Edited by John Linwood Grant, Hell’s Empire: Tales of the Incursion features stories detailing an incursion of forces from Hell into the British Empire during the Victorian era. John intersperses brief interludes between each story updating events of the war that are taking place near each upcoming story. This allows the book to function as a novel as well as an anthology. Each tale is well written and enjoyable. I like how Hell’s agents took different forms in each tale. This isn’t just an army of demonic creatures laying waste to humans. They’re unorganized and chaotic in their methods and diverse in appearance and powers. They might appear as a dog creature, or an old man, a stereotypical horned devil, or even be invisible to all but a few. Some can take possession of their victims, while others try to use tempting them, or something else entirely. Animals, plants, mirrors, anything could be turned into weapons for the damned. My favorite stories here were “Hell at the Empire”, “The Mighty Mastiff”, “The Sea Wall”, “Ad Majorem Satanae Gloriam”, “Yan Tan Tethera”, and “We’ve Always Lived in the Colony”.
- The Prelude – Editor John Linwood Grant sets the scene by briefly noting the earliest signs that something sinister and otherworldly was attempting to breach into the world.
- “The Battle of Alma” by Matthew Willis – This opening novelette follows a woman named Alma Langley, imprisoned as a witch, who is forced to use her abilities to repel an attack by dog-sized, vicious demons she recognizes as being called Mazzikim. The prison only manages to survive and repel the attack due to her abilities. Soon after, she is recruited away from the prison to help the cause by a government official introduced as Commander Wilcox. He tells her that these demonic invasions are happening in other parts of Britain and only she has been able to hold them off. They take her to The Channel Fleet Anchorage to help shore up the defenses. It is there where a large scale invasion of a different breed of demons occurs and all present will be sorely tested.
- “Hell at the Empire” by Marion Pitman – A singer begins to see quick glimpses of demonic beings who appear and disappear swiftly. She wonders if she’s imagining them or not as she meets a handsome young gentleman who courts her.
- “The Mighty Mastiff” by Ross Baxter – When aging gunship The Mastiff docks near the tiny Scottish island of Canna to pick up a supplies, they find the elderly couple who live there disemboweled and pinned to the wall of their cabin by a demon who appears as an old man. This demon aims to open a portal to Hell there. Young Owen and his surrogate father figure Captain Campbell go to heroic efforts to try and stop the gate from opening with the help of their crewmates.
- “The Sea Wall” by Ian Steadman – While walking along Brighton Beach Millicent, a psychic medium, witnesses a sudden rash of brutal assaults breakout among the vacationers filling the seaside. Using her psychic powers she becomes aware of an upright walking beast, like a giant cheetah with a crown on its head, stalking amidst the carnage, invisible to all but her. This one was among my favorite stories in the anthology.
- “The Singing Stones” by Charles Band – Viewed through the eyes of a stone demon named Scree, we see his and his master’s attempts to take down a small town, but will Scree’s time in this world away from Hell influence the coming invasion?
- “The Nowl Of Tubal-Qayin” by Phil Breach – A witch named Anjelica Brown is called upon to help stop Hell’s incursion in this long poem.
- “Forge” by Shell Bromley – A young woman and her loyal dog prove instrumental in combating a horde of moldy-plant demons which are attacking her friend’s farm.
- “Ad Majorem Satanae Gloriam” by Damascus Mincemeyer – When Calvin Woolery’s daughter shows up at his house seeking shelter from the unstoppable forces of Hell, he allows her inside. She brings an assortment of fellow survivors with her. Her uncle, who owns the house, doesn’t believe the unstoppable troops that are destroying their city are truly demons until he witnesses them for himself as the group are forced to flee for their lives from the unyielding onslaught. This story focuses in on those attempting to survive an overwhelming army advancing upon them and the hopelessness they feel. This was another favorite of mine.
- “Infernal Patrol” by A. F. Stewart – A squadron of young men fight invading demons to defend Whitechapel. One of them is intent on finding and killing the demon that had previously possessed him and forced him to do terrible things before being exorcised out of him.
- “Yan Tan Tethera” by J. A. Ironside – A strange, bad smelling red weed grows along the boarder between Britain and Wales. It seemed to be forming into the shape of a reaching hand. A shepherd girl is joined by a friend from childhood who her grandmother had demanded she stop playing with because she believed her to be a fairy child. They work together to solve the ancient mystery of what’s happening and how they can combat it as the children and livestock of Wytch Hill on the Wales side of the boarder grow sick with a demonic illness. This is a strong story with great characters and a strong sense of the place.
- “Reinforcements” by Frank Coffman – Cornish soldiers are joined by a troop of outsiders who don’t look the part but who are tremendously effective in combating the demonic armies. These men seem to know things their new comrades do not while guarding a secret about themselves as well.
- “Charge of the Wight Brigade” by Phil Breach – Another poem by Phil Breach, this one a ballad about an army of the rotting damned.
- “Profaned By Feelings Dark” by J. S. Deel – Seeking the assistance of a witch, some agents learn they have been betrayed by one of their own in this espionage tale.
- “We’ve Always Lived in the Colony” by S. L. Edwards – A young woman, hardened by life and the cutthroat General with which she lives, deals with the horrors that have infested Dortsmouth since Hell’s invasion. Terrible screams that repeatedly cry in the distance from which those who investigate never return, a large tower covered in watchful eyes and evil, whispering mouths, and a spreading infectious madness are some of the terrible things plaguing the town. This may have been my favorite story in this collection.
- “The Ones That Were Left Behind” by Martin J. Gilbert – A young soldier left behind following a battle with the infernal hordes stumbles through a ruined town and meets a girl who’s the lone survivor after the enemy moved on through. These characters are interesting people who have been deeply damaged by war and loss which makes the ending even more shocking.
- “A Swig in Hell” by Charles R. Rutledge – An elite group of fighting men are tasked with fighting their way through a horde of monstrous creatures defending the main portal into Hell so they can carry an artifact through in order to shut down all the portals allowing demons into Britain.
Hell’s Empire: Tales of the Incursion U.S. Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Hells-Empire-John-Linwood-Grant/dp/1097466426/ref=sr_1_3?crid=W3UGXMCHO1H9&keywords=hell+s+empire&qid=1568484721&sprefix=Hell’s+em%2Caps%2C161&sr=8-3
Hell’s Empire: Tales of the Incursion U.K. Amazon: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Hells-Empire-John-Linwood-Grant/dp/1097466426
Reviewed by Matt Cowan