Title: Dark Yule (A Pumpkin Spice Tale)
Publisher: Flock Hall Publishing
Author: R.M. Callahan
Price: $11.99 (paperback)/ $2.99 — $3.99 (ebook)*
Now on her sixth life, Pumpkin Spice is a contented cat. While she does wish that her human, Morwen, would get back to practicing witchcraft, life in Kingsport overall is pretty good. Then the night-gaunts show up. And the ghouls which normally prowl the cemetery disappear. And time and space are weirdly out of joint, with past and present mingling together. The winter solstice is fast approaching. Unless Pumpkin Spice and her fellow cats can figure out what is going on and who is responsible, the Things Which Cannot Be Seen and the distortions to reality will continue to spread, threatening the world far beyond Kingsport ….
I’m not sure how I missed The Dark Yule when it was originally released in 2018. I only just discovered it now when an acquaintance on Facebook invited her author friends to post about their own publications; which, fortunately for me, R.M. Callahan did. Intrigued by the description, I downloaded a sample, read it, and then immediately purchased the complete book.
Where to start? The Dark Yule is a paranormal mystery with touches of horror, folklore, mythology, and occult lore woven throughout the story. While it owes a debt to Lovecraft, it is wholly original. It’s just horrific enough to make me keep the lights on, but not so mind-bending that I have to set the book aside and re-orient myself with reality.
Pumpkin Spice is a terrific protagonist. Callahan knows how to write cats. Too often, paranormal mysteries which feature feline detectives are cutesy, cuddly, and — well — just not that interesting. Such is not the case with The Dark Yule. Pumpkin Spice is a cat: independent-minded, proud, immaculate in her grooming regimen, and easily aggravated by the stupidity of humans and canines alike.
Because it turns out that humans really are quite stupid. Or perhaps just in denial. As “humans had become more clever, they’d grown less wise. A terrible creeping blindness had taken them.” Pumpkin Spice reflects at one point that:
My elders, with fifteen or more lives behind them, recalled when humans could also See That Which Cannot Be Seen. Humans had hung charms in the windows then, to protect their houses — no night-gaunt would have dared approach. They’d worn talismans around their necks, and burned big bonfires at the proper time of year, and left food offerings and sacrifices deep in the woods. They’d recited fairy tales and fables to their children, with all the good gory bits intact, because knowing what to do when the Old Woman of the Forest approached wasn’t a matter of entertainment, but of survival.
You know why cats yowl and scratch marks and bring you half-dead birds and mice? Because they know what hunts us in the night and how to keep it at bay. Those yowls are ancient incantations, the scratches are eldritch marks of protection, and that shadow in the corner of the living room is not a shadow at all, and a sacrifice is necessary to exorcise it.
And then there are the ghouls, which are awful canid-human hybrids; and the vampires, which are not at all as described in human literature; and the dream hags and the shadow-rats and the thing living in the middle of the lake, and so much more.
If I have one complaint about The Dark Yule, it’s that it needed a second round of editing. There were a few places where double words or missing words marred the text.
But that is my only complaint. The Dark Yule is a terrific adventure, and I can’t wait to read the next book in the series. Highly recommended, especially to fans of Juliet Blackwell’s Witchcraft Mystery series; the Ellie Jordan, Ghost Trapper series by J.L. Bryan; Beasts of Burden by Evan Dorkin and Jill Thompson; and the Alastair Stone Chronicles by R.L. King.
*Note: The Dark Yule is available as an ebook through Barnes and Noble, but in ebook and paperback formats through Amazon. The entire trilogy is available only through Amazon.
[Rebecca Buchanan is the editor of the Pagan literary ezine, Eternal Haunted Summer. A complete list of her published works can be found there.]