So as part of my quest to get through the TBR pile threatening to tumble from my bedside table and crush me in my sleep, I’m trying to read a short story or a novel chapter religiously before bed. Last night it was Paul Finch’s King Death from Spectral Press (brainchild of Simon Marshall-Jones).
The blurb from Spectral goes thusly (why would I paraphrase when this blurbs it so beautifully?):
In 1348, England is stricken by the Black Death.
The worst pandemic in human history has reached the kingdom of the warlike Edward III, a monarch who in battle against human adversaries cannot imagine defeat.
Two thirds of his subjects now perish. Woods become wild again, farmland goes to rack and ruin, villages, towns and castles are left empty, inhabited only by ghosts.
Little wonder that fear of the supernatural reaches an all-time high. Little wonder stories ignite about witches and demons spreading the plague, about ‘King Death’, an awesome harbinger of doom from whom there is no protection.
Cynical opportunist Rodric doesn’t believe any of these. With reckless indifference, he sets out to enrich himself …
The pace is wonderfully managed, Rodric’s opportunistic pragmatism is beautifully balanced between repellent and understandable, and the ending is unexpected. Finch has provided a convincing vision of Britain in the grip of the Black Plague, summoning the same kind of threatening atmosphere as that embedded in Poe’s “Masque of the Red Death”, and illustrating the terrible equality of this epidemic as it lays low both the rich and the poor.
This piece is also included in Paula Guran’s Year’s Best Dark Fantasy and Horror 2012, and quite rightly so. And! It’s also on the short list for a British Fantasy Award for Short Fiction. Huzzah!