Cassie was suspended for an antisocial incident at school. Her penance is to read to the ailing proprietor of the town’s esoteric bookshop. When Mr Gussy warns her off a very particular book in his shop, she can’t resist cracking open the ‘dark tome’ – only to find herself whisked far away and long ago to where an Italian has found a staircase to hell…
So far this Spooktastic Reads I’ve featured an intriguing series-starting novel and an anthology of uncanny short stories – today it’s time to pull out the headphones and immerse myself in five-year-old audio drama The Dark Tome. The series was created by Fred Greenhalgh and Bill Dufris with each episode penned by a different author. The line-up is jaw-dropping: starting with Joe Hill and Cat Valente right out of the gate and featuring Tananarive Due, Alyssa Wong, Roshani Chokshi, Nalo Hopkinson and many more over the course of its two seasons.
The Dark Tome initially looks like entertaining episodic horror. Each episode stands alone as Cassie – and later Mr Gussy – open the book and get drawn into a new story, another world, another dark tale of demons and witches, terrible choices and awful repercussions. But are they fictions or reflections of reality?
Expect a staircase to hell and birds that sing the most beautiful lies; a banished demon who makes teaching the town’s daughters to be good wives a subversive act; a faerie court that devours dreams (and dreamers); a monster that hunts through speed dating; a house haunted by generations of sacrifice; a young girl determined to save her brother from injustice; tattoos that seek revenge for terrible wrongs – and a high school senior who is learning all the wrong lessons from her adventures, egged on by an old man with his own agenda.
Over the course of the first season, an overarching plot emerges as the stakes become higher inside and outside the book. Cassie never had the strongest impulse control and her experiences in the Dark Tome begin to engender inexplicable powers that are a little too tempting to put to use in the face of school bullies, an alcoholic mother and vitriolic stepfather. The dangers of the Dark Tome go beyond the risks Cassie takes in its terrifying alternate worlds…
The stories are great, and the production values are spectacular. This is more audio play than audio book, beautifully produced with a big cast and plenty of music and special effects. The result is appointment listening – I was always keen to throw on another episode to see where the Dark Tome took Cassie next, and what the experience might demand of her.
I discovered The Dark Tome on Realm.FM but if you’re curious to open its pages, you can read or list in full at www.thedarktome.com or listen to the podcast on Audible. There’s two seasons (I am looking forward to diving into the second) and a season’s worth of stand-alone stories set in the same universe.