Posts Tagged adventure

Review: What Hell May Come

What Hell May Come Cover

I was kindly sent a review copy of this book by Crystal Lake Publishing.

The concept of this tale alone was intriguing to me, before I even began. What if the ‘Satanic Panic’ during the 1980s in America was real? This was the moral scare about Dungeons & Dragons being an entryway for impressionable young minds to discover Satanism, in case you didn’t know. Not the UK panic, which was concerned with video Nasties (all of which are now widely available).

My initial thoughts about the D&D scare was based on articles I read years ago from American newspapers, while researching for my BA dissertation. Worried mothers believed that their children were somehow possessed by their player-characters, or becoming drawn into the occult. For anyone who’s seen the D&D books of that time (or seen the television cartoon), this seems far-fetched, but it did happen. Blame the books that fire children’s imaginations in a way that the Real World never could…

Well, that last part is present in this book, at least. But this is no comedy poking fun at Conservative Christian parents.

If this book reminded me of any roleplaying game, it was actually White Wolf’s World of Darkness. This is the ’80s through a lense of nihilism, suspicion and kids just trying to survive in a messed-up world that makes absolutely no sense. Reaganomics translates to ‘every person for themselves’. Sexism and racism are still present, fear of The Outsider, money being the ultimate goal of life… this is darkest satire, but for those of us who remember that decade (I was one of those kids), this is an alternative universe that with just a nudge, could be our Real World.

We follow a young protagonist, Jon St Fond, and his alter-ego Crixen Runeburner, as they battle past monsters of very different types, but equal threat. Jon and his friends come from messed-up and neglectful families (each in its own unique way), and D&D brings them together for those rare times when they can be heroes instead of losers.

So far, so typical of how D&D was often portrayed. But as we delve deeper into Jon’s life, we see that there’s more to the ‘mundane’ world that he may have thought. A new roleplaying game that seems more obviously influenced by the occult, acquired by a dodgy magician in a strange part of town. His parents are acting suspiciously, apparently encouraging his sisters to dive into the worst debaucheries. And why are there cameras all over their house?

I don’t want to give too much away. This is a slow burn of a novel, and occasionally difficult to read – but the ‘money and drugs’ image of the ’80s is shown here in filthy Trainspotting-style glory. Everything has a veneer of sleaze, everyone’s corrupt or on the take. The occasional innocent is food for the wolves.

I was hypnotised as Jon’s journey took him ever deeper into the abyss that lay behind the everyday normality of life. More than a few times, I caught myself thinking ‘this can’t be happening!’ – but it was. This book throws any rules or tropes of genre out of the window, and bloodily carves its own path, dragging you along with it.

My only disappointment was that after the slow click-click-click of the rollercoaster rising to the climax of the story, the ending seemed sudden, almost rushed. Everything was concluded, but somehow faster than it deserved. I wanted Jon to get more, after all he’d been through.

But hey – life is tough. By the end, our hero(es) set off into their lives very different people from that waaay back at the beginning.

And this is a story that won’t leave my mind anytime soon, either.

Recommended, but be wary. Here there be monsters – and you may know some of them already.

‘What Hell May Come’ is out now in paperback or ebook via Amazon.

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Facing Dragons

I love walking in mud with no shoes. Because shoes weren’t really made for mud, were they? They get dirty so easily, and don’t really cling (unless they’ve got special soles). Toes were certainly made for gripping, holding us firm, telling us what’s underfoot and if it’s safe to proceed.

But we don’t walk barefoot in mud, do we. Pause now, think of all the reasons you’ve been told. You’ll get your feet dirty. Who knows what you’ll step in? It’s cold. It’s wet. Just the feeling of wet, dirty, squishy mud, full of horrors… urrrgh…

Have you ever tried? How about sand? Or grass? The worst surface to walk on barefoot, for me, is gravel or concrete. Hard, cold, with no grip. The natural earth is full of sensation, feeling, and it actually feels so much better. More natural, indeed.

