story, Rink uses three descriptions where one would do. I don't mean only that this is not Hemingway-like prose, but there are some places I swear Lovecraft would have used just one adjective where Rink piles them on. It is distracting, and I think more pronounced here than in Ankor Sabat. I think he was going for the waves of big words and poetic imagery that wash over you in such stories as Lovecraft's "The Lurking Fear". But Rink slows down his own action too much in a few places, and repeats himself.

Aside from that, the action is a little too overwrought and goes on a bit too long, but it does help illustrate Rink's theme of cycles of violence and revenge begetting more revenge. I understand the need for descriptions of the violent action scenes, but they are the part of the story that drags the most. Bethany undergoes the interesting character change of becoming more and more driven by vengeance throughout the story, to the point that she will murder hundreds just to get at one woman. I love that Bethany rails against everyone who has wronged her, but when she finally gets what she wants, she helps the High Priest further, essentially out of gratitude toward him, while condemning her opponents to an even worse fate and telling herself she is sparing them. I enjoy her unsympathetic madness.

Also: the animal people have mechanized guns left over from a "Golden Age" which I take to mean these stories take place after our civilization has faded away and lower technology humans have been building up society again, but this time with the Elder Gods and magical beasts remaining in the forefront rather than fading into the underbelly of the world as they did in our age. I really like this idea, and it does add a neat extra layer to what would otherwise be pure fantasy. I, for one, welcome guns and trains in my horror/fantasy.

I have to say, I liked the writing and plot, the twist and the development of themes better in Ankor Sabat. But I'm going to give this story a slightly better grade. The reason is that this story is more consistent, and doesn't fall apart toward the end. It accomplishes what it set out to do, and that is worth something, although I think Ankor Sabat was aiming higher. I'd still recommend Ankor Sabat if you are going to read one C. Deskin Rink story, and perhaps this is a problem with a numbered rating system. This story was more consistently in the middle, while Ankor Sabat was both better and worse. Ankor Sabat's highs are what recommend it, the point grade also reflects the low point, and The High Priest doesn't have such a low point, but it's heights are less lofty. Still, if you like Ankor, listen to this. If you didn't, then don't. But I say read/listen to that first.

3 out of 5

Audio Recording Review
The thing that most surprised me, and initially put me off before I began to like it, is that this is almost an audio play. Not just a reading, there are different actors for different voices in the dialog, and an actual musical score, not just background dithering, but rising and falling music to coincide with the action of the story. The reason this bothered me at first is it is almost distracting. I like audio plays, but Rink's prose is dense, and prone more to the exposition through narration rather than through dialogue. The music and shifting voices provide some distraction from the actual text. That said, all the voice actors are very talented, they do a good job, and the music seems appropriate. You get used to it, and after a second listen, I think it is better this way, just surprising at first.

1 comment:

The High Priest said...

I am returned! Welcome the Epoch of Sorrow! Let the reign of the Final King begin!

Anyway, I'm totally thrilled with your review of my story. I you're at all interested, "The High Priest" will be appearing in print for the first time in the anthology DARKNESS AD INFINITUM from Villipede publications.