Christopher Stires is an internationally published short story author with 2 prior novels in his bibliography. Dark Legend is his most recent stab at full-length fiction, though the novel itself is separated into 5 books. Does the Legend stand strong, or is it consumed by the Dark?
“I am a ghost…”
“…What follows is my story–how I was murdered and the events after.”
For 150 years, in a house called Journey’s End, his ghost has walked the halls among the shadows of murder and horror. Now a courageous young woman has come, risking her life to free him. But a ruthless demon soldier will summon the terrors of Hell to stop them and continue the Dark Legend.
The back of the book offers a little bit more than the truncated web description, however I’m of the opinion that it offers too much. Prior to opening the book, one major plot twist is given away, and instantly I worried that the story would have too many complications to be fluid. In fairness to Stires, he does tie most of his knots tightly, but there are spots of obvious deus ex machina.
The two main protagonists are William Henry Cooper (hereon known as Coop) and Ashley Troy-Browning. Coop was murdered in 1855, Ashley is alive present day. Coop haunts a mansion in Rimpau Bay, California, whilst Ashley is an intrepid reporter searching for an author whose final book was about the house Coop haunts. Given the 100+ years between Coop’s death and Ashley’s birth, Stires creates a dizzying, yet satisfying lineage that hints at a connection between them. Coop’s story is told in first person narrative, while Ashley’s is told from the more common third person perspective. The antagonist, Rusherton, is common as he’s somewhat immortal. Rusherton isn’t exactly the legend, but his origins are. I must give Stires credit for either the tremendous amount of historical research he carried out, or for creating a fake backstory that is incredibly believable.
The opening book details all of Coop’s mortal existence. It plays out like many other westerns: man leaves home to better his life, man finds trouble, man overcomes. The difference here is that at the end of Book 1, Coop dies a rather horrible – if slightly drawn out – death Before we get to that, we’re treated to the backstory of Journey’s End mansion, the most prominent house in all of Rimpau Bay. Coop, Rusherton and secondary character John Sessions make their way to Journey’s End in order to strike a business deal with the owner.
Book 2 deals with Coop’s discovery that he’s a ghost, and the discovery that he’s now trapped in the house where he was slaughtered, and I must state that his internal turmoil is very well documented. The Legend is more fully explained, both to the reader and to Coop. Coop also exacts a small measure of revenge on his killers, which provides the reader with a small satisfaction and ups the gore quotient quite nicely.
Book 3 is dedicated to Ashley. Stires creates a powerful female lead, who thankfully doesn’t fall into the stereotypes so often perpetuated by female protagonists. Ashely is human, and deals with her flaws and negative situations with a style befitting a person in those situations. Stires gives us enough of a backstory to become attached to her, though her constant questioning of her own motivations tends to wear a bit thin. Rusherton’s omnipotence provides a smooth transition from his involvement with Coop, to his involvement with Ashley. I almost felt like Rusherton was too powerful, and the control he exerts over his minion is simply absolute with no backstory or explanation.
Book 4 and 5 finish off the novel, and most of the characters created within. The legend is fully explained, as is the path needed to rid the world of said curse. I take issue with this not because a resolution is offered, but because of the quality of the resolution. *SPOILER* I never felt like Coop and Ashley weren’t going to win. *END SPOILER*
Dark Legend began beautifully, faltered midway and picked up somewhat to provide a finish. Christopher Stires gets many things right, but many things wrong as well. Being only his third novel, I believe that he didn’t fully break out of short story mode when writing this, so I’m very interested to see how he chooses to progress.