Sunday, January 31, 2021

The Prisoner of the Castle of Enlightenment, Helena, Leviathan, and More

Things that brought me delight in January, 2021:

Therese Doucet, The Prisoner of the Castle of Enlightenment

Therese Doucet is an "online acquaintance" of mine, so that likely colors my perception of this novel, but I feel I can safely recommend the book to anyone looking for a lightly Gothic take on Beauty and the Beast. The heroine is a young widow and former bookseller whose father trades her off to a reclusive nobleman to stave off financial catastrophe. She's sent to the nobleman's remote chateau, where unseen forces cater to her needs. The nobleman writes to her, telling her that he will only arrive to meet her if she expressly desires it. 

Our heroine eventually relents and agrees to meet her keeper, but he only appears under the cover of darkness in her bedroom. They have long conversations, but he never allows her to see his face. When she expresses a sense of loneliness during the days, a cast of strangers arrives to enliven the chateau. Each uses a pseudonym to disguise their identity. The house turns into a salon in which art and enlightenment ideals are discussed, though I will say that the lack of development in the enlightenment angle is probably my biggest criticism of the novel. The chateau's Elysium is disrupted by treachery, but things come full circle to the strange legends about the forest and all the enchantments its holds.

Zombie Dust

It's obvious that I bought this beer because it has a lich on the art, but this beer is actually excellent so I wasn't just suckered in by good marketing. It's a pale ale, very hoppy, with a bit of a citrus kick to it as well. If my local grocery store keeps stocking this, I will certainly keep buying it.

Claire L. Smith, Helena

I wanted to love this book, but I'm going to have to settle for a mild like instead. To be brutally honest, I may be stretching the limits of "delight" by even including it in this monthly round-up. In theory, I should be in love with a novel with this premise: a woman mortician plagued by specters is embroiled in a serial murderer's plans in Victorian England.

There are some really well done gruesome bits in Helena, particularly the descriptions of the threatening unquiet dead, but I was let down by the shoddiness of the historical backdrop. For example, it's set in 1855 and a detective whips put plastic bags marked "evidence"? Additionally, one of the characters has the most implausible rationale for allowing another to pursue a truly insane and monstrous course of action.

Plush Grim Reaper

My plush plague doctor got a new friend.

Therion, Leviathan

I've been a fan of Therion since I first heard Vovin. And yet, being a Therion fan be a dicey affair. Modern Therion records can sometimes be a bit too "power metal" for my tastes, and there have been moments where the symphonic and orchestral bombast has overtaken the heaviness that I'm looking for. The indulgent, three-disc Beloved Antichrist is the case in point, and since this is their first album after that sprawling affair, Leviathan seems poised to be either a return to form or a further misstep. In practice, it's neither. Instead, it's a grab bag of the various styles that Therion have accumulated over the course of their discography. There are symphonic metal songs I really like here, but also some moments I'm less partial to.

Bloody Hammers, Songs of Unspeakable Terror

Bloody Hammers is definitely a Planet Motherfucker house band; their mix of lurid, lowbrow spookshow rock hits all the right ghoulish and lightly psychotronic notes. Songs of Unspeakable Terror sounds like...pretty much every other Blood Hammers album, but that's fine by me. You wouldn't expect The Misfits to reinvent their sound and aesthetic, so I'm quite happy for Bloody Hammers to stay the graveyard course they've chosen for themselves.

Norihiro Yago, Claymore vol. 1-2

There is a Berserk-shaped hole in my life. Once you're got caught up on the translated volumes, where do you go? Well, personally, I've turned toward Claymore. Claymore is about a world in which monsters are hunted by slayers who have been hybridized with their prey, resulting in superhumans who are both the saviors of humanity and reviled for their inherent inhumanity. So far, I'm enjoying the dark fantasy elements of this manga. The art has nowhere near the detail of Berserk, but this is a quick-moving action comic with interesting characters and plenty of limbs being lopped off by greatswords.

