Borealis by Ronald Malfi

Borealis, Ronald Malfi’s latest release from Samhain Publishing, was originally released as a novella in New Dark Voices 2 (2009), which was edited by Brian Keene and brought to you by Delirium Books. Almost 3 years later, we’re proud as hell to tell you that it’s been released as part of Samhain’s inaugural launch of their new horror line.

To lead off with a book this powerful is a brilliant move by the predominantly romance-centric publishing house. Couple that with having a heavyweight in the horror industry like Don D’Auria taking the throne as editor and you have the makings for a complete and total takeover. Are we complaining? Hell no! We want more! Being that this was our first introduction to the press, we’re super excited to see what they have up their sleeves and we have complete and total faith in D’Auria and his ability to find great horror fare for us literature junkies.

On a routine crabbing expedidtion in the Bering Sea, Charlie Mears and the rest of the men aboard the trawler Borealis discover something unbelievable; a young woman running naked along the ridge of a passing iceberg. The men rescue her and bring her aboard the boat. But they will soon learn her horrible secret. 

By the time they find out why she was alone on the ice – and what she truly is – the nightmare will have begun, as one by one she infects them with an evil that brings about unimaginable terrors. 

Oh, Malfi. How we love this man at the Dreadful Tales office. Not only does this author have a literary staying power that transcends genres, but he’s got the chops to completely justify any move he chooses to make. His characters are flesh-and-bones real, and his story lines are tighter than anything we’ve seen this side of the classics. Borealis is no different than any of his other output quality-wise, save for the fact that it was written years ago, and shows the natural progression of Malfi’s writing ability. While not as tight as work such as, say, Floating Staircase, it’s still light-years ahead of the standard genre fare. In fact, to say that Malfi’s writing is standard isn’t anything but an insult. His prose is haunting, poetic, and timeless.

Borealis follows a common trend present in most of Malfi’s stories, at least thematically, in that it’s set in a mostly barren land that just so happens to be snow covered. For any of those who have read Snow, Malfi’s 2010/11 release with both Leisure and Altar 13, you’re well aware of this man’s ability to chill you to the bone with some seriously incredible scenes of terror, and literally freeze you with his words. In this particular tale it’s “so fucking cold my goddamn lighter’s giving up the ghost!”

Not only is the bone-chilling weather palpable, but once the girl comes aboard the entire atmosphere turns terrifying and dark. The presence Malfi creates with his creature is creepy and unsettling. It’s rare that an author can actually make the elements drift off of the page and affect the reader like that. It’s a special thing, really.

Another theme that seems to permeate throughout Malfi’s work is the loss of identity.  Stories like The Separation, The Floating Staircase and Passenger all find their protagonists pitted in a battle of the mind in their quest for true identity. This loss of identity usually runs parallel to the loss or separation from a loved one. Borealis is no exception as the characters are forced to combat an unimaginable evil as they attempt to save and maintain their individual personage and overcome their spiritual demons as well. That is, if they survive. This theme is the backbone of Malfi’s work and it serves to make his stories so damn relatable. Readers will be particularly touched by Charlie’s internal struggle with his estrangement from his son.

As usual, Malfi also achieves the ultimate effect on his readers with Borealis – he not only terrifies them with his wicked, lithe prose, but he also affects the reader emotionally, hitting where it counts the most. This story is so heavy, engrossing, and phenomenally paced, that it’s almost impossible to stop the tears from flowing in the end. It’s beautiful, man. *sniff* Beautiful… and terrifying! The baddie in this novella, for instance, is not only incredibly unsettling, but she’s also hot as hell. Malfi absolutely nails the physical description of this character right on the head, creating something that can be both vile and disgusting, at the same time as being lustful and sexy.

It’s amazing, really. We loved this book, the characters, and the story. The landscape is wonderful, the set pieces tangible, and the overall feel is foreboding and evil, if also absolutely heartbreaking at times. Borealis is a truly amazing book for anyone who isn’t familiar with Malfi’s work, and a great read for the die-hard fans of this man’s work. Either way, readers will be pleased to see the power in this story, and most likely chase the rest of Malfi’s stories for future reading.

