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At Fear's Altar [Kindle Edition]

Richard Gavin
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

Canadian author Richard Gavin has established himself as a leading contemporary writer of weird fiction. His richly nuanced prose style, his imaginative range, and his shrewdness in the portrayal of character and domestic conflict make his tales far more than mere shudder-coining. In this fourth collection of short stories and novelettes, Gavin again casts a wide imaginative net, from haunted Canadian woodlands to the carnivorous mesas of the American frontier, from Lovecraft’s New England to the spirit traditions of Japan. Of the dozen stories included in this book, eight are previously unpublished—a rich new feast of terror for devotees of a writer who works in the tradition of Poe, Machen, Blackwood, and Ligotti.


Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 537 KB
  • Print Length: 220 pages
  • Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited
  • Publisher: Hippocampus Press (21 Aug. 2013)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00EP7R9S0
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #380,241 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback
Richard Gavin's At Fear's Altar is an excellent collection of horror and dark fantasy stories. It's a brilliantly wonderful and disturbing collection for horror readers who want to read quality.

At Fear's Altar contains the following masterfully written stories:
- Prologue: A Gate of Nerves
- Chapel in the Reeds
- The Abject
- Faint Baying from Afar
- The Unbound
- A Pallid Devil, Bearing Cypress
- King Him
- The Plain
- Only Enuma Elish
- The Word-Made Flesh
- Annexation
- Darksome Leaves
- The Eldritch Faith

Classic horror, modern horror, weird fiction and cosmic horror are the key words which define the stories in this collection. I haven't read anything this good since I read Laird Barron's The Croning and Donald Michael Platt's A Gathering of Vultures. I have to mention that I was very impressed by this collection, because in my opinion this collection is slightly better than the previous collection, The Darkly Splendid Realm, which was an amazing achievement. I enjoyed each story (to be honest, I would've liked to read more stories).

At Fear's Altar is a delightful and shocking collection of dark and disturbing wonders to readers who love dark stories and weird fiction. Richard Gavin's writing combines classic and traditional horror with modern themes in a fascinating way. Richard Gavin's stories feel fresh, but they're loyal to the traditional stories, which form the basis of the everlasting popularity of weird fiction.

The prologue (A Gate of Nerves) creates a chilling atmosphere, because the protagonists have a weird gathering. The purpose of this gathering is to invoke an entity. I loved the way the author wrote about the gathering and what happened at the end of the story.
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Amazon.com: 4.7 out of 5 stars  6 reviews
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential Weird Fiction Collection from a Modern Master 7 Jan. 2013
By Justin Steele - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Originally appeared on my blog, The Arkham Digest.

Canadian author Richard Gavin's first story collection Charnel Wine came off the press in 2004, and since then Gavin has had a steady stream of collections published. Omens was put out by Mythos Books in 2007, and two years later came The Darkly Splendid Realm. Halloween of 2012 saw the release of his most recent collection, At Fear's Altar, and boy is it a good one.

Gavin writes some of the best weird fiction I've had the pleasure of reading. The influence of all the masters is readily apparent: Lovecraft, Machen, Blackwood, and Ligotti. A keen reader can easily discern that this author lives for the weird, and he writes it oh so beautifully.

In his fourth collection Gavin offers a wonderful variety of tales, showcasing his different influences and making a strong case as to why Gavin's name should be on any shortlist of modern masters of the weird. At Fear's Altar contains thirteen (such an appropriate number) of stories, seven of which are original to this collection. And it must be said, that every single story is great. Gavin's style is sharp, and cuts neat.

Gavin kicks the collection off with a Prologue titled A Gate of Nerves. This short piece is the perfect way to open his collection, and serves to set the mood for what follows. The story follows a college student and her experience with a horrifying Asian parlor game. The imagery is excellent, the suspense builds, and after reading this prologue I knew I was in for something special.

