Beyond Reform by Jon Athan, Aron Beauregard, and Jasper Bark

When I first heard about Beyond Reform, and the authors involved in the book, I knew it was something I had to read. This need became more pronounced when Brian Keene announced the nominees for the Splatterpunk Awards at KillerCon Austin 2022. As a nominee myself, in the same category, I felt a compulsion to dive into the nominated works from my competitors/colleagues/friends. They’re not mutually exclusive categorizations.
Upon reading Beyond Reform, I felt confident that it would be the title that blew the rest of us out of the water. As it turns out, I was correct, and I was waiting to post this review until after I’d confirmed my assessment.
Beauregard, Athan, and Bark capture the theme of Beyond Reform in essentially every conceivable sense. The stories are grim, fatalistic, captivating, sometimes amusing, and often horrifying in their portrayal of the worst aspects of human nature.
Aron Beauregard kicks it all off with the title story, Beyond Reform. Hoping to score some quick cash and have some fun along the way, Marcus finds himself the focus of a couple’s revenge. Unfortunately, for everyone involved, Marcus has made enemies of more than just the two of them, and even the best-laid plans fall apart sometimes. Beauregard pulls no punches and dares the reader to flinch as he ups the ante with each new roll of the dice.
Midnight Glory by Jasper Bark introduces us to a dysfunctional couple with a seemingly unlimited capacity to hurt one another and a similar capacity to sustain the damage. The source of this seemingly supernatural horror is rooted in a gift that turned out to be a bit more than bargained for and a punishment a long time coming. Bark’s grotesque and graphic sexual imagery was almost gag-inducing, and that’s something to be proud of.
Jon Athan hits us next with Tortured Until Proven Innocent, a tale of a vile sexual predator who appears to be getting his comeuppance at the hands of distraught parents. In Athan’s work, as in real life, the stories don’t always have a happy ending, and he doesn’t shy away from hammering that point home with painful clarity.
The Martini Club is Beauregard’s second addition to the collection, and its focus on desperate, lonely women obsessed with rehabilitation and sexual fantasies oriented around a convicted serial killer is a thriller, for sure. As it turns out, not all of the women in The Martini Club have the same sort of fantasies in mind when they finally have the object of their obsessions at hand.
Athan’s Dead But Alive introduces us to a funeral director with a dark and perverse secret that knows no limits, just as the man knows no shame. The disgusting, depraved, and uncompromising delivery from Athan only makes the conclusion to the tale all the more satisfying.
And finally, Jasper Bark concludes the volume with A Most Chemical Wedding, the most unique of the tales included in Beyond Reform. While it is indeed a tale of revenge like much of what came before it, it’s one with numerous twists and wry humor in the mix. Spirituality, alchemy, and a voice that breaks the fourth wall with obvious pleasure make Bark’s second inclusion a fun and fascinating way to wrap everything up.
As you can probably tell, I’m quite a fan of this title.
I’ve heard it said there’s no shame in losing to the best, and the three authors involved in this project showcased why they are some of the best at what they do.

Kagen the Damned by Jonathan Maberry, Narrated by Ray Porter

Jonathan Maberry brings his fast-paced, high-intensity blend of grit, well-drawn characters, action, and wry humor to the realm of fantasy literature with one hell of a splash. Kagen the Damned is everything readers have loved about the Joe Ledger and Pine Deep novels but transferred to a world of swords and sorcery, complete with an homage to Chambers, Lovecraft, Bloch, and Derleth.
Kagen Vale is a broken man, devastated and demoralized by his failure to protect the imperial family he’d been charged with protecting. Possibly the last surviving member of the Vale family, Kagen is driven solely by his need for revenge, forced to wander alone as the gods he’d worshipped have abandoned him. Walking a tightrope between drunkenness and violence, Kagen is hunted by those he hunts, and unless he can find some allies in his quest for vengeance, he’s doomed to fail.
As long-forbidden magic and old gods return to the realm of the Silver Empire, the world Kagen was familiar with becomes increasingly strange and threatening, as an unexpected enemy with enigmatic and sinister plans seeks to take a throne that Kagen will die to defend.
Fans of Richard K. Morgan and George R.R. Martin are sure to love Maberry’s foray into horror-tinged fantasy, but there’s nothing not to love about this introduction to a must-read trilogy.
Ray Porter perfectly captures the character of Kagen in his narration, while bringing the cast of additional characters to life with a blend of accents that are at times both familiar and alien to the listener. Porter was quite likely the best possible choice for the audiobook narration of this novel, and I trust that he’s contracted to provide his services for the remaining two books as well.

Casey’s Vengeance: A Killstreme Prequel by Rayne Havok

Casey’s Revenge might just be one of the rarest of things, a prequel story that surpasses the narrative it precedes. If you’ve read Killstreme for yourself, you know just how high a bar Rayne Havok set with that title, and how challenging it would be to do what she’s done here. If Casey’s Revenge isn’t better, it’s certainly no worse. It really just depends on what you look for in a story. For me, this had everything I’d have hoped for and more.
Packed with the brutality and violence one comes to expect from her writing along with the well-drawn characters and exceptional storytelling, we also have a heartbreaking story of innocence reclaimed and shattered.
Casey wanted a new start, at a new school with none of her previous mistakes haunting her or hanging over her head, and that’s precisely what she believed she had. Prom night was the night she promised herself she would give Evan the night they both wanted. unfortunately, it turned out that Evan’s wishes were altogether more terrible than she could have imagined. He didn’t want sex, he wanted her to suffer, and he wasn’t alone.
What could have broken her, simmered within her instead. Casey realized that revenge was the only thing that would give her back the power Evan and his friends had stolen from her. Her vengeance is brutal and perfect, directed toward vile young monsters who deserve every bit of what they receive.
Bonus points for the unique curb stomp that involves an altogether different head than what readers might associate with the term. Also, having one’s head up someone’s ass has never seemed quite so visually stimulating.

This title is available as part of the 31 Days of Godless event at http://www.godless.com for October of 2021. You should pick it up for yourself by going to the website or downloading the Godless app to your preferred mobile device. The link is below:

Seersucker Motherfucker by Jay Wilburn

With Sally French firing a .45 slug through the window of the Harper house, aiming for Kelly Harper, but killing Coop Bainbridge instead, Jay Wilburn’s Seersucker Motherfucker kicks off a bloody feud that makes the Hatfields and McCoys seem quaint by comparison.
The unrelenting, stylized violence that unfolds in the pages of this story is the sort of thing that would surely give Tarantino an erection. In fact, it might be a good idea to get this story in his hands, because this is just the sort of thing he could direct without leaving his wheelhouse. All that’s missing is the banter, 60s & 70s nostalgia, and pseudo-witty dialogue, and we’d have a fantastic Tarantino film in the making.
Shifting perspectives as we follow one burst of bloodshed to another are handled so expertly by Wilburn that the reader never loses track of what’s happening as the tempo steadily increases. One might expect a sort of “fog of war” to gloss over the fine details, obscuring the brutality unfolding, but the clarity of purpose setting these families against one another is extended to the reader, and we’re blessed–or cursed–with an unflinching vision of the staccato rampage.
The old adage, often attributed to Confucius, might have understated things when suggesting one should dig two graves, at least when Wilburn is at the helm.

You can pick up a copy of this story from http://www.godless.com or by downloading the Godless app on your favorite mobile device. The link is below:

Seersucker Motherfucker by Jay Wilburn