Colum, Pat, and Meli.

Giving Up The Ghost by Melissa Ecker

I don’t care what you’re thinking – Paranormal Romance has a place in the horror genre, and Melissa Ecker is here to prove that fact. Not only that, but she’s going to make you cry, laugh, scare the hell out of you, and hit you hard on every other emotion you could possibly think of. Sure, she titillates and teases, but I can assure you that this woman is here to show you a good time, as well as show you who’s boss. Giving Up The Ghost has made me an instant fan of this Ecker’s work, and will go down as my favorite piece of Paranormal Romance/Erotica ever.

Kylie McAllister has it all until her world is shattered by the death of her husband, Jackson, in a car accident. After a year of grieving, Kylie uses the proceeds from Jackson’s life insurance to purchase a plantation home on the outskirts of New Orleans to start over with her daughter, Abby. Confirmed bachelor, Ryan Lacroix, has to intentions of settling down with anyone, let alone his best friend’s widow, but somehow Kylie and Abby find their way into his heart. 

After discovering an old Ouija Board in the attic of her new home, Kylie unwittingly opens a cosmic door to an incubus who pretends to be the dead husband she is so desperately struggling to let go of. She falls deep under his spell of delicious sex and malevolent obsession while he gradually drains her life to fortify his own. By the time she realizes he’s an impostor, she is powerless to stop him. Together, with Jackson’s subliminal guidance and the help of a voodoo practitioner, Ryan and Kylie wage a fight for her life against the evil entity.

Picture this: I’m looking at this book, wondering if I should buy it. I think “Hell, what could it hurt?”, buy it, and let it sit there for a couple of weeks. If I had known right then and there that I would be getting a story that mixes the sexiness of paranormal romance and erotica with the absolute, spine-tingling terror that one can find in a novel such as The Amityville Horror (which is still one of the scariest damn books I’ve ever read), I would have picked this bad boy up and read it right then and there. Giving Up The Ghost took all of the trappings that I assumed the P/R genre was about, turned them on their head, and served up a dish that would confuse my emotions so perfectly that I became a slave to them.

Ecker writes beautifully. She follows the formula perfectly, but has such a dynamic flair to her style that she stands apart from others instantly. Her words seethe with unbridled, raw sexuality, but also hold the ability to tear everything down in one fell swoop. The first 4 chapters of this book are designed in such a way that Ecker brings the reader soaring to untold heights of happiness, only to have their wings clipped mid-flight, sending them rocketing down to the pits of despair along with the main character, Kylie. Through incredibly emotional, well chosen phrases and pacing, Ecker is able to craft a very effective introduction to the central theme, and thus starts what quickly becomes a very addictive journey.

I was prepared for some hot and heavy sex scenes going into this one. Ecker writes short fiction for the website Everything Erotic, and have read some of those steamy morsels of awesome. What I wasn’t prepared for though, was how cleanly and easily this author could slide from one extreme to the next. Popping from normal exposition to clearly defined spookiness obviously proves to be no daunting task for Ecker. But when it comes to sex, oh lordy does this woman write ever with passion. Gone are the clichés and ridiculous euphemisms that stereotype this sort of fiction, and present are some seriously hard, edgy, and heated descriptions that will melt the ice encrusted minds of the most ardent of prudes. Heartbeats amp up, squirming begins, and the incredible visions of lust swim in delightfully euphoric passion plays behind the reader’s eyelids. This is some incredible erotic fiction.

Wherever Ecker wants to take her reader, she will. Her prose is tight, her characters believable and light, and her scares are one-hundred percent there. I wouldn’t want to read anything less than that, and Ecker has delivered beautifully. Giving Up The Ghost is a truly terrifying, sexy little read that will leave you gasping for more, but still terrified of playing with the Occult.

Ecker can be found at her website and on Twitter. You can grab her novels at Turquoise Morning Press, Amazon and other retailers online.