REVIEW : Penumbra: Delving into the Shadows – Jamie Fessenden

Penumbra: Delving into the Shadows Book Cover Penumbra: Delving into the Shadows
Jamie Fessenden
Dreamspinner Press
August 16, 2022

A Victorian automaton that seems all too real...

A cursed book that infects the beloved family dog...

An old mill building haunted by workers killed in a fire...

Ghosts, werewolves, and aliens lurk in the twilight, at the edge of the shadows—the penumbra—in this collection of stories from Jamie Fessenden.

**This volume consists of previously published novellas.**

Review by Ulysses Dietz

Member of The Paranormal Romance Guild Review Team

Every one of the six long stories in this anthology from Jamie Fessenden is terrific. His writing is good—and flexible, given the different periods and settings where his stories take place. His characters are beautifully developed, and there’s a wild diversity of story types—even though all of them are, ultimately, tied together by love (or, should I say Love, because this is serious).

The first three entries—Watchworks, The Book of St. Cyprian, and Isolated—each come out of a classic horror/paranormal genre.

Watchworks, a riff on the idea of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein—but taken in a very Jules Verne direction—won me over completely. In fact, I wanted it to be the WHOLE book. We forget that the sort of odd edge between science fiction and horror was born amidst the technological discoveries of the nineteenth century. There is an uncanny echo for a reader like me, remembering when gay people were widely seen as inhuman, as monsters unfit for society.

The Book of St. Cyprian is a really a love story. Its two protagonists find their long friendship activated by the unintended consequences of old, sequestered magic.

Isolated is similar to it, but drawing on a different horror genre—werewolves—that has become a rich vein of popular romance fiction in the last couple of decades. Both of these tales emphasize the importance of action, of seizing love when you have the chance.

Abducted surprised me—and made me laugh. Everyone’s worst nightmare comes true (at least in terms of UFOs and alien abduction); but the resulting outer-space adventure morphs into a love story that completely veers away from the tried and true. Its roots are in Star Trek perhaps, but Fessenden’s narrative is completely contemporary in its treatment of issues of race and love and cultural complexity.

The Sheriff of Para Siempre (Forever, in case you didn’t catch that) is a ghost story and a love story. Sort of. It’s a story of the wild west, but went in a direction I completely didn’t expect.

The Mill became my favorite—just as Watchworks started as my favorite. It is also a ghost story, and a romance; but its protagonists come from the two sides of the “paranormal” coin—the pseudo-science of ghost-hunters (as seen on TV), and the age-old art of psychic connection to the spirit world. I loved the way Fessenden brings the clash of these two approaches to the supernatural into play as his protagonists dance around each other, each trying to solve a dark mystery lost in the past.

I generally prefer novels to shorter forms, but the author’s skill at pulling you into his various worlds and engaging you fully with his characters made this volume a complete pleasure to read.

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