Technically, I could just end this review there, but that one word is just a bit ambiguous and likely does disservice to Braum’s creation.
For writers: these 13 stories contain a quality of writing that is so good it’ll either make you want to quit for good or make you strive to be infinitely better. This is all depending on how committed you are to your craft, naturally. Prose or pose—you decide.
For readers: this is the kind of book that will bring new mysteries into your life and make you question the fabric of reality. You’ll likely come back to it multiple times and find new meanings in certain passages and discover new phrases that resonate with you each time.
The stories in this collection do not fit conveniently into a neat box. The Night Marchers is full of sadness, beauty, and unprecedented wonder. Two cups of literary dark fiction, a heaping scoop of magical realism and urban fantasy, a tablespoon of horror. Yet, these genres only scratch the surface of what Braum seeks to accomplish. All of the tales are so equally strong that it is truly difficult to choose any standouts. A song that lasts forever, crocodile gods desperately swimming through a sea of jellyfish and charging a populated beach, a man who finds sensuality and solace in arson, phantasmal fish that want to return to the deep, a cat-faced demon killer, a mummified body that spawns mighty crops, giant sphinxes that lackadaisically stroll the earth. I’m taking some liberty with Braum’s ideas here, but hopefully it’s enough to pique your interest.
I noticed more than a few motifs throughout these stories. Braum seems to have a(n) (un)healthy obsession with the sea and Ancient gods, almost as if he seeks to create his own mythos, except I think many or all of the strange things in his stories are based on tales from forgotten or ignored cultures (this theme runs deep throughout the collection). Braum tackles racial issues without being heavy handed, and he also appears enamored with writing about exotic lands. Most of these stories take place outside of America in places I have never been and will likely never go. Braum has either done a lot of traveling or some really extensive research (or both), because these faraway places and their respective cultures feel fully realized, as do the characters.
It’s rare I find zero to complain about in a book, even in those I adore, but somehow The Night Marchers escapes even the most minor abuse I can summon up. I mean—the worst thing I can think to say about this book is “Why aren’t there more stories?” Braum is already a master of his craft. It almost scares me to think how good he’ll be in the coming years. There never really is any true justice in this world, but if there were, in a few years college creative writing students would find Braum’s short stories on the required reading lists of their syllabi.
This comes as no surprise, but Grey Matter Press and Cemetery Dance (who released the e-book version) have another winner on their hands here. If you’re looking for something visceral, The Night Marchers is probably going to confuse you because it’s far too quiet for that (but you should buy it regardless because it’s good to get out of your comfort zone every now and then). If you’re looking for something thought-provoking and elegant, yet still dark and somewhat mad, you’d be a fool to pass this book up. Buy it yesterday.