The Graveyard of Gwenna Luna by Guenther Primig

New anthology The Graveyard of Gwenna Luna: Six More Dreams from the Dark Book puts the ‘super’ in supernatural with an emotive, atmospheric coming-of-age saga successfully bridging the gulf between classic and contemporary horror.

By Timothy Arden

Fans of horror—if you don’t know the Gwenna Luna series yet, then you need to.

The engaging anti-heroine, a teenage witch caught between following a path for good or evil, first appeared in 2019’s The Dark Book of Gwenna Luna: Six Dreams of the Supernatural.

Readers were, befittingly, spellbound by Gwenna’s recollections of sinister slumbers, as related by acclaimed author and screenwriter Guenther Primig.

An instant bestseller, the anthology was a finalist in the 2019 Foreword Reviews INDIES Awards and was praised for its macabre atmosphere and uncanny happenings.

Now, Gwenna’s back, and more troubled than ever, in The Graveyard of Gwenna Luna: Six More Dreams from the Dark Book, which has just been published through Barksin.

Like the first book, this new work of horror fiction is a stunningly-illustrated anthology of distinct short horror stories held together by the frame story of Gwenna.

And what an amazing character she is: a complicated and broken young woman facing life-and-death struggles to forge her own identity as she comes of age.

Unlike other magical characters, such as a certain pupil at Hogwarts, Gwenna is no chosen one and has no particular destiny to fulfil.

Instead, she is isolated and alone, struggling to develop her powers while also having to contend with a terrible past, including a mother, the Red Witch, intent on killing her and a murdered lover.

Set one year after The Dark Book of Gwenna Luna, this new collection sees Gwenna arriving in England seeking to master her magic and define herself as a white witch amidst the loneliness of snow-blanketed forests.

Wherever so runs to, however, her dreams follow suit, still haunting her like malevolent ghosts, and six of these gothic-tinged nightmares form the pounding heart of the new book.

Revered author and screenwriter Guenther Primig grew up enjoying the atmosphere-heavy works of classic horror writers such as M.R. James and Edgar Allan Poe.

In no particular order, the short stories cover a madman’s desecration of a shunned grave (and shunned for a reason), a monster’s voice calling out from a desolate moor, a child’s ghost wailing in an old house, a woman who unwisely chooses to communicate with the dead, a doomed hunt for a sacred animal, and a mother’s desperate attempt to protect her baby from a coven of blood-thirsty witches.

These are woven seamlessly into the frame narrative of Gwenna, who may, in a strange boy named Penrod, have finally found the means to lay her dreams to rest, if he can be trusted, that is.

Author Guenther Primig, whose screenplay Two Sides of a Dead Man was a semi-finalist in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Nicholl Fellowship for Screenwriting, grew up on a diet of classic horror authors including M.R. James, Edgar Allan Poe, and H.P. Lovecraft, as well as the folk tales and myths still half-believed even today in his native Austria.

This explains why his stories are so charged and potent, expertly layered with an oppressive mood that clings to you like mist to clothing.

By writing The Graveyard of Gwenna Luna in this way I feel the author has been clever.

It allows him, for instance, to write stories about multiple characters and settings, showcasing the depth and vividness of his imagination while also exploring the range and breadth of the horror genre itself—from unnerving ghost stories and vampiric yarns that go for the jugular to more gentle narratives that approach the fantasy genre.

But it also allows him, slowly but surely, to build a deeper story about Gwenna, drip-feeding a narrative arc that will sustain the planned series, which looks to continue from here in the form of novellas.

The stories, beautifully complemented with the shadowy illustrations of artist Rory Midhani, can be enjoyed as stand-alone works and each represents a brilliant example of contemporary horror, fusing all the tropes that make classics of the genre such as M.R. James’ Ghost Stories of an Antiquary so timelessly appealing—the chilling atmosphere, the electrifying suspense, and the judicious descriptions of the supernatural—with a thoroughly present-day setting.

I love, for example, this passage from one of the earlier stories, ‘The Thing In The Box’, set in a forlorn graveyard:

We are alone, the grave and I. I look at it in silence. The perfect stillness. With the first stab of the spade, I hear a sigh as the earth opens. I pause and look at the headstone, and there is a year: 1649. Now the ravens are laughing. They’ve been waiting for centuries. I work fast. Up to my knees in the shunned grave... This cross from the grave shall be the first. The second shall be the skull. I want the skull; the skull is what I want.

This is creepy writing at its best, where iconic horror imagery is deployed to draw the reader into a certain mood, showing what is happening as the unease unfolds rather than telling you to be afraid.

The Graveyard of Gwenna Luna by Guenther Primig, published through Barksin, contains six spine-shuddering stories wrapped in the narrative arc of a troubled young witch. 

In Primig’s company you will not find plot-heavy narratives, cheap shocks or over-lit rubber-masked foes. The prose, by contrast, is suggestive, almost poetic at times, as we are dragged deeper into these eldritch events, made all the more impactful by being set in familiar territories.

Stories are never rushed, allowing the reader time to breathe and acclimatise, though with the awareness that the next breath could well be the protagonist’s last.

And with Gwenna we find a wounded soul whom we can empathise with, and care for as she continues on her thankless journey.

This is certainly a departure from the classics, where a character in one story could easily be swapped out with another, being little more than cyphers to propel things forward.

As such, I would go as far as saying that Gwenna Luna is the missing link between classic and modern horror fiction.

So, with Halloween fast approaching, do yourself a favour and add The Graveyard of Gwenna Luna to your reading list, preferably diving in while ensconced in a leather armchair by an open fire.

The Graveyard of Gwenna Luna: Six More Dreams from the Dark Book by Guenther Primig is published Barksin and is available now on Amazon, priced £7.28 in paperback, and £4.36 as an eBook. The Dark Book of Gwenna Luna: Six Dreams of the Supernatural is also available on Amazon, priced £7.28 in paperback, £2.30 as an eBook, and £12.07 as an audiobook. For more information visit www.GwennaLuna.com or follow Barksin on Instagram at @gwennaluna.

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