Prolific reader and reviewer Laura M. Hughes foregoes dipping her toes and jumps cleanly into the rising stars pool of independent fiction authors.
Horror is not my thing. I’m not into ghosts or ghouls, nor torturous violence, nor murder, nor any number of things you see in much of the frights genre. As such, Hughes’ shiver-inducing debut might not be targeted toward me.
That said, I’m quite pleased to report that Danse Macabre is a debut ripe with teasing darkness and drenched in gorgeous, foreboding atmosphere that drew me in and forced me to devour this 115-odd page novella in a single sitting.
Danse Macabre is difficult to classify. At once instantly recognizable and sneakily unique, a varied and somewhat jarring opening chapter is quickly lost in the hazy background as Blue — one of the more unique protagonists I’ve come across in recent memory — grows more solid with each passing page.
Perspective is hard to come by in those early passages, with an assortment of characters coming in and out of a prose structure that switches between past and present tense with some frequency. Soon enough, however, it becomes clear what Hughes is going for, and once a certain adversary makes his presence felt, the narrative coalesces into an addictive and haunting yarn that will have you floating along with Blue in the dreamlike state the vivid prose inspires.
To give away too much of the overarching plot in such a short work would be a disservice to potential readers. Suffice to say, the episodic structure Hughes employs works wonders to lend a much-needed framework to such a lyrical piece. Blue’s character remains hidden just beneath the words, but her motivations are called into question just often enough for us to get a sense of who she is, or who she might have been.
A pair of unconventional sidekicks add some needed levity to an otherwise grim tale, with a slithering snail being a chuckle-inducing standout. In fact, the inclusion of these characters adds to the sensation of experiencing a fable in real time rather than being told one, drawing us in to what otherwise could have been a colder tale.
As far as endings go, it wraps up a little too quick and neat for my liking. Perhaps a bit more breathing room in the final section would’ve added a more emotional punch. And if there is a single thing lacking in the overall picture, it is emotion. The characters are distant and the writing, again, fable-like. That said (and here’s a slight contradiction for you,) if there is one thing Hughes gets intrinsically, it is a sense of melancholic empathy that runs throughout, leading to an ending that is cathartic despite its speed.
Wholly original and daring in its structure, Danse Macabre carries a smoldering core of humanity through its muddy trails. Small criticisms aside, Hughes demonstrates a surety and thematic intent in a debut that stands as a promising herald of things to come.