Following the prologue is one of the best stories in the collection. Chapel in The Reeds is a greatly disturbing tale of an old man, his experience with an abandoned church, and his diminishing grip on reality. Gavin writes an extremely convincing example of an old man slipping into dementia, and the story leaves just enough questions open to really keep the reader guessing.

The Abject originally appeared in S.T. Joshi's Lovecraft-inspired collection, Black Wings II. This dark story focuses on a woman in a troubled relationship, as she and her boyfriend join friends on a trip to a cursed place. Adding the deep-seated relationship problems to the primal desolation of the setting makes for quite a chilling experience.

In Faint Baying From Afar, Gavin works in the epistolary format. The story, which is a direct sequel to Lovecraft's The Hound, follows a series of letters from a son to his mother. It's beautifully written, and really captures the feel of classic Lovecraft.

The next story, The Unbound, is also a direct response to a Lovecraft story, this time being The Unnameable. The Unbound acts as a sort of re-telling of the original tale, from the point of view of the Unnameable itself. It's a very interesting tale, and really captures the image of a man shutting himself out from the world, and becoming a Gollum-like grotesque.

A Pallid Devil, Bearing Cypress deals with faith, albeit a dark one. The main character is an outsider, who takes up a strange and dangerous habit of taking jaunts during nighttime air raids on his city. He has a fascination with all things dark which turns into more of an obsession over the Devil in particular. This eerie craving seems to have been inspired by the character's mother, and the story follows the man as he lives out a life of chasing something that most people would run away from.

In King Him, Gavin writes a truly disturbing tale about siblings and "imaginary" beings. The story has some truly disquieting elements (which I won't detail for spoiler purposes) and really toys with the idea of whether or not the characters are truly dealing with a supernatural element or are just very deeply disturbed mentally. In my opinion I think it's a bit of both.

I have always been a fan of weird Westerns, especially ones that tend towards the horror side of the spectrum. The Plains is a tale about a creepy, blasted piece of land (reminiscent of the Blasted Heath from Lovecraft's The Colour Out of Space). When some men travel to this place searching for salvation for their drought-plagued town, they are in for a bit of a surprise.

Only Enuma Elish is another story dealing with a shut-in, outsider type character, who makes a connection with his elderly neighbor. What seems like a good thing quickly deteriorates into something surreal when he finds out about her strange beliefs.

In The Word-Made Flesh, a man attempts to help his troubled friend, who believes he has heard the "Word of God". What is truly going on is something much darker.

Annexation is a heartbreaking story that follows a woman on a quest to find her estranged son at the behest of her dying husband. As she tracks him to a remote island in South America, she ruminates on how her son has always been different, and finds out about the dark path he has chosen.

Darksome Leaves echoes Thomas Ligotti, and is about another outsider character who finally meets someone that he feels a connection with. The only problem comes in the form of a transformative mask that mysteriously appears. The man's attitude and ideas reflect Ligotti's typical outsider protagonist, and the masks themselves bring to mind Ligotti's well-known story, The Greater Festival of Masks.

Finally, the collection finishes with one of its strongest tales, The Eldritch Faith. The longest story in the collection manages to hit on so many ideas, and was quite a chilling read. The story follows a young boy who doesn't seem to fit in, and his attempts at contacting a spirit. When he finally manages to make contact with an entity which calls itself Capricorn, his life is forever changed. The buildup is grand, and touches on several aspects of horror that many youths experience, such as sexual angst and facing local urban legends. There is some spectacular imagery in the story, and the ending is brilliant.

With this collection Gavin has managed to bring together thirteen stories without a single bad one amongst them. The stories range from dark to downright terrifying, and every single one will linger in the reader's head for days. I couldn't recommend this collection more, so finish up what you're reading, buy this collection, pour yourself a rye-and-ginger, and settle down to read one of the best books published in 2012 and one of the best weird horror collections published ever. Absolutely essential.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Quality horror for fans of modern horror, classic horror, weird fiction and dark fantasy 20 Nov. 2012
By "Seregil of Rhiminee" - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Richard Gavin's At Fear's Altar is an excellent collection of horror and dark fantasy stories. It's a brilliantly wonderful and disturbing collection for horror readers who want to read quality.