Kaori Yuki, Alice in Murderland vol. 4

By the end of volume four of Alice in Murderland, there's one less sibling to worry about in the battle royale for control of the family's fortune and mysterious mystical powers. What I've found really interesting in this volume is the depiction of a character who we might call trans in the West, but doesn't seem to fit that description from the story's point of view. Sibling Mare is a "son" of the family and consistently referred to by male pronouns, but "he" seems to have chosen to live as a woman--dressing in feminine attire and adopting a stereotypically feminine characterization throughout the series. It's difficult to parse the gender politics of another culture, but the way it plays on in the pages of the comic is fascinating, particularly as it has yet to be fully explained and honestly might not ever be addressed.

Tribulation, Where the Gloom Becomes Sound

Tribulation has established themselves as a great introductory band for people to bond over, no matter their level of comfort with metal; they're heavy enough for hardcore metal fans, but approachable enough for people who don't generally have a taste for heavy music. Where the Gloom Becomes Sound continues Tribulation's streak of gothic-infused metal. Like Bloody Hammers' Songs of Unspeakable Terror, it doesn't steer the band in a wild new direction--Tribulation have found their niche and they're all the more stronger for it.

Anathema, Alternative 4

One thing that I believe is terribly under-rated is going back and listening to albums that didn't initially hit you the right way. We accept that it's possible to grow out of something, but rarely think about how we can grow into them. For me, Anathema is a great example. There was a time when I drew a firm line regarding which Anathema albums I liked and which I didn't. Alternative 4 formerly fell on the latter side of that line, but I've recently gained a new appreciation of the record's combination of atmospheric metal and Pink Floyd-inspired dark psychedelic, experimental rock. 

Mari Lwyd ornaments

Check out these Mari Lwyd ornaments made by Goblin Fruit Studio! They almost make me look forward to the holidays again. Almost. Let's not go crazy here.


I also got this darling mandrake from Goblin Fruit Studio. I've got a nice little family of these guys going now.

Friday, January 22, 2021

The Cult of the Mouse

Photo by Leighann Blackwood on
The Cult of the Mouse

A religion in my Planet Motherfucker Campaign

The Cult of the Mouse promises endless entertainments to distract its devotees from the drudgery and dull monotony of the fallen world. The cult’s primary deity is the Mouse, an anthropomorphic rodent with an unwavering and unnerving grin who speaks to the blessed in a trilling falsetto. In addition, the cult also reveres a number of other saints or demigods. Some of these divine figures are anthropomorphic animals, such as ducks and dogs, but others are idealized princesses clad in radiant raiment. 

     The Mouse is worshiped primarily through the consumption of its holy gifts—cartoons for children, and television shows and movies about the adventures of superheroes and spacemen for emotionally stunted adults. The faithful believe that giving their attention to the Mouse and his sacred media offerings will dull the pain of existence, fill the void in their lives, and give them something worthwhile to devote their otherwise pointless lives to.

     Devotion to the Cult of the Mouse can be financially draining for its adherents. Not only are members of the congregation expected to pay for access to the sacred films and television programs made by the Mouse, they are encouraged to show their commitment to their god by buying clothes emblazoned with images of the religion’s holy figures and other decorative religious knickknacks. Each member of the Cult of the Mouse is required to make at least one pilgrimage to one of the sacred amusement parks maintained by the cult—either Mouseland on the west coast or Mouseworld in Swamplandia. This pilgrimage is meant to be undertaken with good cheer, now matter the distance to be traveled. It’s a small world, after all.

     Adherents of the cult are easily recognizable as they tend to wear hats that mimic the Mouse’s big round ears. 

Monday, January 18, 2021

The Lustful Turk

Episode 47: The Lustful Turk

The Lustful Turk is an 1828 pornographic adventure that presents readers with a cornucopia of semi-consensual sexual scenarios, fully intended to be read in a one-handed manner. Written by an anonymous writer at a time when publishing and selling pornography came with the risk of stiff legal penalties, this bodice-ripper tracks the turgid horizontal career of Ali, the Dey of Algiers, who ravishes his way through a veritable EU of virginal  concubines. Jack and Kate explore a world of highly specific and uncomfortable fantasies as they probe this classic of erotic literature.

