No one could accuse the new renaissance of modern dark/weird fiction of being exactly unaware of its literary antecedents. The shades of Lovecraft, Chambers, and even Poe, often loom large in its pages. Daniel Mills (photo) has done all the better, then, by outgrowing those shadows and finding his own place, with work that evokes that tradition while remaining completely contemporary in its concerns and spirit. Almost all of the tales in The Lord Came at Twilight have an explicitly historical setting, most contain well-turned period dialog, none are stories that you could imagine being written in those periods – just as no one in the actual 1840s could have written Blood Meridian. But the historic settings are necessary and relevant all the same.
A number of the stories in the collection actually first appeared in anthologies dedicated to other authors. The title story appears in The Grimscribe’s Puppets, Joseph S. Pulver Sr.’s excellent collection of homages to Thomas Ligotti. “MS Found in a Chicago Hotel Room” appeared first in the same editor’s equally inspired collection of Robert W. Chambers tributes, A Season in Carcosa. And “Dust From a Dark Flower,” truly an outstandingly horrible specimen of rural decay that reads like Lovecraft’s The Color Out of Space reimagined by Nathaniel Hawthorne … ahem .. stems from the gloriously creepy 2012 collection Fungi. That isn’t to disparage any of them, though, or imply that they’re derivative. Rather, it lays bare some of Daniel Mills’s literary procedures, and indicates what exalted company his tales deserve to keep.
How Simon Strantzas describes Mills’s approach in his excellent introduction, “Twilight’s True Lord,” is that “Daniel has discovered the true power of the past – as a tool to describe and illuminate the present.” It’s a pretty dark light that the past casts too: shadowing an America as in hock to its gloomy Puritanical forebears as it is overborne by primordial shadows predating the Founding Fathers. Partly, Mills succeeds through the sheer quality of his writing. As Strantzas says further, “along with the horrors you’ll notice how carefully Daniel crafts his atmosphere, how delicately he weaves his narratives together.” And all of that comes with a terrific ear for the phrasing of whatever period he’s situated the story in. Nostalgia buffs who revel in M.R. James, or even Lovecraft nowadays, might be drawn to The Lord Came at Twilight by those old-time settings, but they’re liable to come away filled with a decidedly unpleasing terror, with no comforting historical distancing from sheer existential dread or pure revulsion.
Sadly, the Kindle edition is missing the gorgeous original cover by artist Daniele Serra, himself already a bit of a legend in dark fiction circles, but the contents are still worth every red penny. The Lord Came at Twilight is one of the titles that is taking on canonical status in the new wave of great modern cosmic or existential horror. Read it to find out why.