Book Review: ‘The Captivating Flames of Madness’

August 7, 2020

Written by Capt McNeely

Georgia Division ZADF Twitter: @ZADF_ORG

I recently received a copy of the book The Captivating Flames of Madness by Jeff Parsons. This collection of 22 short stores is published by HellBound Books and a magnificent journey into darkness and horror!

“We’re all just one event, mishap, or decision away from things that could change our lives forever. What would you do if fate led you astray into a grim world where you encountered vengeful ghosts, homicidal maniacs, ancient gods, apocalyptic nightmares, dark magic, deadly space aliens, and more?”

Characters

The characters in Parson’s stories are deep. They are layered and full of life and experiences that go far beyond the frame of the stories. Each character that I came across I each story, regardless of age, gender, race, time period, mortal or supernatural, good or bad…I was intrigued. This is a very impressive thing to do especially in a short story where you have to set up a character in a few words or sentences rather than arcing the development of a character over chapters. One fantastic way that Parsons does this is using an inner dialogue. In a few of the stories the protagonist’s own thoughts are how we know them. In the story Control, Chelsea looks like a character who is struggling and we sympathize with, the mere timing of her laughter instantly flips her to a villainous wretch. This ability of Parsons to control his characters so precisely and instantly, the ability to toy with the readers is shockingly unique and I loved getting to know each character.

Plots

If there is one thing that Jeff Parsons does better than build characters, it is creating plots. It is hard with stories back to back to back to back like this to create worlds that don’t blend into each other, but that’s exactly what Parsons does. Each story is its own world, its own location, its own life. The cold stoic world of Nothing Personal to the mythical crossover of Bruja, and everything in between. Parsons sees a vision and holds nothing back!

I love the instant feeling of fear, dread, and (sometimes) hope that washed over me as I began each story. Parsons makes it look easy to build these vastly unique worlds brick by brick and word by word.

Writing Style

One thing that is instantly obvious right from the first page of this collection is Parsons’ ability to describe. Yes, I have mentioned that he is very descriptive with characters and plots, but also just setting the scene visually is remarkable. Littering the margins of his book are my notes saying “love this description” and “wow! So visually compelling.” The one thing that Parsons does that’s even more impressive is that he fills the reader’s mind’s eye with the scene visually, but knows exactly where to stop before over-doing it. He allows room for imagination to breath and understands that this is a way for the readers to immerse themselves into the stories.

Critiques

Now for the part of reviews that I have a tough time with. I find it very easy to find the great things that Parsons does with his writing, but it is much more difficult to add my opinions on how to adjust things. That being said, I would love to see Parsons use different writing styles or different stories. As great as Parsons is at characters, plots and description, I would love to see stories from different points of view, different ways/words used to describe things and just have a little more variety within the writing itself. What Parsons does, he does better than anyone, but I would like to see him go out of his comfort zone a bit.

Along those lines, I say again how much I love Parsons plots, but the majority of the plots almost seem too deep for short stories. It often felt like the short story was a snapshot of a larger story. I would love to see what Parsons can do with a novel. I love these plots and characters so much that I want to see them explored and expanded. I want more.

Overall Impression

Overall I absolutely enjoyed The Captivating Flames of Madness! Parsons is a gifted writer and I was entertained from cover to cover. As I said, I would love to see him really push his language and plots to the next level, but this was an joy to read and I would highly recommend it to anyone. These stories will surely stick with me and anyone else lucky enough to read this collection.

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