Dying Embers out now

Dying Embers out now

Thursday 23 May 2013

Perfect penny dreadfuls

I've been immersed (or should I say shrouded) in Victorian gothic recently. I was tempted to try Mask of the Macabre, a collection of four short stories by David Haynes, and became hooked. This led me to his second collection of tales, Ballet of the Bones. Just as I was regaining my breath from that one, I found out there was a novella called Seance of the Souls. I must point out that the author has done a very clever thing; it is quite possible to enjoy any of these books individually, in any order ... yet taken together, and in sequence, they tell a story which will keep you on the edge of your reading chair (perhaps your mind?) until the very last page.

Mask of the Macabre sets the scene for your journey to the sordidly time-worn and foggy streets of Victorian London. You will soon wonder at the magician's grisly sleight of hand, and be shocked by the change of scene taking you within the walls of the Bethlem lunatic asylum. Then, the photographer's hideous job will make you wonder at the evil within human nature; depositing you, finally, with the entertainer – looking to expand his gruesome repertoire. If you are not too shell-shocked by now, you are welcome to experience ...

... the Ballet of the Bones! Will you appreciate the hideous displays in The Gallery of Wax? If so, you will be ushered into The Bone House, to experience first hand the bare bones of the gravedigger's existence. You will then meet The Engineer, who will astound you with his baroque, intricate creations, operating with the strange grace of precision; yet somehow quite wrong. And finally, with an impending sense of doom, the Director will prepare you for the final curtain. Good luck!

Perhaps, though, you may not be able to make your escape quite yet. You will be drawn, almost against your will, into the swirling, misty alleyways of the past once more, to experience the Seance of the Souls. With a growing sense of unease, you'll recognise some of the hideous characters from your previous travails.

Beginning with a funeral where Matthew Napier is confronting the loss of his family, you will stumble through bloodstained gutters once more to witness a fortune teller giving him and his sister a bleak reading indeed. Once Matthew's sister is ripped from him too, his despair is complete; and he is vulnerable to the advances of pure evil. This is embodied by members of a spiritualist church, and he is confronted by the past in ways even you, dear reader, could not imagine. Is it magic, or murder? Who can Matthew trust? Amid corpses, skulls and ever-shifting masks, you will not know which way to turn. Be sure to keep your own senses sharp as those around you descend into madness!


  1. Great review! I've been looking to break out of a reading rut, and since I love all things Victorian (not to mention all things creepy), maybe I'll give these books a shot.