Guest Post: The Fallen Author Tarn Richardson Takes Us to the Forgotten Front of WWI

In The Fallen (Book 2 of Tarn Richardson’s Darkest Hand trilogy), war wages in a shadowy world between demons and werewolves. In advance of the novel’s March 14th release by The Overlook Press, the author has embarked on a virtual tour; and today he visits Dread Central to explain why he chose The Fallen‘s WWI setting along with sharing some of its horror elements.

The Italian Front of World War I. The forgotten front.
Every horror story needs a suitably unsettling backdrop, to help magnify the desperation and dread of events on the page, to heighten the anxiety felt by the reader as the villains and their unspeakable plans are revealed. The Shining had the remote desolation of the snowed-in Overlook Hotel. Alien had the isolation of a spaceship drifting helpless through space. The Fallen, the second book in the Darkest Hand trilogy, has the inhospitable loneliness of the Carso for its backdrop, an impenetrable slab of rock on the Italian-Slovenian border, part of the Karst region and the scene of some of the worst battles of World War I.

World War I was the most dreadful conflict in the history of mankind. The ferocity of fire in that narrow arc around France, the northern edge of Italy and north through Russia claimed over 10,000,000 fighting men between 1914 and 1918 and tore the heart out of an entire generation. It still staggers one to try to comprehend the scale of killing in so condensed an area.

For all that we now know, analyze and try to understand of the conflict, there has been woefully little written about the Italian Front during the First World War. This third, seemingly forgotten, front of the conflict, fought in some of the most extreme of conditions and costing almost one and half million men, has always stood in the shadow of the desperate horrors of the Western Front and the inconceivable destruction of the Eastern Front.

There is a legend that the devil resides within the Carso and has made those lands his own. The limestone mountains, hard like iron, are the devil’s flesh and the emerald and turquoise rivers flowing through the mountains, the water so cold that it freezes your skin when touched, his blood.

According to folklore, an angel of God was sent to the lands of the Carso to take away all the stones in order for the people living there to grow their crops, farm their animals and raise their families. The devil came to the lands shortly afterwards and saw this beautiful land, with its fertile meadows and fast flowing clear rivers and this angel flying away with a huge sack thrown over its shoulder. And the devil thought at once that there were riches and sweet produce within it. So he slit the bag open from behind, but instead of treasure, stones and debris poured out of the sack and covered the beautiful lands below. And so it became a kingdom of stone, and a domain of the devil for evermore.

Beyond these rumors of folklore, the Carso proved itself to be an intimidating foe against which the armies pitted themselves. The shells of World War I simply could not penetrate the mountainside. Instead they splintered and shattered where they landed, showering everything up to a kilometer away from the blast in a deadly rain of steel and scorching shards of fractured stone.

Unbearably hot during the day, ferociously cold on a night, the Italian and Austro-Hungarian soldiers fought, lived and died under some of the most terrible conditions of the entire war. With no way of finding cover, the most coveted item for a soldier was a pneumatic drill to allow them to dig into the unyielding earth and fashion themselves a hole into which to shelter from the perpetual onslaught of falling shells.

For Italian soldiers to have frequently requested to be transferred from the mountains to the flooded killing fields of the Somme so not to face an enemy on the brittle inhospitable shard of rock of the Carso gives some idea of what those poor men must have experienced. How terrible it must have been.

Having fought their way, inch by inch, bloody scrap by bloody scrap, to the top of the Carso and the Karst Plateau at its summit, the Italian army then had to face an Austro-Hungarian army consisting of 100,000 soldiers. Sent into war woefully unprepared and unequipped, there were not enough rifles to go around all the men. Ammunition was rationed. In the Second Battle of the Isonzo River, the two armies crashed together in a pitched fight that resembled more a medieval battle than modern warfare.

With ammunition gone, the soldiers had to fight each other with weapons fashioned from whatever the soldiers carried with them or could be scavenged: Knives, bricks and barbed wire, bayonets, swords, molded scrap metal and debris were all used in the terrifying melee. Under the unwavering heat of the Italian sun, the plateau became a charnel pit to death and mutilation, slick with blood and bodies, nearly 90,000 men killed or wounded upon the cruel limestone plain.

For three more years this nightmare of battles and skirmishes played out, with little gain or advantage of land, and no decisive victory for either side. Desperation, dread and death consumed both armies and, just as with the forces on the Western and Eastern Fronts, no man really knew what they were fighting for, what purpose or reason.

This was the setting for, and what awaited, the Italian and Austro-Hungarian soldiers in the summer of 1915 as they climbed the lofty heights of the Carso towards its summit and battle. It is this monstrous and inhumane suffering that provides the bloody desperate backdrop to my novel, The Fallen.

In this second book of the Darkest Hand trilogy, the action moves from the sodden killing fields of the Western Front (the setting of Book 1, The Damned) to these lofty, inhospitable heights. When writing a novel based on actual historical events, particularly one involving such devastating loss and real life suffering, I’ve always felt it’s the responsibility of the novelist to ensure that they treat the subject, and especially those who suffered at the heart of the war, with respect.

It is not our place as writers to demean or ridicule those caught in these terrible predicaments and situations, but instead to draw attention to their enormous sacrifices and what they gave in answer to their countries’ and leaders’ calling. A powerful message can be created when using such events to further heighten the overall feeling of horror and disbelief in a novel. In return, it’s our responsibility to treat the fallen with respect and to shine a spotlight onto the heartless, often cruel, leaders who sent these men to their deaths, almost always for ulterior motives.

And in a war where such devilish plots were woven and terrors unleashed, perhaps the idea of demons gathering about the highest pinnacles of the Karst summoning dreadful power through their malevolent rituals, or slavering terrors, drawing themselves from their holes to go hunting amongst the broken and shattered armies with the coming of night, seems less fanciful than they might initially appear!

After all, who’s not to say, beyond all the spoken lies and betrayals made of these soldiers, that the Antichrist’s hand was not in fact on the tiller of war?

Author Bio:
Tarn Richardson was brought up in a remote house, rumored to be haunted, in Somerset. He has worked as a copywriter, written mystery murder dinner party games and worked in digital media for nearly twenty years. He lives near Salisbury in England. The Fallen is the follow-up to his debut novel, The Damned, and the second in a series of three featuring tortured Inquisitor Poldek Tacit. It will be published March 14, 2017.

You can pre-order The Fallen now, and don’t worry if you’re not up-to-speed:  The Damned hit paperback on February 7th so that Richardson’s fans and first-time readers alike can discover the depths of this premier horror series.

Synopsis:
The ongoing battle of a paranormal World War I threatens to engulf the Inquisition as dark forces assemble amongst the most fanatical servants of the Catholic Church.

Before his murder, a desperate priest sends a secret missive to his brother serving in the Italian Army. Now this young soldier carries with him a letter which holds the key as to why terrible Satanic rituals are being committed in the heart of the Vatican – and by whom. Drawn into this conspiracy and hunted by agents of The Darkest Hand, old rivals must unite to discover the contents of the letter before it’s too late.

Only Poldek Tacit, an Inquisitor, can hope to push back the forces of evil and unite those for good. But what happens when Tacit finds that his mission threatens the very future of a world already on the edge of the abyss?

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