Review: Brother’s Keeper, Stained With Nightmare Juice, To Duty Sworn

This is a review of three stories in The Crimson Pact: Volume One. While I am the publisher of the book, I do not have a story in the text. I’ve also worked to keep all of these reviews as impartial as possible; I hope you agree.

If you wish to check out The Crimson Pact, stop by its website at If you have a computer, you can read the digital version of this book. Not only is there a PDF version at the website, but you can read it on a free desktop reader from Barnes & Noble or Amazon.
Brother’s Keeper – Lester Smith

This flash fiction is a creepy bit in the tradition of Cain and Abel, but with a twist that the very story structure cunningly conceals in plain sight. In many ways, the conflict – and near-pyrrhic victory – echoes "The Failed Crusade" earlier in the volume. This story reinforces both the bleak prospects – and firm determination – of the members of the Pact who fight these demons.

Stained With Nightmare Juice – Isaac Bell

This short story (which, fair warning, has a goodly bit of profanity) fits right in with the grim urban fantasy landscapes of the original The Books of Magic, Hellblazer, and even Neverwhere. There is a vast and vital secret world not out of sight, but hiding right there in front of us, and we never even notice. The supernatural strangeness and oddities are almost more "normal" than the real-life problems faced by the (largely homeless) characters.

I mention the profanity not because it particularly bothered me, but because it was a change from the (largely curse-less) stories before it, and for about half a page, I noticed that. But the language is perfectly suited to the narrator, and does not feel gratuitous at all. The story pulled me in, delivering a short novel’s worth of story, character, and action in a short space. A great bit of gritty urban fantasy.

To Duty Sworn – Jess Hartley

When those who have always helped you to do good suddenly ask you to do evil – or even something that may be evil – what do you do? That’s the crux of To Duty Sworn. Set in a not-so distant fantasy past, this story follows a mysterious female operative who works as part of a religious order called the Brotherhood. While this story is part of a larger world of Ms. Hartley’s, it can be read alone without any difficulty. As someone who has wrestled with religion for a huge portion of my life – as well as disillusionment with and betrayal by the leaders of an organized faith – the dilemma of the main character really spoke to me. In the end, it all comes down to hard choices with imperfect information. It is so easy, so tempting
to just relax and let someone else take care of it all, but even that has its pitfalls. This story explores that quite well, with far higher stakes than we (usually) have to deal with.