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George Berguño
The Tainted Earth
Egaeus Press
UK Hardcover First Edition
ISBN 978-0-957-16062-0
Publication Date: 12-07-2012
223 pages; £ 30.00
Date Reviewed: 01-06-2013
Reviewed by: Mario Guslandi © 2013

Index:  Horror  Fantasy  Science Fiction  General Fiction

It's no secret that nowadays the best dark fiction is to be found in the indie press, that is to say in books published in limited editions of a few hundred copies, available to the connoisseur through the Internet and bound to remain completely unknown to the public hunting books in physical bookstores or at the major online booksellers dominated by the major publishing companies.

So, thank God for the existence of small imprints where new genre authors can find room for publishing their work. On the other hand I always feel uncomfortable when a great emerging author has a limited readership, feeling that he/she deserves a wider audience.

This is exactly the case with George Berguño, a terrific new writer of dark fantasy and horror whose first two collections got scarcely noticed by the reading crowds because appeared in limited very expensive editions(by now, long gone out of print) by an excellent Romanian small publishing company, the Ex Occidente Press.

Berguño's third collection, The Tainted Earth, is now published by another new small imprint, UK-based Egaeus Press, which at least has reasonable prices.

The beautifully produced volume, enriched with black and white and sepia artwork, includes eight tales and a novella, which fully display Berguño's extraordinary talent as a perceptive, enchanting storyteller.

The title story "The Tainted Earth" is an epic Scandinavian medieval saga imbued with a vivid knowledge of the world's ugliness and beauty, where light and darkness share the same path. "The Ballad of El Pichon" is an excellent tribute to magic realism, and not only because the story takes place in Valparaiso. Berguño transfigures the reality of a failed marriage and of petty deceit, and features a person who may or may not be the Devil.

In the outstanding "The Sick Mannes Salve" a young man endeavours to take possession of a terribly dangerous inheritance while in "Mouse and the Falconer", a piece of "philosophical" horror, an avalanche of disquieting allegories overwhelms the reader.

"Fugue for Black Thursday", a grim tableau about the death of Bruno Schulz, features Nazi officers and helpless Jews moving about as on a tragic stage.

"The Rune Stone at Odenslunda" is a fascinating, complex story inspired by another Scandinavian saga, while "Three Drops of Death" is a delightful, dark yarn based upon a Scottish folk tale.

The final novella in three parts, "A Spell of Subtle Hunting" is a puzzling, spellbinding work of art, which, in the author's own words, is "touching on the mysteries of guilt, cruelty, impermanence, memory, time, literature and death. " It's a fine tribute to Surrealism and the incarnation of the quotation by Alexander Lernet-Holenia put at the beginning of the volume: "If death is a dream, life, too, is merely a dream".

A friendly bit of advice: hurry up and buy a copy of 'The Tainted Earth', before this book goes out of print too.

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General Fiction
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