Warding - by Kev Harrison
Kev Harrison starts his short story with a great letter of introduction, a rundown of the explanation of the story, its inclusion in a collection of stories, and subsequent elevation to stand-alone publication. Given that it was Kev’s first professional horror-market-accepted short, there’s a lot of great things here to fill in the 11,000 words or so that make up the short’s core, and Kev finishes the book off with an Authors notes final section, to explain a few of the “where, how and why” of the concepts behind the story. I’m a details nerd, those Author notes are golden, it’s great to see the logical progression of an idea, its basis – a call for submissions under a theme “Below the stairs: Tales from the cellar”, the happenstance of just having watched a documentary about Warding animals – it’s all golden.
Now, this IS a debut short. Mr. Harrison’s concept is sound, you can see the passion and love of detail which I hope is going to be played to more in his other shorts. Given that there are only 11,000 words on the table, characterization lacked somewhat in the MC, for my tastes – we got straight to the action and cause of all of the trouble that was to follow – a dead cat plastered into the walls of an old house which has just been bought by a young woman. I know the framework of writing to a set number of words, and the basic rule is to strip the story down to its core, pace it out and flesh it up, but I feel that characterization suffered here because of it. I got more of a feel for the MC’s father than I did for the MC – Kate -herself. Leaving that aside, the story, the concept here, is class. A Dead animal buried (well, trapped) alive to act as a ward against a demonic possessed witch. Exactly the type of thing you want to read about. The pages flew, Kev really ratcheted up the pace and tension at the end, I was fighting against the kindle, my finger was doing a jig, it was all very quick and exciting and manic, and that’s a fantastic thing to have achieved in so little words. So Kudos, Kev, I enjoyed this.
There are hints of a writer just beginning their career, here. I’m a details nerd, I look at paragraph structure, sentence structure, repeat words, repeat paragraph starters, so there are things here that will be erased in time in his future books – for example the sentence/paragraph start “She” – at about halfway through the book, after the manifestation of the witch, almost every sentence starts with “She”, as we follow her progress in attempting to fulfill some of the witches wishes. Hard to avoid in a solitary third-person narrative, but that’s a part of the craft that you do once, and then make sure never happens again, and honestly, the pace of the book picks right up as soon as the third character, Jim, becomes invested in the story, and it’s such a small thing, only the evil Austrian is going to notice it.
I’m giving this four out of five ⭐, thanks to the breakneck pace and investment that come in the final quarter of the book, the tension ratcheted up and flying by (I might even have gotten finger cramp if it had carried on much longer). I think it’s a good starter, I have Kev's collection “Paths best left untrodden” on order, let’s see how a few years have sharpened his prose.
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