It’s been close to a year since I first read Paul Genesse’s The Crimson Pact, a collection of short stories, but like some of my favorite Twilight Zone episodes a number of the demon themed tales have stuck with me. Since I was young, I’ve had a bad habit with books. If I enjoy them, I consume them like a movie. That typically means that I need to read the entirety of the book all at once. Luckily, the short form makes them an easy reread. Particularly in a digital format, I find it easier to read a short story than an epic novel. The downside of course, is that there is rarely any continuity in short story collections.
The root of all five volumes of The Crimson Pact is Patrick M. Tracy’s tale, “The Failed Crusade,” which is again included at the beginning of this volume. The story is also available for free on the website and at the beginning of the first volume. The now five books are filled with 106 short stories, riffing off the original with a variety of interpretations of demons. From classical fantasy to steampunk and dystopian futures the only common thread is the demonic theme. What the collection loses in a single writing style, it more than makes up for in variety.
At 490 pages, Volume Five contains a full 21 dark and twisted tales. This collection begins with the brief “Charybdis.” The nine page journey into madness would easily fit inside one of Clive Barker’s Books of Blood. A number of the stories are both direct and indirect sequels of tales from the previous volumes. They of course all build up to Patrick M. Tracy’s direct sequel to “The Failed Crusade,” “Sealed with Fire.” While Volume Five holds up on its own, it’s hard to recommend the book as a stand-alone read. Like the warning at the beginning of the book states, jumping straight to the end will rob the reader of a great deal of context.
For the reasons stated earlier and a few others, short stories are my personally preferred format for fiction. There are plenty of great reads that have been offered in small bites. From Ian Fleming and Phillip Dick to Ray Bradbury and Clive Barker, there are some great small gems to be read. Though declines in print readership can be dismissed as generational, bigger blocks of time are tougher to steal away these days. In this digital, on-the-go age, the long format is a tough commitment for a voracious reader and small bites are great for commutes on public transportation.
While the demonic subject matter could easily serve as an excuse for a gore fest, the stories rarely sink to that level. Most are new, thought provoking forays along the paths that have been forged by the luminary short story writers mentioned previously. Available in a variety of digital formats, all five volumes of The Crimson Pact are readily available for purchase. Personally, I prefer flipping the physical pages of a book with my fingers. The entire set, including Volume Five can also be found in a well-bound paperback form published by Iron Dragon Books.