This anthology is worth your time because it’s a unique grouping of women writers who are either established in the horror genre already, or are newly breaking out. As the editor explains, many women are writing dark fiction. The problem is that publications are still heavily representing the men. So, I think it’s a great thing to be able to support female authors. Obviously men create amazing horror, but it’s refreshing to see that collections like this one are trying to balance the scales. I hope that Mosiman continues to round up more work to be published.
As far as the content, this compilation is a varied representation of the genre. The stories are easy to follow and many of them are imaginative and well-crafted. There were only a couple of zombie stories, which are told from an interesting point of view—one is told from the vantage point of a character turning into one. Sorry to report there are no vampire stories; however, many horror fans are rather over-dosed on the blood suckers at the moment anyway. The rest of the tales are about psychological horror, the horror of human behaviour, with a sprinkling of apocalyptic storylines. I didn’t find myself so frightened I couldn’t turn out the light before bed, but I did find myself feeling disturbed or rattled by some of the concepts.
The authors in this anthology play around with the idea of the protagonist. Are we really cheering for the “good guy”? In a few of the pieces, we are rooting for a character and discover that things are not what they seem. Several plots surprised me with a twist at the end. For example, in “Here I Lie” by Versini, the story opens with someone buried alive (most of us have a fear of this—Poe was on to something here), but the circumstances of that scene are heartbreakingly revealed at the end, which ends up being the real horror. “Sense Deprived” by Stittle is a gripping dystopian future that follows a band of women who are able to read thoughts. What do their creators have in store for them? And what agenda will these women follow? I found this to be one of the most fascinating stories because of its thought-provoking ending. And, “Backslide” by Nappier really pulled the rug from underneath me. There’s a long set up to get to the conclusion. The whole time I was wondering about the pay off. Actually one of the most horrific endings of the entire collection. No spoilers from me here. You’ll have to read it for yourself.
Interestingly, the threats in this group of tales range from ghosts, supernatural dolls or objects, and monsters, to society and other people, and even the characters themselves.
The action in these stories is set primarily in an unspecified location, so we can imagine it happening in our own immediate world—or in some version of the future. There are a few settings that take us to places like Japan or the Sargasso Sea and are artfully portrayed.
The literary pieces take place in the past, present, or future, with most set in the present tense. For me, that works best, since I like to feel that the scare is happening now. The future is the second most terrifying place for me. Just following politics is enough to evoke terror. (No political narratives in this book—whew!).
What kept me interested in finishing this book was that each of the stories was so different. I wanted to know where the next writer was going to take me and how I was going to see terror through her eyes. Most stories had excellent pacing and some stood out with captivating or disturbing imagery. In Robertson’s “The Ouroborus Bite” we follow two characters wrestling with the idea of immortal life. I don’t know about you, but I have no interest in living forever and have even less interest after reading this macabre rendition of what it might be like. “Tintype” by Massie is one of the goriest pieces in this collection. I don’t want to ruin it, but just know that your stomach might get queasy when reading. It’s wonderfully repulsive.
I had a few favorite stories. Some of them I’ve already referred to. Blackthorn’s “Promises, Bliss, and Lies” had me on the edge of my seat, not necessarily scaring me, but hooking me with the unfolding plot. I thought for sure it was going to be a vampire saga or some demonic force to be reckoned with; but sometimes, the fear can be more powerful if we can imagine the circumstances as being realistic, as in this story. “What Storms Bring” by Grifant may be one of the most disturbing pieces for me. There’s this slow loss of identity that reminded me a little bit of Invasion of the Body Snatchers—not that this is an aliens taking over the world story at all. But it had the same kind of effect.
There are too many great scenes, but one stands out from “The Goblin Box” by Lyon. The protagonist buys a mysterious box at a thrift store and by the end of the story I was like, did I really read that? The conclusion was so radical that I couldn’t decide if it was too ridiculous or if it was storytelling that took a fabulous risk.
“Kasey could not make it out at first, but as the tip of it wriggled over sandy floor, serpent-like, yet so mind-blowingly gargantuan, the probable scope of its entire being made her racing pulse burn like liquid fire in her throat.” (From “Secrets of the Sargasso” by Griffith).
The greatest part about a book like this is the variety of horror. No one is going to like everything, and readers are bound to disagree. But like opening a box of chocolates, there will be something you will enjoy chewing on.
What Didn’t Work
There were a few stories that I didn’t care for, for one reason or another—either the writing didn’t work for me or the plot was limp. Such is life.
I’d give it a 3 out of 5. For the record, I think I’m difficult to scare. The anthology has enough psychological horror to warrant the rating. It’s what nightmares are made of. Was I afraid to be home alone as I turned the page? No. Will I follow some of these authors to see what they write next? Absolutely!