At Fear's Altar contains the following masterfully written stories:
- Prologue: A Gate of Nerves
- Chapel in the Reeds
- The Abject
- Faint Baying from Afar
- The Unbound
- A Pallid Devil, Bearing Cypress
- King Him
- The Plain
- Only Enuma Elish
- The Word-Made Flesh
- Annexation
- Darksome Leaves
- The Eldritch Faith

Classic horror, modern horror, weird fiction and cosmic horror are the key words which define the stories in this collection. I haven't read anything this good since I read Laird Barron's The Croning and Donald Michael Platt's A Gathering of Vultures. I have to mention that I was very impressed by this collection, because in my opinion this collection is slightly better than the previous collection, The Darkly Splendid Realm, which was an amazing achievement. I enjoyed each story (to be honest, I would've liked to read more stories).

At Fear's Altar is a delightful and shocking collection of dark and disturbing wonders to readers who love dark stories and weird fiction. Richard Gavin's writing combines classic and traditional horror with modern themes in a fascinating way. Richard Gavin's stories feel fresh, but they're loyal to the traditional stories, which form the basis of the everlasting popularity of weird fiction.

The prologue (A Gate of Nerves) creates a chilling atmosphere, because the protagonists have a weird gathering. The purpose of this gathering is to invoke an entity. I loved the way the author wrote about the gathering and what happened at the end of the story.

Faint Baying from Afar and The Unbound are stunningly good tributes to H. P. Lovecraft (Faint Baying from Afar is subtitled 'An Epistolary Trail after H. P. Lovecraft's "The Hound"' and The Unbound is subtitled 'A Meditation upon H. P. Lovecraft's "The Unnamable"'). I was surprised by how well and lovingly the author has written these stories. Both stories are fascinating in their weirdness. I think that if H. P. Lovecraft were alive, he'd like to call these stories his own stories.

It's a bit difficult for me to choose my favourite story, but if I had to choose only one story it would without a doubt be The Abject. It's a brilliantly written horror story, which is in equal parts cosmic horror and modern horror. In this story a group of people gather to watch a lunar eclipse and one of them tells a story about a mountain, which can be seen in the ocean (the story of the mountain will appeal to everybody who loves cosmic stories). The author writes fantastically about the characters and their lives. He even writes about things related to sexuality.

I think I'll have to mention that I loved Chapel in the Reeds, because it isn't often that authors write this fluently about old men, their lives and fears. Chapel in the Reeds is a splendid and well written story about an old man who slowly loses his sanity due to his age. The loss of his sanity is described in vivid and disturbing details, which make the story psychologically challenging and terrifying. I think that everybody who reads this story will agree with me when I say that it's one of the most terrifying stories in this collection.

Richard Gavin's stories remind me quite a lot of the stories written by the old masters of horror (H. P. Lovecraft, Edgar Allan Poe, Arthur Machen and Algernon Blackwood). His writing is nuanced and he writes terrifyingly about the fates of his characters. He has an ability to add slowly building feelings of dread - these feelings of dread build towards a climax which is shocking and ingenious. In other words, he spices his stories carefully with hints of dark happenings and then masterfully builds tension towards the end.

It's actually amazing how good a writer Richard Gavin is. I've noticed that several authors, who are fans of classic weird fiction and old horror stories, tend write much better and more psychologically challenging horror stories than authors who have aren't familiar with classic horror. This, in my opinion, is a mark of a good and talented horror author - this mark distinguishes a quality horror author from other authors (there are, of course, a few exceptions to this "rule").

By the way, if somebody thinks that I'm a spokesperson for weird fiction and quality horror, I can say that I love good and well written weird fiction and quality horror very much and I always will love both, so that's one of the reasons why I praise them. Stories, which can be catogorized as weird fiction, are often genuinely fascinating and beautifully written stories, so it's difficult not to praise them.

