King Death by Paul Finch
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 latest release from Spectral Press is a bit different from all the others that have preceded it. King Death by Paul Finch is the first chapbook to venture into the realms of historical fiction.
The story opens with a knight watching impassively, as a caravan full of disease ridden corpses trundles by on a lonely road. This vivid yet bleak image sets a perfect tone to the remainder of the tale.
Rodric, the knight, isn’t the nicest man you are ever likely to meet. He is only interested in saving his own skin and, if at all possible, lining his pockets. More through luck than judgment, Rodric has managed to survive in the plague lands by taking advantage of every situation he finds himself in. Finch adds just enough insight into Rodric’s back story so that the reader gets an idea of exactly how self absorbed the knight actually is. It’s a nice touch that fleshes out the character.
Rodric happens upon a young boy, who is never named, another survivor immune to the ravages of the plague. The boy takes one look at the knight’s imposing black armour and the razor sharp scythe, and mistakes Rodric for the spirit of Death. The child is convinced that Rodric has arrived to finish the job that the plague started. All of the child’s family and friends have been taken from him and he is desperate to either join them or for all of them to come back. As the narrative reaches its conclusion Rodric finally gets to learn a valuable lesson regarding putting others before himself.
This latest release once again proves that the output from Spectral Press continues to go from strength to strength. The writing has a creepily evocative feel that suitably captures the desolate landscapes of medieval England. I also have to make special mention the cover, the simple silhouette against an angry sky is a strikingly atmospheric image. Definitely worthwhile checking this out if you get the chance.