How many virginities does a woman have? How elaborate is too elaborate when it comes to sex schemes? Do all Catholics imprison women in convents? All these questions and more will be answered in this episode of Bad Books for Bad People.

Monday, January 11, 2021

Drearborne House (Part One)

Photo by Alberto Restifo on
This was the first time I've run Shadows of the Demon Lord...and the events that are chronicled within are as best I can remember now that a week or more has passed.


Arno dwarf priest

Dyer orc warrior

Glazier changeling magician


Arno, Dyer, and Glazier were criminals being transported to a prison island until the cruel hand of fate intervened. For reasons unknown, the ship transporting them was wrecked; they escaped death in the frigid sea and managed to climb onto shore with what meager items they could scavenge from what washed ashore. Then their real problems began as they attempted to head north through the frozen wasteland. They found themselves harried by fey hunters who occasionally attempted to run them down for sport.

Cresting a snow-covered ridge, they surveyed the territory ahead of them and saw two landmarks of note: a ruined tower sitting amidst a forest of skeletal black trees and a building of stone whose chimneys lazily streamed smoke into the cold air. Considering that the latter building appear uncannily out of place given the geography, the group first opted to head to the tower. 

After a day's march to the ruins of the tower, they discovered a few corpses strewn about in front of it. The bodies showed signs of both slashes and blunt force trauma; they appeared to be fairly fresh. The corpses were looted of armor and piled up in the doorway to form a makeshift barricade of the recently departed when the party decided to stay overnight within the tower's shelter. However, during Arno's watch that night, the pile of corpses was disturbed by something outside pulling one of the corpses free and dragging it away into the forest. After finding a better vantage point, Arno was able to determine that the corpse-thief appeared to be a small, humanoid woman whose face was obscured with some sort of chaotic mask.

In the morning, the group set off for the building they had spied from the ridge. As they got closer, the two-story stone building seemed even more strangely placed against the landscape; it was an institutional building and the stone arch before the front door proclaimed the building to be "Drearborne House." 

The party entered the house through a back door. Exploration of the first floor revealed the house to be an orphanage. Glazier changed into a dress found in the headmistress's closet. A torn up and defaced pedagogy manual that recommended corporal punishment and deprivation as learning aids lay open on a desk in the library. A ransacked dormitory with a child's diary--the entries telling the sad tale of bullying that the headmistress refused to believe--posed more questions than answers. 

In the basement, the group discovered shelves full of pickled foods, tools and a workbench, and what appeared to be a hastily dug grave. Dyer was given the task of unearthing the skeletal remains, which appeared to be of a woman. She was given last rites by Arno and reburied.

And strangely, despite encountering no living beings within the house, it appeared to be warm, well kept, and in pristine condition. Just...empty, abandoned.

However, that is not to say that the house was completely unoccupied. The menacing figure of the headmistress, she who had stolen a corpse from the tower the night before, was spotted roaming the hallways, her heavy cane rapping rhythmically against the flooring. Her face was obscured by a mask made of torn paper--the pages from the book of pedagogy they had found in the library--which identified her as the creature who had stolen a corpse from their barricade.

More ominous still was the figure to be seen in the inner courtyard accessible from inside Drearborne House via a locked door that Dyer jimmied open; beneath a dead tree from which hung a noose sat a creature seemingly encased in ice--the body of a small child was trapped within. Approaching the rime-frosted creature caused it to stir from its rest. It extended menacing claws of ice and attacked the group. Things went badly for the group as the creature slashed at them with its claws and they failed to land any decisive blows. They fled to the kitchen, hoping to use embers from the oven to melt its icy armor. And yet they continued to take fearsome wounds from the creature.

Respite only came when Glazier assumed the form of the headmistress, roughly approximating what she had seen in an oil painting previously in Drearborne. It helped, of course, that she was already wearing the headmistress's clothes. Glazier's guise stopped the creature in its tracks. A sepulchral voice proclaimed, "Bring me the headmistress," and then it stalked away back to the courtyard.

To be continued.