Review: Dark Stars anthology
by John F.D. Taff, Josh Malerman, Stephen Graham Jones, Priya Sharma, Alma Katsu, John Langan, Caroline Kepnes, Usman T. Malik, Chesya Burke, Livia Llewellyn, Gemma Files, Ramsey Campbell
Publication Date: May 10, 2022
I received an advance review copy of this book from NetGalley. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.My rating:
Dark Stars, edited by John F.D. Taff, is a tribute to horror’s longstanding short fiction legacy, featuring 12 terrifying original stories from today's most noteworthy authors, with an introduction by bestselling author Josh Malerman and an afterword by Ramsey Campbell.
Created as an homage to the 1980 classic horror anthology, Dark Forces, edited by Kirby McCauley, this collection contains 12 original novelettes showcasing today’s top horror talent. Dark Stars features all-new stories from award-winning authors and up-and-coming voices like Stephen Graham Jones, Priya Sharma, Usman T. Malik, Caroline Kepnes, and Alma Katsu, with seasoned author John F.D. Taff at the helm. An afterword from original Dark Forces contributor Ramsey Campbell is a poignant finale to this bone-chilling collection.
Within these pages you’ll find tales of dead men walking, an insidious secret summer fling, an island harboring unspeakable power, and a dark hallway that beckons. You’ll encounter terrible monsters—both human and supernatural—and be forever changed. The stories in Dark Stars run the gamut from traditional to modern, from dark fantasy to neo-noir, from explorations of beloved horror tropes to the unknown—possibly unknowable—threats.
It’s all in here because it’s all out there, now, in horror.
I’ve said it before, but I love anthologies for the opportunity to speed date a variety of authors. While I’ve been reading more horror lately, it’s not a genre where I’m familiar with a lot of authors, so I jumped on the chance to read this anthology. In that respect, it was a complete success as I found several new authors!
“In classes, I was often told that, according to Henry James, my taste for the works of Edgar Allan Poe was ‘the mark of a decidedly primitive stage of reflection.’
In all deference to James, suck it.”
There are twelve stories in the collection from a wide variety of styles and authors, from folk horror to more old-school stuff, and from up and coming authors to masters of the genre. While some stories worked better for me than others, I enjoyed all of them. Here’s a rating and quick review for each.
“Attention from boys is the best drug. You get his attention and suddenly, you don’t need a lot of other stuff, you know? You don’t really need him, only his attention.”
“The Attentionist” – Caroline Kepnes – ★★★.
Two boy-crazy teen sisters in the 90s stumble into some coming-of-age horror. Sneakily disquieting, but the ending felt too pat for me.
“A Life in Nightmares” – Ramsey Campbell – ★★★★★.
This story is initially confusing, starting with a child who’s afraid of going to bed by himself, but morphed into one of my favorite stories in this collection. It masterfully evokes that “am I awake or am I dreaming?” feeling, and I especially loved how he played with language. I wasn’t surprised at all to find out that this author is one of the greats of horror writing!
“Isn’t life supposed to be transient?”
“I know but why do I find that so hard to bear?”
“Papa Eye” – Priya Sharma – ★★★★.
This isn’t the gory type of horror story, but more of the quiet contemplative type. A doctor, struggling with ennui and the inevitability of being forgotten, accepts a position at a small clinic on a remote island. Lovely writing style!
“Volcano” – Livia Llewellyn – ★★★.
This story is just plain weird. It’s the sort of very atmospheric cosmic horror where you have no idea of what’s actually happening, but I liked the college student antiheroine who’s just trying to find a job during the summer.
“All the Things He Called Memories” – Stephen Graham Jones – ★★★★★.
Welp, thanks for the nightmares. During the early pandemic, a man is stuck at home quarantining with his scientist wife, who gets bored and decides to run her own experiment. This story is legitimately terrifying and the only one from this anthology to give me nightmares. I’d already had one of this author’s novels on my TBR and I immediately moved it to the top ten after reading this story!
“She escaped to the mental place and endured the pain because she had caused it.”
“Trinity River’s Blues” – Chesya Burke – ★★★★.
This felt a bit closer to urban fantasy than horror to me. I loved the feeling of the story, the whole theme of getting in over your head, of your yearning for something else blinding you to what you already have. Plus, birds.
“The Familiar’s Assistant” – Alma Katsu – ★★★.
A story that directly compares drug addiction with being a vampire’s Renfield, which is an interesting take. Sure it’s creepy and the main character definitely has issues, but it felt like something was missing.
“Swim in the Blood of a Curious Dream” – John F.D. Taff – ★★★.
While I agree that highway rest stop bathrooms are nightmarish, this was another one of those stories that was more “what the heck is going on?” experimental than, well, understandable. Excellent writing, though.
“The Sanguintalist” – Gemma Files – no rating.
I adored this story. The character, her ex-girlfriend, the murder she’s investigating, everything about it. Why no rating then? A lot of the story’s atmosphere relies heavily on the main character’s south Asian background (references to hijra in the family’s history, magic that made them infamous in pre-colonial India) but the author, as far as I can tell, doesn’t share that background.
“Mrs. Addison’s Nest” – Josh Malerman – ★★★★.
Another story that blurs the lines between reality and not, this one follows four men, former high school delinquents, who have reunited with an awful purpose. Creepy, twisty, and a lot of fun.
“Challawa” – Usman T. Malik – ★★★★★.
A woman is researching a ghost story in her native Pakistan. I had a creeping feeling of where this story was going and wow it was so much worse than I expected. 5 horrified wide-eyed stars.
“Enough for Hunger and Enough for Hate” – John Langan – ★★★★.
This slowly paced story, set for the most part on a frozen lake in the middle of the wilderness, is a good end to the collection. It’s got a little bit of gore, a little bit of ancient horror, a little bit of psychological woah.
Overall, this was a very successful read in my eyes as I found several new authors to explore, and I definitely hope that the editor plans more anthologies in the future!