Book Review – Still Life (novella) – by Tim Lebbon

Angry Goat

Sup, my goat brethren. I’ve been told off for giving spoilers in my reviews so I won’t do it here… this time. Jolly Goat usually snaps up the novellas, the greedy little sh**, but when I saw this in Goat Leader’s TBR pile, I snatched it away before Jolly could get their dirty, grabby little hooves on it.

I’m a Lebbon fan but hadn’t heard of this one. I waited for nightfall, got cosy, and read by only the light from my own red, glowing eyes. You know, for atmosphere.

“Jenni’s husband was part of the Road of Souls — his flesh swarmed by ants and pecked by rooks, bones crushed to powder by wheels of dread — and yet she still saw him in the pool.

Firstly, would you just look at that cover art? You know me, I mostly hate stuff and am overly critical, according to some other whining goats around these here parts. However, Still Life is presented so beautifully that my thin mouth tried to do that upward turn thing again.

Where to start with the story? It’s bizarre and strange, and a little confusing, but in a way that will intrigue rather than bore. Our protagonist is Jenni, a woman who lives in a village that has been seized by an enemy. Her husband perished during the takeover. She’s alone, still grieving, and exists in a perpetual state of fear. The village is under the control of those who conquered it, with the new way of life enforced by former residents who aligned themselves with the bad guys. They carry strange weapons, and are sadistic in the joy they take from punishing those who dare step out of line. Jenni’s only solace is a pool of water, in which she communicates in dreams with her dead spouse. I know – I told you it’s bizarre.

For such a short book, there’s a lot going on. Elements, and fear, and issues, oh my!

The enemy, who we are told completely obliterated a neighbouring town that rebelled, is never seen. But that doesn’t stop them from being terrifying. The Road of Souls, which is basically a landscape filled with crushed, rotting bodies, is one of the most brutal and savage locations I’ve ever seen realised in a book. There are descriptions of how the dead came to be killed and crushed, and oh my dark lord…. how did Tim Lebbon even imagine this? It’s so visceral. There are sections in the prose that really reminded me of Clive Barker’s work, which I, of course, mean as a compliment. Up until now, the dear and wonderful Clive is the only person that could make me wince.

So anyway, Jenni is encouraged to join the resistance, which is terrifying to her. If she doesn’t help her village, they may all die or at best, live out their days enslaved and in fear. If she does join the resistance, the penalty if she’s discovered is a humiliating, public, agonising death.

“Something you can’t live with is worth dying for.”

As always, Lebbon’s writing is wonderful and immersive. Whilst reading, I was in that village with Jenni, panicking about what I’d do in this scenario. The sense of helplessness and paranoia over who is trustworthy and who isn’t is palpable. Lebbon is also an absolute master at world-building. And I mean, Gandalf-level wizadry, the kind of world-building that’s mostly seen in high fantasy, but Lebbon achieves the same sort of immersion with far fewer words.

Despite how bleak and almost nihilistic it is, I managed to hang on to hope right up until the end. Again, this is a testament to Lebbon’s storytelling, because despite the hopelessness felt by most of the characters, I held on to it for them.

I just realised that I’m meant to be the critical one of our tribe, and I haven’t done a single criticism. I can’t have that – for the love of the Dark Lord, my reputation! Hold on, I’ll find something to complain about.



Okay, I’m back, and I have something. Lebbon said that he based this story on an Iron Maiden song. I hate Iron Maiden. So. Do with that what you will, because that’s all I’ve got.

I highly recommend getting your hands on this novella, if you can find it. It’s incredibly rare – so rare, in fact, that outside of an extremely lucky eBay auction (and why would anyone part with this?), you won’t find it for sale anywhere. However, Goat Leader did have a little chat with the word-wizard himself, and he has some copies that he’ll be happy to send out if you’d like to buy from him directly. You can find and contact him on FB, here’s the link to his profile:


If you’d like to check out Tim Lebbon and his other works, you can find him here:


If you’d like to check out Spectral Press, who released this novella, you can find them here:


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