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Mortis Maledictum: An Anthology of Dark Fantasy Worldbuilding

The podcast “Mortis Maledictum” is a dark fantasy anthology and a world created by Devin McCamey and Martin Shannon. One would think these two aspects would link together. A larger tapestry made up of smaller stories, each one adding to it like a quilt. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite come off as the authors intended. At least not nearly as fast as one would expect in a post-MCU world where everything is connected. This review will look at the first three episodes and episode 17: “Labyrinthine Shades” as well as the book version these tales come from.

Dark Fantasy, Pacing and Narration in an Anthology

First two episodes didn’t set up a good first impression. Once I had the text in front of me, my perception of the story changed. The ending of “Mountain Words” gave me a different sort of cult vibe than I’ve normally experienced. Usually, the cult stories that give me the biggest chills are the ones that use the idea of loved ones turning into zombies. They don’t always have to be mindless and susceptible to manipulation. If you can pul off an everyone I know is out to get me without introducing zombies or lambs to a slaughter, you’ve done something unique. Take that idea and flip, and you have the climax of “Mountain Words.” “Teeth in the Waves,” the first story, is more atmospheric and heavy on sound effects to make an individual fearful. It’s nowhere near as terrifying as the ending of “Mountain Words” with its use of sound. Out of the first three stories, its the weakest and a strange way to start an anthology.

The style of narration made it hard to connect with the stories as there’s a slight mumble in the narrator’s performance. Add in the slowness of his speech and you begin to notice it more and more. Without the text, I’d once again be lost in a land of ethereal abstraction. The context wasn’t clear for a lot of them, and I think the same is true for other people — whether they read, listen or both. The slow narration, often times forced my eyes to wander ahead of where the narrator was speaking. There were also more than a few times where words I’d never heard before were used, making me stop and check the dictionary to see what they meant. The context obviously didn’t help.

He Said, She Said, Discount Neil Gaiman Said

Adding said to the end of dialogue works fine in books as it’s invisible to the reader. Doing it in an audiobook with music and sound effects just makes it feel like a third wheel. The book version makes it harder as the dialogue isn’t formatted in a way that’s easy for the reader to differentiate it from the prose. There’s a paragraph in episode one where a weatherman talks about a storm going on. His words are wrapped between 4 sentences. One before it and three after.

This is for sure a personal nitpick on my part, but I feel for the narrator who had to read this aloud. If only for the fact that his dialogue delivery and the prose is identical. It makes me wonder if he had trouble understanding the words on the page, making his reading of them  harder. Similar to how a mental block can happen when someone forces another to think suddenly on the spot. A deer in the headlights sort of look. Aside from the slight mumble mentioned above, the narrator does a good-enough job capturing the cadence of Neil Gaiman while still being original and true to the stories he’s reading.

Dark Fantasy Worldbuilding as Connective Tissue

Using Worldbuilding as the connective tissue for an anthology is hard to pull off. Understanding it is made more difficult through the knowledge needed upfront. “Mortis Maledictum” isn’t exactly a gateway into dark fantasy in the vein of Cthulhu. It’s not much better even if you know of Lovecraft’s work and the mythos he created.

While Lovecraft is to dark fantasy as Tolkien is to epic fantasy, the story doesn’t require you to know about the necronomicon. It just helps with getting the hooks in faster as you have a hook to anchor yourself with when the story deviates from what is expected and leans into what is anticipated for that particular genre of story.

The Hunting of Men and Labyrinthine Linguistics

Episodes 3 and 17 deal with the more of the monster aspect of dark fantasy. The third episode gives the same vibe as “The Most Dangerous Game” and the many stories paying homage to it. Instead of men hunting men, a monster called the Tuzsemek is the hunter and the three main characters are the prey.

As far as a narrative binding stories together, I didn’t get much sense of an overarching plot. Then again, I skipped most of the first act and went straight into roughly the halfway point of act two. That story is titled “Labyrinthine Shades.: Since this review is getting a bit long, I’ll keep the comments to episode 17 brief. Most of the issues I had with earlier stories are gone by that episode. I’m not sure where the transition happened, but I’m glad it did as it enhanced the story so much. As of this writing, the episode after “Labyrinthine Shades” is the second most recent one. The book has a whole other act, so I hope this isn’t the end of the podcast.

With a rocky start, I wasn’t sure if I’d like the audiobook as much as I did. It’s still not without its faults, but for a dark fantasy anthology it hits the right buttons. I’m not a movie horror fan by any means. I enjoyed The movie “The Menu,” but that’s more a social commentary thriller in the vein of Jordan Peele. Mortis Malidictum isn’t saying anything profound, but if you want that sense of dread, you couldn’t do much better than this dark fantasy anthology.

7.5/10+ Stars