Well, I promised myself more of Paul Finch’s Medi-Evil anthologies. And, having to spend the evening of my birthday in a hotel room in Fargo on a busines trip during winter, surely I deserved it.
Behind the scenes, this is something of a big day for the MarzAat blog. I’ve at last eliminated the backlog of read books to review.
Review: Medi-Evil 2: Tales of Historical Horror and Fantasy, Paul Finch, 2011.
It’s 1070 in England, and the Harrying of the North is still underway by William the Conqueror four years after he took England. He called it suppressing rebellion. Some modern historians call it genocide. “Twilight in the Orm-Garth” starts with Eric, a destitute man, making his way to Wilbury Castle. It’s the home of the Dagoberts, a family that came over with William, and on a strategic and anciently fortified site on the eastern shore of England.
It turns out Eric isn’t a nobody. Or, at least, he wasn’t always. He’s the third son of Count Dagobert. The reunion is not a joyous affair, and his father and older brothers Rolf and Anselm want to know why he is no longer the knight he was when he left the castle to join Hugh the Red, William’s chief lieutenant in the Harrying.
Normans, of course, followed the law of primogeniture. The oldest brother, here Rolf, will inherit everything when the count dies. The other brothers must make their own way in the world. Anselm became a bishop. And Eric, once betrothed to Ella, a woman of noble Saxon birth whom he loved, is in no position to marry.
The secret of Eric is forced out when Reynaud shows up with a small force at the castle. He’s William’s chief enforcer, and he arrives with a hideous and enormous caged man called the Korred. William is not too trusting of his old friend Count Dagobert – perhaps because he knows William’s treacherous and brutal nature – but also because of Dagobert’s Danish heritage. Is Dagobert going to aid the forces of Sveine Estrithson who threatens to invade England again and aid the rebels?
But what Reynaud really wants to know – and he’s prepared to ruin or kill the Dagoberts and unleash the Korred on them – is names and places of rebels. Eric, it seems, has now allied himself with the Saxons.
There will be many family secretsrevealed before the bloody climax. Throughout the novel are interspersed bits of real and legendary history about the many invaders of England, and they are surprisingly linked to the Korred at the end.
I was a bit disbelieving of the sympathy some of the Normans showed for the nearly subdued English, but that was nicely offset by Ella telling her fomer love that he has a too romantic view of what life was like before the Normans arrived.
This is tale nicely blending bloody history, legend, and family strife.
We’re deep into William Hope Hodgson territory with “The Amphibians”, specifically the Sargasso Sea, and I suspect Finch may have taken direct inspiration from Hodgson’s “The Call in the Dawn”.
The story opens with a ship captain’s log from May 21, 1879. It mentions a rich, one-armed man who frequently is a passenger on vessels going through the “desolate region between the Indies and the Azores”.
We then go back to 1823 to learn the man’s story. He’s Harry, an apprentice gunsmith (his master is dead) commissioned to make a volley gun, a multi-barrelled (ten here) shotgun whose barrels can all be discharged at once.
The customer is Joseph Kaplain, and, though seemingly a former sailor, he’s willing to pay very well. But the commission does’t come without risk when burglaries and attacks start at the gunsmith shop and its owner, the widow Martha Coxton. And things only escalate when Harry delivers the gun to Kaplain.
Finch wraps up this story very nicely though not very happily. Indeed, neither this nor the preceding story end on triumphant notes of riches, safety, and love gained.
And a happy ending is present – maybe – only in a spiritual and moral sense with “For We Are Many”.
It’s Roman Briton during the reign of the Emperor Valerian (253-260) and the widow Flavia Juliana Ursus is hauled before a Roman magistrate. Once rich and now imprisoned, Flavia is a Christian. And the magistrate only demands one thing from her: she needs to make a sacrifice before the statue of the Emperor.
In typical Roman fashion, he really doesn’t care how sincere the act is. She can even pray to her own god while she does it and ask his forgiveness afterwards. It’s the form that counts.
But Flavia takes the commandment against idolatry seriously, and it’s back to jail with her.
But possible salvation shows up with one Tribune Maximion. He makes her an offer. She doesn’t have to sacrifice to the Emperor. He’ll swear she did. But, of course, he wants something in return.
He has a villa on the Usk River intended for his and his wife’s retirement. But it’s uninhabitable. No one can spend a night there. He tried, and now his hair is entirely white. The villa has evil spirits.
Surely, she has such a relationship with her god (who, after all, said his apostles would cast out demons in his name) that she can drive those spirits out. He might even convert to Christianity if she succeeds.
Given it’s her only chance to avoid execution, she agrees to the task, and she’s taken to the house and given the night to perform an exorcism.
There are evil spirits there, and, yes, they may be connected to the famous demon the title alludes to. But Flavia will find her faith tested and discover that she doesn’t have the power of Christ.
The ending is much more mysterious than that of the other two stories.
This is quite an enjoyable collection of stories, and I definitely plan on reading the last in the series, Medi-Evil 3.
My condolences on being in Fargo. That sounds miserable.
But congrats on getting the backlog all taken care of. Was that years and decades worth or just a month or two that you’d carelessly let slide?
No, it was several months but never a year.
As a born North Dakotan and now residing here again, I probably shouldn’t criticize Fargo, but last year’s business trip was to Bismarck, a smaller but more interesting town.
The best part of being caught up on reviews is now I can spend more time reading other peoples’ blogs again.
Hurray for reading blogs! It’s the 3rd most fun part of blogging 😀