SFINCS Review: Shattered Spirits by Cal Black

Today’s review is about SHATTERED SPIRITS by Cal Black. It’s a standalone novella about a woman thrust into the role of stopping the proliferation of soul-stealing spirits.

SFINCS logoThis review is brought to you by my participation in the Speculative Fiction Indie Novella Championship (SFINCS). SFINCS, pronounced “sphinx”, is a yearly competition to recognize, honor, and celebrate the talent and creativity present in the indie community. It’s a sister competition to both SPFBO and SPSFC, and it highlights greatness in the novella format in all areas of speculative fiction (fantasy, science fiction, horror, etc.). I am part of Team Behind the Musings. You can find out more about us here.

Author: Cal Black
Series: None
Age Category: Adult
Publisher: Bearberry Studio
Publish Date: August 26, 2023
Print Length: 77
Purchase: Amazon

Official Synopsis

Legends say a dead god is buried under the stone city of Ishcairn, protecting its inhabitants by dashing enemy fleets into the jagged coast of Craeburn. Adjunct professor Corrie Ecksley doesn’t believe any of that, but she knows from her work excavating nearby burial sites that the ancient Craeburn people believed it enough to name the city after their dead god, Ish.

When the ripples of a great war finally reach Craeburn’s shores, a terrifying new weapon is unleashed on the city that not even Ish can deter. A bomb that tears souls from bodies, driving anyone who witnessed the blast insane. But it is not the living that Corrie fears. Displaced spirits are hungry for a body, and care not if it already plays host to a soul.

No bullets can stop them, no walls are thick enough to keep them out.

No help is coming.

No one left but Corrie to stop the carnage, if she even can.

My Review

SHATTERED SPIRITS occurs against the backdrop of a war. Corrie, an adjunct professor, is on her way to continue her excavation research. But their foe drops a bomb near her ship and the nearby city of Ishcairn on the island of Craeburn. It turns out this is no ordinary bomb as everyone who witnesses the blast begins to go insane. Desperate to keep this weapon contained, Corrie seeks its origin to put a stop to the carnage.

This novella contains eldritch horror, which, as someone who doesn’t typically read this broader genre, is the kind of horror I appreciate. As the synopsis describes, the weapon tears souls from bodies, rendering its victims more like ghouls than humans. The terrifying aspect is it takes advantage of human curiosity. Stare too long at the eerie violet light of the weapon or the eyes of its victims and you succumb to the same fate.

Though injured, Corrie’s determination and historical knowledge to end the horror serve her well. They guide her to uncover the truth about Ish, the god of the ancient Craeburn people. This is where I couldn’t quite follow the culmination of the discovery. To be fair, though, I don’t do well with more open-ended tales. The broader point, though, is that humanity should live a balanced life and take care of the land.

Secondary to the plot is the broad theme of patriarchy. Corrie internally grapples with the expectation that she marry and have children despite not wanting to do so at all. Cornered into an engagement with her childhood friend, she feels guilt and relief that he disappeared during the war. There is also internaly commentary about the assumption of society that her title is “Miss” rather than inquiring what she prefers (i.e., Doctor).

Overall, SHATTERED SPIRITS is a quick, but interesting read that I easily binged. It’s also an approachable horror read for those who aren’t typically keen about the genre, but want to branch out.

Rating: withheld
Content warnings: death
Reading format: Kindle e-book

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