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The Crimson Pact, Volume 2

Posted by Dan Smyth On Tuesday, December 20, 2011

I had massive reservations about trying to review this one. Yes, I reviewed the first volume, and so it only makes sense that I should review the second...and yet... How does one go about reviewing a short-story anthology that includes the first authorial offering of one’s near-perfect boss? Or even how does one have the audacity to review such an anthology that is so closely connected to the review site itself? I mean it. How do you even start to tackle something like that? To tell you the truth, I have absolutely no idea. So, I’m just going to tell you what I thought about it--straight up--and hope that it comes across well.

THE CRIMSON PACT, VOL 2 is a continuation of the demon-themed anthology offered in VOL 1, both edited by Paul Genesse. For those that haven’t read VOL 1, the premise of the over-arching story is that a certain number of knights have pledged themselves to fighting against a horde of demons that has decimated their world and then fled into the multi-verse. These knights are The Crimson Pact.

The stories in both volumes give you a range of offerings--from fantasy to science fiction, from epic to flash--and usually stay with that theme of demons. One of the new facets of this volume is that several of the stories were continuations from the first volume. I was interested in seeing where a number of these stories would go, but mostly seeing where the anthology would go as a whole. Would it develop that theme of the Crimson Pact more, or would it just be another bundle of demon stories?

For me, a majority of this anthology was a pretty big let down, with an even showing in the Didn’t Like, Mediocre, and Liked categories. This kind of variation is partially to be expected, as this is a collection of stories from not only lots of different authors but also from a lot of new authors. The main focus of my disappointment came from the fact that I had liked a much larger portion of the stories in VOL 1.

There were four stories in VOL 2 that I really liked, and one that completely blew all of the others away in a wispy cloud of chaff. I’ll mention those here.

“Still Life” by Steve Diamond is about an FBI detective that is dealing with the trauma of having his seven-year old son taken from him, the connection of that abduction to a criminal named The Photographer, and the ultimate resolution to the long-standing case. This story was killer. I loved it unabashedly. And yes, Steve is my boss here at EBR. Have I been obvious enough about that?

“Dark Archive” by Sarah Kanning is a continuation of a story that I enjoyed in VOL 1 and deals with the fallout of what happened to the main character, Danielle, and her connection to the magical book being held in the library where she works. Not to mention the demon that is now caged within her. This one started great, and even though it ended a bit abruptly, I really liked where this story went.

“Trail of Blood” by Alex Haig is one of the few flash stories that I enjoyed. It’s a western-themed, trailing-the-bad-guy epic that really caught me up in its grip. It had a feel similar to King’s The Gunslinger, which I really enjoyed. It also introduced the wider story behind this one in very few words, making a quick believer out of me. More of this in future Crimson Pact anthologies would be welcome.

“Seven Dogs” by Suzanne Myers is a continuation of a story from VOL 1 that I didn’t remember at all. In my defense, it was one of the shorter pieces. Anyhow, this one had some great atmosphere that painted the picture of a post-apocalyptic world in which seven demon-dogs are trying to destroy the remaining vestige of humanity on a far-flung planet. It had this science-fiction flair and sense of foreboding that was just great. Not to mention the plight of the hunted, which I loved.

And then there’s the last. Yeah. My opinion of this story was the kicker when I first sat down to write this review, because not only was my boss’s story really good, but his co-authored story absolutely knocked it out of the park. Yup, that’s right. The best one of the bunch is:

“Son of Fire, Son of Thunder” by Steve Diamond and Larry Correia. I mean, just wow. This story comes from a combination of the character that Steve gave us in “Still Life” and Larry Correia’s Diego Santos, a United States Marine that has been shown exactly how and when he will die. In typical Correia fashion, this offering to the reading masses was a glorious feast of hot lead and biting humor that brought these two characters into the same demon-killing shooting range. So much fun to be had with this one. I seriously need some more of this. Like now.

So can you see now where I was coming from at the beginning of the review? Just frustrating! The really tough part is that without the one-two punch of "Still Life" and "Son of Fire, Son of Thunder", this anthology would have landed solidly in the Mediocre range for me. On the whole, VOL 2 is just another demon anthology. I’d love to see something more pointed in the direction of the Crimson Pact. I can totally understand wanting to keep the anthology general enough that a wide array of author-hopefuls could contribute, but in order for it to stand out, for me, I think it needs a bit more direction.

Still, for five bucks? The two best stories in the anthology make it worth every one of those pennies. I just hope you can take all this for what it is: my honest opinion.

Okay, Steve, you can put that lightning bolt away now.

Recommended Age: 18+
Language: Some of the stories are fairly profane, but in general there's not much
Violence: Some of the stories are pretty violent and gory/graphic
Sex: One story has a 13-year old in a sexual situation, a couple scenes

The Crimson Pact Website

Grab the collections here:
THE CRIMSON PACT: VOLUME ONE

THE CRIMSON PACT: VOLUME TWO

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