“The dead beckon and the little girl obeys. Night after night she answers the graveyard’s call, though she dreads her encounters with the creature that dwells there.
But she’ll soon come to learn that memories are much more dangerous than monsters…”
I came across Danse Macabre – a horror/fantasy novelette – after reading some of Hughes’ contributions to FantasyFaction.com. The blurb alone was enough to snag my interest, and at just 56 pages it’s an ideal break between reading doorstop novels.
First off, the premise is wonderful. Horror and fantasy blend so well together anyway, but Hughes brings an assured poetic vision to this death-fuelled narrative. She employs some striking imagery, especially when describing the graveyard creature, and this is the standout strength of this story for me. However, I personally thought the evocative imagery became diluted due to the sheer amount of it used – Hughes’ writing is overflowing with description, a stylistic choice which does work for this type of story, but for me this eventually became a distraction. The power of some imagery was diminished because it wasn’t given time to breathe, the next image quick on its heels. Still, this isn’t something all readers will struggle with, and in fact it will draw some readers deeper into this world and the story’s tone.
Hughes has also made some very deliberate choices regarding the structure, dialogue and setting of this story. The structure is non-linear, and works well in this short form to create mystery and pull you along to the ending – just persevere through any initial confusion and the story will reward you. The dialogue and setting are wonderfully difficult to pin down, and instead create an “Old World” milieu that compliments the narrative perfectly and lends a timeless quality to the tale. I do think it could have been a touch longer, as it did feel slightly unbalanced as the story rushes toward its conclusion, but this didn’t overly affect my reading of it.
The little girl, Blue, isn’t a sympathetic protagonist exactly, but you do come to understand her remarkably well, especially considering the story is so short. I didn’t feel a particularly strong connection to her, which did hamper the final emotional punch of the story, but she worked well as a lens on to this macabre world.
Overall, I give Danse Macabre three out of five stars. An enjoyable story packed full of evocative imagery, but with a stylistic approach that unfortunately tipped over into purple prose in places (for me personally). Still, I’ll definitely check out what Hughes has to offer next.