“The Grey Berserker”
Mark N. Drake
Reviewed by Andrew Byers
“The Grey Berserker” is Mark N. Drake’s latest short story set on the fictional Darkisle, a foreboding place inhabited by Lovecraftian horrors and cultists, and the setting of Drake’s previous collection Hobb’s Top and Other Horrors (reviewed here) and his novel The Gathering of Shadows (reviewed here).
While most of the Darkisle stories have been set in the genteel 1920s—always a favorite decade for those of us who enjoy Lovecraft’s work—this time around, Drake takes us all the way back to 875 A.D., when a Viking raiding force first encountered that demon-haunted isle. Doesn’t everyone love Vikings? There’s just something about those Valhalla-loving, freewheeling marauders, sacking monasteries and establishing colonies throughout Northern Europe and beyond, that really appeals to me. Despite that, I haven’t actually read all that much fiction about them—there’s undoubtedly a lot of good material out there, I simply haven’t run across it—C.J. Henderson’s tale “The Laughing Man” (reviewed here) is a notable exception.
Here we have a crew of young Vikings, exiled from their homeland, seeking to establish a name for themselves and some booty. So they do what any self-respecting Viking would do: they raid a monastery for gold and slaves. They also encounter some berserkers and a dark sorcerer that, well, let’s just say that he is in contact with elder beings and things from beyond the stars. The raid doesn’t quite go as planned. A nice mix of sword and sorcery here. Wonderful atmosphere and action, fast paced, breezily written, and solid characterization. A thoroughly enjoyable story.
As with previous Darkisle tales, you don’t have to be steeped in the Cthulhu Mythos—or even like it much—to enjoy these stories. You can read them as being in an explicitly non-Cthulhoid universe and they would work just find. This is a world in which young, dissatisfied Viking warriors sail off to make their fortunes in the world, and occasionally encounter strange things that they can’t quite explain. A fun one that is certainly worth checking out, and the price (free) can’t be beat. This 10,000-word novelette is available for FREE here. I have it on good authority that a new Darkisle novel, Those Under the Hill (an excellently creepy title) should be published in April.