I had another of the novellas from Samhain Publishing’s “What Waits in the Shadows” series of Gothic horror just waiting to be read so I decided to dig into “Blood Red Roses” by Russell James to see if I would enjoy it as much as I had the previous two books I had read in the series.
When Jebediah Abernathy’s father went to fight for the Confederate Army during the Civil War, Jebediah was sent to live with his uncle where he was largely unwanted and neglected. As the war was coming toward an end and the Union Army moved further south, Jebediah was hoping that his life would change soon with his father’s return. Then came the fateful day that he had always feared. His father was listed among the dead on the list posted in the village. Jebediah’s life was going to change but not in the way he expected. Now that Jebediah was an orphan, his uncle sold him to a plantation as an indentured servant.
Jebediah thought that he had it bad at his uncle’s house but he soon learns that things can always get worse. The sadistic overseer, Ramses, revels in causing pain and the plantation’s owners are in their own world mourning the death of their son in the war. Slave boys are mysteriously disappearing and Jebediah suspects that Ramses is behind the disappearances when he sees him lead a slave boy into a root cellar. Jebediah’s father begins to haunt his son’s dreams and his growing acquaintance with an escaped slave who claims to be a sorceress seems to be headed for trouble. Jebediah can only hope to unravel the mystery of Beechwood and escape with his life.
I have been enjoying these novellas from Samhain Publishing, along with just about everything they have been publishing, and this book did nothing to discourage my enthusiasm. While it is not a great book, “Blood Red Roses” is an effective Gothic horror story and a strong historical work of fiction as well. James provides some very strong description that transports the reader back to the time of the Civil War and forces the reader to ponder the issues of the time as well as the paranormal aspects of the book. The moral issues that arise from the evils of slavery and the way in which cruelty was almost approved of and even encouraged challenge the reader at almost every turn in this novella and add an extra layer of humanity to the story. Yes, this is a ghost story of sorts, but it is much more than that.
What makes “Blood Red Roses” stand out for me is not the supernatural aspects of the story but rather the raw humanity that is often the overriding presence of the story. While there is witchcraft and ghosts in the story, the true monsters are the people. Ramses is easy to pick out because he is evil incarnate but there are many human monsters in this story, as in life, and that gives this story a completely different feel and makes it much more powerful. The witchcraft in the story may shock at times but it is the human horror that will keep the reader up at night after the last word is read. “Blood Red Roses” is a strong novella that has not been easy to forget and that is one of the best recommendations that I can give.
I would like to thank Samhain Publishing and NetGalley for this review copy. “Blood Red Roses” is available now.