What do you get when you hand a horror author the skeleton keys to a fantasy kingdom already under siege by the forces of darkness? If you're lucky, you get a story like Web of the Spider Queen.
For the most part, this is a straight-forward fantasy tale, one that dispenses with the preliminaries and launches right into the heart of the story. As readers, we're dropped into a hopeless situation, with the elves, fairies, and amazons of Orum on the cusp of defeat at the hands of Sinnia, the Spider Queen. It's a grim situation, marked by overwhelming odds, a seemingly limitless supply of monsters, and an all-powerful villainess who is (almost) justified in her supreme arrogance.
It's here where Grover's horror roots come through, with a more detailed exploration of the monsters and their carnage than is generally found in fantasy. In establishing the nightmare horrors of his world, he provides all the gory, grisly, gratuitous details for which a reader could ask. This is definitely not a tale for the squeamish, especially once the heroes head underground, but one that will definitely satisfy those readers with a taste for the grotesque.
This is not just a story of monsters and carnage, however. The heroes here are surprisingly well-developed for such a short novella, and we get just enough background on their races to truly appreciate their situation. In addition, while most of the story takes place on the blood-soaked battlefields and in web-strewn caverns of Sinnia's realm, Grover smartly takes us into the beauty of the last remaining forest of the elves, providing us with a brightly illuminated symbol of what the world has lost to the spiders and their Queen.
Fast-paced and full of action, the novella follows parallel storylines, switching between the glorious last stand of armies upon the battlefield and the desperate quest of the heroes throwing themselves into the heart of darkness. The sense of impending doom is tangible, but it never descends into the realm of bleak helplessness. While we, as readers, may not be so optimistic, there's a strong feeling of hope shared among the characters (complete with a little flirting-in-the-face-of-death) that really holds it all together.
While the ending is pretty standard for the genre, there are some interesting revelations that provide for a very nice twist. It's clear there's just as much history behind Web of the Spider Queen as there are new stories to be told, so it will be interesting to see how Grover balances the two in future instalments. Whichever way he goes - forwards or backwards - I'm definitely up for another song of the ancestors.Originally reviewed at Beauty in Ruins