Wormwood Prophets Society
From Rogue Planet Press
Paperback, 176 Pages
I love me a good short story collection. It’s similar to my love of anthology horror films. I thoroughly enjoy little slices of fiction, using the shorter length as a way of pumping up the fun and imagination. Even collections with a common theme usually have a wide range of tones, subjects and delivery. The latest book I’ve read in this proud tradition is The Wormwood Prophets Society and it’s quite the experience. There’s a lot going on and the concept runs deep so let’s jump right in.
The Wormwood Prophets Society isn’t just a catchy title. It refers by a cult-like organization of sorts that has genuine influence and involvement in dark forces. The stories are accompanied by little looks into the depth and culture of the society; portraying various ways that their work is played out and unleashed onto the world. We start off with an introduction featuring a curious man who is learning about the group and as part of this he is told a story. This story by Mark Slade introduces the format, as the stories themselves in the book are stories that are usually being told by the group’s followers to give some insight.
The first official story entitled Got a Light deals with a down-on-his-luck man named Phillip who makes the mistake of stealing a mysterious lighter that is far more sinister than a small flame. Bad things start to happen, things that seem to be not only predicted, but caused by the lighter. The story is well paced and kept me invested all the way through. It was a unique concept and a quite palatable story that served as a wonderful first taste into what is about to come.
Despite the society connection, all the stories have their own characters and situations going on. The next story Bloodroot, for example, also penned by Mark Slade, deals with a man back in the dusty post-civil war days of southwestern Virginia who drifts into a town to collect songs. The connection to the overlapping darkness that encompasses the entire book is present, but in its own way. I agree with the book’s decision to start off with these two stories as it displays the book’s intention while simultaneously showing the diversity of the tales themselves.
As the book presses on the reader is given all sorts of different material and means of delving into the culture that it has created. There’s transcribed conversations, ominous redacted documents, chants paying tribute to the Society’s rulers, unique illustrations as well as a variety of tales. Agents, if you will, of the Wormwood Prophets Society often filter in and out of the stories, as well as around them as they show various examples of what their association can do, control and behold.
The stories span over different time periods and contain all different types of horror traits. Redwood Dolly by Phil Thomas deals with a man who comes across a radio that has far more to it to than the latest AM/FM. Baby Bub by T. Fox Dunham deals with a possibly delusional woman who becomes obsessed feeding the child she believes she has been blessed with from a higher power. There are stories of voodoo and monsters, masked killers and strange liquor. It all feels fresh and new and there’s never enough of the same thing for any story to ever seem tiresome. It also helps that the stories contain different narrative styles to get their point across.
A lot of different horror-favorite subjects are at play in the book. These include Halloween settings, tales of revenge, rituals, and the constant fear of being watched. Even someone going home happy-go-lucky after a day of success (or hanging out at a club) can find themselves in a downright menacing predicament. Whether a story is more grounded or out-there, such as Dunham’s story: something for something, the fear is always palpable.
Every entry goes out of its way to engross the reader in the very heartbeat of those experiencing the diverse situations. You feel the emotions of a detective who has stepped foot into a house harboring a foe that isn’t at all your normal criminal. You take in the shocking repercussions of what can go on at a hospital when chaotic horror shows its face. It all makes the book feel well-rounded and authentic, which I appreciate.
Any good horror anthology arranges the stories to serve as a palate cleanser of sorts for the previous entry. The Wormwood Prophets Society certainly utilizes this trait. The varying nature of the stories is put to good use and no stories that have a topic tone or subject matter are stacked on top of one another. Doing this allows each story to pop in their own way and make their desired mark on the reader.
All in all, I found myself impressed with The Wormwood Prophecies. A lot of thought and cooperation clearly went into it and while I never felt like a full-fledged member of the society who understood it all, I feel that this was the point. Like the terrified characters, getting thrown into a world of madness and confusion, terror and unpredictability, the reader is left feeling like they’ve glimpsed through the door just a crack and seen things they can’t comprehend, but know to fear. Some of the stories are more directly in the society itself than others, but the influence of the core is felt throughout every page. Plus, it all wraps up nicely in the end. I definitely recommend The Wormwood Prophets Society to anyone who loves a good story collection, as well as anyone who enjoys all different types of horror material. Even with the high-concept nature, there is something for just about everyone.
Review by P.J. Griffin