*Disclaimer – I was given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.*
The streets were a dangerous place, it seemed. Every day, Michael heard of a new mugging or robbery, a new rape or murder in the alleys and streets that he frequented. Looking around tonight, half-drunk and bemused, Michael wandered between the local bars.
He turned down a street and narrowly avoided running into a man who stood in the middle of the sidewalk. Instead, he side-stepped into a signpost. Michael picked himself up ff the ground (with effort, his alcohol consumption finally making itself known) and turned toward the man he had almost ran down. He was about to scream at him, but something in the man’s face made him pause.
The man wasn’t looking at him. He was looking, unblinkingly, over Michael’s shoulder The stranger’s eyes were red-rimmed, they twitched with the effort of remaining open, and they were absolutely filled with terror.
Curiosity getting the better of him, Michael tried to turn to see what the stranger was looking at.
Then the man’s hand was around Michael’s throat. The stranger pulled him close to his chest, the scent of unwashed body filling Michael’s senses. The man’s chapped lips brushed against Michael’s senses. The man’s chapped lips brushed against Michael’s ear as he whispered in a half-maddened tone:
“Don’t look behind you!”
Michael pried the stranger’s hand from his throat and stepped away from him. “What the hell is wrong with you?!” he screamed. But, again, the stranger wasn’t looking at him.
“Don’t worry. You aren’t in any danger – not yet, at least. You’ll be fine. Just, for the love of all that you hold dear, don’t look behind you.”
Tales in Sombre Tones is a collection of 24 short horror stories punctuated by dark, dread filled illustrations. Ushered into each tale by an image to slowly chill your blood, this collection takes inspiration from ancient folk tales and modern monsters, reinventing and wholly creating stories of darkness. You will find something in this collection that is refreshingly new, no matter how many collections you’ve read and the artwork to go along with the book will cement them in your memory.
Tales From Sombre Tones has a gothic English tone overall despite the American author, which may be prompted by the English illustrator and her shadow filled art. Multiple stories ranging from darkly humorous to disturbing, from sleeping with the light on to feeling all cuddly about centipede creatures. A few of the stories felt unfinished or at least that they could be expanded on, maybe even to novella length, but I guess when you’re only real complaint is that you want more, it’s not much of a complaint is it?
There’s a version of the story of Frankenstein in this collection that gives a further perspective to the story that I found refreshing, as well as some fantasy driven tales that give off a great fireside story vibe to them. The emphasis on this collection seems to be the art of storytelling, the art of listening to a great storyteller, and though there are some small hiccups, overall I’m glad to have it on my shelf.
I enjoyed something from every story despite some of them calling for a stronger ending or plot. There’s a lot of new and unique ideas that may not need a full explanation, but a little more context for the characters would go a long way. And the characters themselves are generally very strong and they carry you through the more vague parts, but I would have liked to read a little more solid explanation in some of them.
And then , you have the artwork. So, picture books are for kids right? No, definitely not. The artwork that goes along with this book is skillfully created by Karen Ruffles and at times can be mistaken for photographs rather than charcoal drawings AND they complement the sombre tales perfectly. I didn’t know you could do so much with darkness, but gives it depth. I want more dark artwork not just on the cover but throughout my novels and collections, it makes for a beautiful book and a welcome break between stories.
About the Author and Illustrator-
Sean Walter is the author of Tales in Sombre Tones and currently lives in Portland, Oregan. He writes primarily in dark fiction and works with strange concepts and you can find him on Goodreads, Twitter, and find out more about his work on his website. The illustrator of Tales In Sombre Tones, Karen Ruffles, is an artist and illustrator from Whitby, UK. You can find her on Twitter, and see more of her artwork on her website.
Links to Buy and Review-
How do you feel about illustrations in adult fiction? Do we need more horror/dark artwork? Do you like reinvented classic horror stories or totally original ones? Let me know down below!