Freda Warrington is a British author best known for her epic fantasy, vampire and supernatural novels. Four of her novels have been nominated for the British Fantasy Society’s Best Novel award. Her novel, Elfland, published by Tor, won the Romantic Times Reviewers’ Choice Award in the Fantasy Novel category for 2009.
Blood 20 by Tanith Lee (Telos Publishing, 2015). A collection of twenty vampire stories by the ultimate goddess of dark fantasy, Tanith Lee, who sadly passed away in May this year. You may have read some of these astonishing tales in other anthologies, but it’s unlikely you’ve read them all. Every story is different. The breadth of her imagination is amazing, and her use of language – breaking all those daft rules about not using adjectives and adverbs – is unique and astonishingly beautiful. Take, for example, “Bite Me Not” (or Fleur de Fur). A household barricades itself into a vast, decaying castle, besieged by every night by flying vampires. These are no ordinary vampires but an alien race, incomprehensible to humans, proud and fierce. An encounter between a wounded member of this race and a serving girl begins one of the most profound, chilling yet poignant love stories I’ve ever read. Ravishing. Tanith, we love you and miss you.
Zofloya, or The Moor by Charlotte Dacre (1806. Oxford World’s Classics, 2008). Early nineteenth century literature was not all Jane Austen, you know. Here’s a tale of lust, betrayal, and multiple murder set in fifteenth century Venice. Now I can’t guarantee that anyone will definitely NOT have read this, an early gothic novel alongside the work of Horace Walpole, Ann Radcliffe, Matthew Lewis and others. However, Zofloya is one of the more obscure novels, unusual in that it features a strong, assertive and sexually rapacious main character who happens to be female. Victoria’s intense sexual attraction to her Moorish servant Zofloya transgresses taboos both of class and race, which caused a minor scandal on its first publication. Surely women were not supposed to write this type of thing! The style is wordy and purple, as are many novels of the period, but it’s worth a read if only for the extravagant use of punctuation. Unconventional, passionate, shocking, and unjustly neglected.
The House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de Bodard (Gollancz and Roc, 2015). Franco-Vietnamese author Aliette de Bodard, winner of Hugo, Nebula and BSFA Awards, is known for her science fiction stories, but her longer work tends towards dark, twisted, fantastical visions such as this one, her brand-new novel. In an alternative version of Paris, still half-ruined from the aftermath of the Great Magicians’ War, fallen angels are found in the ruins, and Great Houses vie for power using angelic magical powers. House Silverspires, previously the leader of those power games, lies in disarray. Its magic is failing; its founder, Morningstar (guess who!), has been missing for decades; and now something from the shadows stalks its inhabitants inside their very own walls. One of the darkest and strangest fantasies I’ve ever read, containing the creepiest villain ever, the appalling Asmodeus, it haunts you long after you’ve finished it. “A Gothic Masterpiece” – according to author Tim Powers, no less.
Clarimonde by Theophile Gautier (1836). A favourite in vampire anthologies, this story nonetheless seems largely forgotten. Gorgeous novella of a young man’s passion for the most beautiful woman he’s ever seen – alas, he falls in love with her moments before he’s ordained as a priest. The supernaturally beautiful Clarimonde is not pleased; our hero Romauld is in agonies of regret. A year later, he’s called to attend her death, and has disturbing erotic fantasies over her corpse, imagining his kiss restores her to life. She visits his dreams and he begins to live a feverish double life. Is he a priest dreaming he’s Clarimonde’s lover, or a young rake dreaming he’s a priest? It’s as exhausting as it sounds, taking a toll on his veins and his spirit. There’s a moral, common to such gothic tales, that Satan uses the most beguiling tactics to draw mortals off the path of righteousness. One suspects that the authors found the sinning a lot more fun.
The Moonshawl: A Wraeththu Mythos Novel by Storm Constantine (Immanion Press, 2014). If Tanith Lee continues the lush, passionate tradition of such writers as Theophile Gautier, Storm Constantine is surely Tanith’s natural heir. Acclaimed for her innovative androgynous race, the Wraeththu, in a series of fantasy/ science-fictional novels in the 1980s and 90s, Storm went on to found Immanion Press as a platform for authors whose work is loved, but deemed too exotic to fit a mainstream publisher’s list. Now she brings us The Moonshawl – a Wraeththu ghost story. “Ysobi goes to Gwyllion to create a spiritual system based upon local folklore, but he soon discovers some of that folklore is out of bounds, taboo… Secrets lurk in the soil of Gwyllion. The house and the land are haunted. The fields are soaked in blood and echo with the cries of those who were slaughtered there, almost a century ago.” You are guaranteed a beautifully-written, gripping read from Storm and this is one of her best yet.