The author explores human feelings, loneliness, aging, love and painful in this collection in a remarkable way. I think that this collection is a testament to the fact that speculative fiction can address several difficult themes much better and sometimes more thoroughly and touchingly than mainstream books. When difficult themes, psychological fear and fear of supernatural things meet each other, the result is truly stunning and it has an everlasting effect on the reader.

I already mentioned cosmic horror a couple of paragrahs ago, so now I'll write more about it. One of the trademarks of cosmic horror is that the cosmos is indifferent towards humanity. Richard Gavin uses this trademark to his advantage, because he combines human feelings and the indifference of the cosmos in a fresh way.

It's great that Richard Gavin writes about different locations in his stories. He writes as fluently about Canadian wilderness as about Lovecraft's New England. His stories are versatile and range all the way from weird fiction to modern horror and from dark fantasy to classic horror, so it's good that he has chosen to write about different locations, because the use of these locations demonstrates that weird and terrifying things can happen anywhere and at any time.

Although Richard Gavin uses plenty of traditional weird fiction and horror elements in his stories, his stories are original. He has a unique voice of his own and his stories feel fresh and visceral.

Just like Laird Barron, Richard Gavin is an author who deserves all the praise he gets. I'm sure that everybody, who is familiar with weird fiction and classic horror, will agree with me on this. Newcomers, who aren't familiar with weird fiction, will also love these stories, because they're quality stories with plenty of dark fantasy elements and visceral happenings. I'll also mention that I think that readers who have read stories by classic horror authors and modern masters (Laird Barron, Clive Barker, Livia Llewellyn, W. H. Pugmire etc) will be impressed by these stories.

I loved At Fear's Altar and I'm sure other readers will love it too, because Richard Gavin is one of the new masters of weird fiction and his stories are perfect entertainment for horror readers. At Fear's Altar is one of the best new horror short story collections, so make sure that you'll read it as soon as possible.

Highly recommended to fans of dark fantasy and quality horror!
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Powerful dark fiction from an emerging master 20 Aug. 2013
By M. Griffin - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I kept reflecting, as I read Richard Gavin's fourth collection At Fear's Altar, about what horror fiction ought to be. Horror stories should be dark, disquieting. Too often what passes for "horror" is mundane or predictable. Whereas familiarity can be a virtue in some genres, where readers seek the recurring comfort of touchstones, horror by its very nature should unsettle.

Richard Gavin's work stands out as chillingly dark, wickedly strange and otherworldly. These stories have the heart-pounding feel of nightmare, and carry a strong suggestion of the numinous. Where other writers offer familiar monsters in comfortable territory, always stopping short of threatening the reader, Gavin explores the weird and surreal just as much as the horrific. His strength is conveying an otherness, something looming out there, threatening. There's a commonality with the cosmic horror of Lovecraft, but I find a greater kinship to the spooky occultism of Machen and Blackwood, whose best stories have at their heart a sense of something unknowable happening just out of view, completely out of proportion with human experience, and vibrating on an entirely different wavelength.

Highlights include "Chapel in the Reeds," in which an elderly man moves back home with his daughter, who doesn't want him there. The man wanders the countryside, seeming to shift into different realms, seeking a strange, mystic chapel, and speaking with his late wife. His young granddaughters are frightened when they witness his strange behavior, standing in the middle of a field, talking to no one. His daughter thinks he's disintegrating, while he remains focused on finding the chapel again. Whether his reality or his daughter's is most true, either possibility is disturbing.

In "The Abject," Petra watches an eclipse, along with her husband tad and two male friends. Out across the water is a jagged island know as The Abject, about which Petra's friend recounts a legend. Petra has a vision of proto-humans on the spire, and feels dangerously drawn to go there herself.

