NR: Unquiet Waters

The third volume in the Black Shuck Shadows series, Unquiet Waters by Thana Niveau contains four stories, all with a watery theme or setting.

In “To Drown the World” Evan has to confront his fears and drive across the causeway to Galveston Island to visit sister Lea, whose cryptic messages have left him concerned for her welfare. He finds her obsessed with the ocean, and the idea that pollution and climate change have awakened dormant life forms, and that she is in thrall to the water. There’s a lot going on here, far more than my brief synopsis can convey. While it eschews Lovecraftian terminology, there is a Cthulhuesque feel to this story, with Lea’s ideas on change and evolution putting HPL into scientific terms. The back story and history of the siblings adds an extra frisson, with the hint of terrible things waiting in the wings, as does Evan’s fear of the causeway. Overall it’s a compelling example of what horror fiction is capable of when it combines off the wall theorising and credible characterisation.

“The Reflection” is a doppelgänger story, with an image seen on the surface of the water taking on a life of its own. It’s a moody, atmospheric piece, with a narrative arc that contains all the avatars of the horror to come and a truly chilling finale in the drowned basement of an office building. I loved it for the assured way in which it built to this coup d’état and the author’s willingness to do something different with a familiar horror trope.

In “Rapture of the Deep” Jo takes her friend Natalie blue water diving for the first time as a way to take her mind off men troubles, but Natalie becomes entranced by what they encounter in the briny deep. The story captures perfectly the beauty of the ocean and its inhabitants and the dangers inherent in this truly alien space. At its heart are the different forms of madness embraced by the two women, the euphoria that makes Natalie act so strangely and the breakdown in Jo’s personality as she realises how totally out of control things have grown and the ominous fate that awaits her. It’s a powerful story, one that shows we don’t need supernatural terrors, only the natural world and our own flawed ability to interact/interpret it in any meaningful way.

Final story “Where the Water Comes In” is the story of Tara, whose corporeality is open to interpretation. It’s a story that is strong on mood, suggesting that there is a certain inevitability to whatever tragedy might have taken place, but also hinting that this is not the end, that life lingers on in some form or another courtesy of the ocean that gave birth to us all.

Rounding out the collection are story notes by the author, explaining something of the inspiration and thinking behind each work.

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