Sci-fi, fantasy and horror publishers Unsung Stories are launching a new digital line called Unsung Signals which focuses on mid-length fiction generally considered too long for a short story but too short for traditional publication.
Unsung Signals kicks off with Winter by Dan Grace where the reader is thrown straight in to the aftermath of an anarchic uprising and a band of survivors travel north to make a new life for themselves, just as winter settles in. Suffering the loss of past companions, dealing with illness and a back-to-basics way of life, each group member deals with their own struggles.
Leader Adam is suspicious and untrusting of outsiders, quiet Leila retreats into herself while May does her best to hold things together. They end up joining up with brash Ingold and the mysterious Mikhail. Calm and collected with potentials powers beyond rational comprehension, Mikhail may not be everything he appears to be.
Despite the reduced length of the tale, you really get to know the small cast of characters in such a small space of time. Their personalities really come through in the book which is important when the story focuses on their hardships, as it makes you care about them more. I didn’t really notice anything strange about Mikhail until a fair way in. There is something pagan about him and what he does, and I really enjoyed the mystic element he brings to the story, as well as the mystery that surround him.
The story jumps back and forth in time – hinting at violent encounters with revolutionary groups in the past and showing present daily routines in hiding in Scotland – like two strands of a literary braid that gradually weave together. It ended a little abruptly for me, but I think that’s because I wanted to stay with the characters and see how their story continued. But I guess that’s part of the thrill of a shorter story.
The wintery forests of Scotland are a great atmospheric setting for this dystopian story and I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked it. Intriguing and original, Winter is a great little-ish read and I’m excited about future tales from Unsung Signals.