The main character in "A Pallid Devil, Bearing Cypress" walks the streets among falling bombs in a time of war in Europe. He's trying to see the devil, feeling sensitively attuned to the city's shadow side, and thinks he sees something. He finds a broken Cypress flower, red and star shaped, the spots a devilish, horned creature. Excited and inspired, thinking he's found the devil he seeks, he then hears the cries of a girl trapped under rubble, and leaves her, trying to chase the devil. After he loses track, he to Helma and helps her out from under the rock. They connect, end up marrying, though not too happily. He's still preoccupied with seeking darkness. They move out to the country, and nights he roams near their new house, looking for the devil's traces. At times he finds these scattered Cypress flowers, but never quite what he seeks. Finally he learns Helma too is seeking something.

"King Him" is a shocking story of domestic unease, an adult brother and sister living together. She thinks he's the crazy one, insisting on talking about an entity called "King Him." Maybe he's insane, maybe they both are, or maybe King Him is the real cause of the dysfunction creeping into their relationship.

"Only Enuma Elish" is a good example of Gavin's treatment of characters with supernatural or occult beliefs. This story's narrator meets an older woman across the street, and she introduces him to the book "Enuma Elish," a tale of the universe's creation, from ancient Babylon.

In "Darksome Leaves," an isolated, socially awkward man becomes attracted to a young woman in his apartment building. His hopes of getting closer to her shift when they discover an ominous mask.

By far the book's longest and most ambitious story, "The Eldritch Faith," is both philosophical and metaphysical in its focus. It follows a boy who grows up seeking to understand reality's true nature, to find a way out of the depressingly mundane ordinary existence. He comes up with a game called Curtains which he believes allows a ghost or spirit to communicate with him, and possibly enter our world. This exploration unfolds gradually, and feels chillingly real. His interactions with the entity he comes to know as Capricorn are among the more creepy and unnerving things I've ever read. "The Eldritch Faith," which concludes the collection, exemplifies what Gavin is capable of.

At Fear's Altar achieves heights -- or perhaps depths -- of darkness and disquiet almost unrivaled in recent horror fiction. It's among the few most notable and impressive story collections I've read in the past five years. With this book, Gavin rises in my estimation to rank among the strongest practitioners of horror and weird fiction currently active. At Fear's Altar is my first exposure to Gavin's fiction, but now I gladly anticipate the pleasure of going back to investigate Charnel Wine (2004), Omens (2007), and The Darkly Splendid Realm (2009).Even more, I eagerly anticipate Gavin's future works.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A masterpiece of weird fiction 19 July 2013
By C.M. Muller - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
If I were limited to one word in which to describe Richard Gavin's new collection of tales, that word would quite simply be: rich. Rich in symbol, rich in characterization, rich in imagination, rich in utter uniqueness of plot, and last but not least, rich in its use of language, which is very fine indeed. From its first tale, "Chapel in the Reeds", to its concluding novella, "The Eldritch Faith", we are immersed in some of the finest weird tales the field has to offer, which run the gamut from traditional to Lovecraftian, but always told in Mr. Gavin's inimitable voice.

The book is dedicated to Clive Barker and to the memory of Algernon Blackwood. While the latter is not so surprising (since Mr. Gavin's tales are as carefully-wrought as any of that past master's), the former struck me as odd, but in the most pleasing and nostalgic way. Barker was a scribe who I near worshipped back in the beginning, back when I was starting to understand the power of good writing. And in Mr. Gavin we find this in spades. It's not often that a collection this consistently good comes along. Don't hesitate to obtain a copy, what with its lovely Harry O. Morris cover, and its overwhelming richness....
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good horror, if yer looking for it 22 Feb. 2014
By John Mellor - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This is a solid collection, straight up. It's the first one I've read of Richard Gavin and as far as I'm concerned, I'd rank it up there with the Imago Sequence by Laird Barron or the horror of Karl Edward Wagner - which is not to say it's a rehash of either. The stories are well written and have a nice bite to them.

Definitely something to check out if you're itching for more dark, subtle horror.
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