The Sea of Ash - Scott Thomas, Mike Davis
The Sea of Ash is told from a first person perspective by a school teacher who has won the lottery and taken up a hobby of collecting rare books. He has become obsessed with a rare copy of a Victorian doctor's journal. The teacher goes on a journey to see the sites that are described within the journal. He starts off as a self-proclaimed "tourist" but ends up getting touched (literally) by the mysteries and horrors described by the doctor.

While the setting is assumed to be modern-day, much of the details relate to 19th century New England. The story features Victorian occultism (automatic writing, brass and steam contraptions that contact the spirits, quaint graveyard rituals that call up benevolent spirits.) There is also nautical feel. I look at trilobites in a whole new light since reading this tale! The otherworldly realm he describes is consistent throughout the story, making it more believable.

Thomas has a clean and concise writing style which contrasts with the otherworldly scenes he describes. Each word serves its utilitarian purpose but still somehow increases the sense of fantastic horror. The first few paragraphs of the tale build interest to the mysteries within but do not grab you or jar your senses. The story builds up with an ever-increasing amount of disturbing events. The pace is fast enough to keep one's interest but slow enough to keep the reader holding their sense of disbelief as the mystery builds.

The plot is well-developed and progresses at a solid pace. There is no meandering or dreamlike fragments that some tales of this nature seem to feature. The tale wraps up satisfactorily, but the mysteries are not fully explained. As the author himself says, "The fact that there are missing parts to the story just adds to the appeal for me....I suppose it's like burlesque in that sense. How interested would we be in Nessie if she were stuffed, stretched out in a glass case at a Scottish museum, her mystery expunged by genetic science?"

There were no flaws in this book that I could find. No typos, break of character or stylistic inconsistencies. There is nothing that seems tacked on or out-of-place. The book is relatively short at 88 pages. While I could have read it in one sitting I read it in three because it was genuinely creepy and I needed to take a break.

This is one of the best and most original pieces of fiction I have read recently. I look forward to reading more stories by this author. Any fan of weird fiction, fantasy, or horror would appreciate this book.