Review: Gratia Placenti

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Gratia Placenti: For the Sake of Pleasing
by Jason, B Sizemore (Editor), Gill Ainsworth (Editor)

Paperback: 196 pages
Publisher: Apex Publications (December 1, 2007)
ISBN-10: 0978867653
ISBN-13: 978-0978867652

Gratia Placenti is the 2007 follow-up to Apex Publications' first Stoker-nominated featured writer anthology, Aegri Somnia. In the previous anthology, the publishers invited specific authors to participate and then chose a theme. With this publication, they reversed the process, choosing the theme: "For the sake of pleasing", and then inviting the authors to write with theme in mind. The results are nothing short of dark, disturbing examples of the esteemed minds of some sick individuals. Extremely cool!

Ever wanted your writing to shape the world? Ever wanted to be the one artist the rest of humanity wanted to be close to? Be careful what you wish for..., "Translatio" by Geoffrey Girard is an end-of-the-world story that takes place as a writer is compelled to pen his darkest visions. Visions not created in his mind but by an unseen master that is having a wonderful time tormenting the individual while decimating the populace of the entire planet.

"Follow the Canary" by Athena Workman is up next. While telling the story from the point of view of the main character, Athena weaves the theme into the actions of the other characters throughout the tale. For a short story, an amazing amount of world building is intricately woven into the tale to give the reader an excellent grasp of setting, along with the twisted plot and highly developed characters, in a Sci-Fi/Dark Fiction addition to this anthology that’s sure to please.

"Crasher" by Debbie Kuhn is a ghost story. There is my entrant for understatement of the year. “Crasher” is a wonderfully descriptive and emotional piece that takes a twist to lead the reader in a new direction, only to twist on them again, and again. Like watching a blind man crossing a freeway, you know someone’s going to be badly hurt, you’re just not sure who – and you can’t turn away.

David Niall Wilson's "Some Glue Never Dries" is a complex look into one man’s abused mind. Dark in its visions and forceful in its telling, this tale will be worth reading over many times.

"The Cutting Room" by our own Shane Jiraiya Cummings is an amazing tale that many of you will already be aware of. This was the first time I’d had the pleasure of reading it. Shane easily translates the cold and clinical world of the morgue onto the pages and then adds a good measure of dark to disturb the reader. Then he twists, repulsing and yet drawing in the viewer so in the end, the tale will linger in the minds of the anthology reader for some time to come.

"Bright Red Razors" by Teri Jacobs shows a disturbing insight into the world of self-mutilators. With brilliant use of the English language, Teri manages to lead us through a therapy session with a young lady and the torture filled reasoning behind her continued self abuse – or is she driven by an unseen hand of evil? The climactic scene alone is both vivid and shocking. An excellent addition to the anthology.

"Party Makers" by Adrienne Jones is a story about unwittingly selling your soul to the devil, although you wouldn’t know it. It is a strange tale that winds its way through deceit, jealousy and shallowness to wind up in a very weird place. Out of all the stories in this anthology, this one seemed to be the least at ease within its pages.

J.A. Konrath’s “Them’s Good Eats” is a simple tale with a simple plot whose ending was telegraphed well before the end. But it’s also simply a good read. This is so much more than a humorous story involving backward country bumpkins, aliens and the secret to good cracklin’.

"Something Wet" by James Reilly is something different from all the other stories in this anthology and yet with a theme like "For the sake of pleasing", you’d think most of the stories would have touched upon this trope somewhere. Sex....but with a twist. “Something Wet” is about a virtual porn star and the twisted situation he finds himself in when hired to “work” for a disfigured zillionaire. A futuristic setting involving double betrayal, money and murder. Like a sci-fi afternoon soap opera, when you think about it, but much more disturbing when the adverts are removed.

As my day job is in the IT industry, Bev Vincent's "Popup Killer" rang a strange little note of sadistic pleasure deep within me. As the world’s anti-virus companies fall over themselves to keep those nasty pop-up ad’s off our screens, what happens when one gets through the ever tightening net? What happens when that pop-up turns out to be able to remove the most annoying people in your life, for free, no questions asked? Would you? Could you?

"Only Spirits Cry" by R. Thomas Riley was an amazing addition to this collection. At first I couldn’t see why a story set in a modern day fantasy setting, involving unicorns, a gorgon and practitioners of strange magic was included at all. Woven into this setting is a boy who does everything he can to save the life of his mother from a very common modern disease. All very nicely told but surely not particularly dark. Then it dives, slowly delving into the darker forces at play between good and evil and the consequences of the decisions we make. An enchanting story with a definite dark heart.

"The Listening" by Neil Ayres is a slow and studied journey through one man’s efforts to find peace after the disappearance of a loved one. Tied in with the legend of the Selkie, it hints at how the love of one man’s life disappeared, a darker effect when considering she was six months pregnant at the time. Beautifully written, it stands out in this anthology for its total lack of the visceral or blatant evil figures one would expect to see.

Concluding the anthology is Mary Robinette Kowal's futuristic "Tomorrow and Tomorrow", a tale of the desperate things people do for the sake of others, dare I say “for the sake of pleasing” others. Entrapped by her desires and wants as well as her responsibilities for her family, we watch as one mother falls deeper into the side of darkness for all the right reasons.

At less than 200 pages from cover to cover, Gratia Placenti is a quick and comfortable read for those who like their fix of darkness to cross all the perceivable boundaries. This is a highly entertaining read by a collection of highly talented authors.