Oh, and soap exists. We can wash our feet afterwards. It’s easy.

This thoughts came to me as I was navigating a tricky path this afternoon, walking the dogs. Yes, there was mud. Fields where cows had been. Slippery wooden stiles to climb over. Brambles.

Every step of the way, my shoes slipped and skidded, my coat caught in things… the very clothes I wore to keep myself warm and dry were actually impeding my progress. It was both funny and frustrating.

Yes, we do things a certain way for practical concerns. Of course we do. But it’s so easy to trap ourselves in the prison of what we ‘must’ do. Not because we decide, but because someone else has, and we obey unthinkingly.

It’s interesting to consider our own personal boundaries. Which ones have we put up, and why? Which ones did someone else build around us, which we might actually be curious to take down?

Not everyone likes bare skin on mud. But you could do it easily if you wanted to – that’s the example that came to my mind today.

I’ve also spun, arms thrown out wide, in a thunderstorm… on a busy high street, full of people scuttling past to find shelter. I’ve skipped down a London street with a friend, through falling snow, as people got out of our way. I’ve stood naked in a field in Oxfordshire, screaming at the sky.

For each of these, I either was (or would be) stared at. None are illegal. All are rather societally frowned upon. Not British, perhaps, or not done by ‘civilized’ people.

But oh, how freeing they were. To feel that urge within me and to follow through with it. To feel the fear-walls fall away: less like tumbling bricks, more like smoke, that faded as I pushed it, challenged it. Overcame it.

I think of close friends, and things they’ve done, which are marvellous to me. Walking alone through busy city streets on the far side of the world. Leaping from a plane, falling back to earth at the end of a thin rigging of cloth and rope. ‘Coming out’ – as a particular sexuality, gender or faith – in an unfriendly environment.

My little mischiefs seem trivial in comparison.

When I wrote my last post, I did worry. How many people would respond accusing me of ‘privilege’, of not knowing ‘how lucky I am’, of how I should ‘be grateful’. I was only talking about having photos taken, for goodness sake…

Words like that were the bars of my inner fear-cell as a child. Always being aware of how I appeared to others, and how I had to act. I always wondered why, how this sort of thing was known. I felt as if I’d been left out when the instructions on such things were being given out. My biggest mistake was often being honest. When I was, I usually got mocked, laughed at and ridiculed. I learned to stay quiet.

But the response that I actually got to my writing was wonderful. People thanking me for my honesty. For being so brave as to talk about such things. For putting into words what is so difficult to even feel, let alone express.

Whenever I let the words come. When I feel so full of emotion that I have to let it out, to express it in some way… people thank me. This confuses me – because as I said, that used to be precisely the wrong thing to do! But now I’m allowed to say it, somehow. Or rather, society has turned enough that we have learned to listen, both to the words being said and to the intention behind them.

I still see words being censored. I’ve had bosses tell me to ‘use different language’, that certain phrases are ‘too negative’. That’s because the situation is negative, perhaps? I see journalists fight in America to express bigger truths that need to be heard. I see everyone figuring out how to tell their own individual tale.

We can only share the stories as we live them. If this means identifying privilege as part of it, then so be it. I’m a white, cis-female, living in a wealthy country – of course my view is going to be limited to that. But this isn’t a prison either; it’s just a perspective. My story is no better or worse than anyone else’s, and by sharing, we can open the doors to each other’s experiences too.

I may be using hard language here. I’ve often felt ‘imprisoned’ by societal demands, by the expectations of others, of that strange ‘map of life’ that I’ve somehow stumbled away from (you know the one: birth, school, job, marriage, kids, death). I’ve often said that I left that behind a while ago. I’m in the back pages of the atlas now, drawing in the blank space. As the medieval maps would say, Here Be Dragons.

I’d rather the dragons of my own experience and exploration than those snapping at my heels. The adventures and stories give me the power to fight them… or fly.

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