~written by Douglas Clegg
~illustrated by Glenn Chadbourne
Isis by Douglas Clegg was originally published by Cemetery Dance Publications in 2006 as a special, limited edition. Fortunately, the novella is now readily available from Vanguard Press. Clegg is probably best known for his work as an author of horror, but I recognized his name form his Arthurian novel Mordred, Bastard Son, which I haven't actually read yet. But this was enough to interest me in accepting the offer to review Isis. What clinched the deal for me, however, where the examples of the illustrations by Glenn Chadbourne. I am not familiar with Chadbourne's work at all despite it being primarily fantasy and horror themed, but the examples were great.
Ever since Iris Villiers was small, her head was being filled with ghost stories and ancient legends and tales about the undead surrounding her ancestral home. The superstitious gardener warns her about making careless wishes near the family tombs, for they just might come true and the dead always collect on the debts owed to them. But when a tragic accident takes the life of her beloved brother Harvey, she is willing to do anything to see him again, regardless of the cost. Only, deals with Death never work out as anticipated and she won't be the only one to pay the price.
Even though it is a newer work, Isis has the feeling and characteristics of older traditional ghost stories and campfire tales. It's terrifying and chilling not because of blood and gore but because of the consequences of people's actions and how they choose to deal with them. Clegg even manages to work in a few more twists and details that I wasn't expecting that were quite effective and leaves the ending of the story somewhat open. From the very beginning, the book has a sense of sadness about it that is vaguely ominous and otherworldly, a feeling that only increases as the tale progresses.
Chadbourne's illustrations are wonderfully creepy and atmospheric, perfectly complementing Clegg's story. I would have actually liked to have seen more of them, especially seeing as some of the illustrations were simply details of larger pieces, but they made for a fantastic addition. In fact, as much as I liked the story, it is the illustrations that really make the book worth picking up for its cover price. The story is great, don't get me wrong, it just seems a little short to be selling on its own were it not for the art. I'll definitely keep an eye out for other projects that Chadbourne works on.
One thing that I hadn't realized about Isis until I had finished reading it and was poking around the Internet is that it can technically serve as a prequel to Clegg's Harrow House saga. The book itself gives no indication of this and since I've never read any of his other books I had no idea there was a connection. Now, that being said, Isis can and does stand completely on its own. Though, now that I do know the novella is related to a few of Clegg's other novels, I want to track down some copies to read because I enjoyed Isis even more than I was expecting.