Top critical review
A terrific start
Reviewed in the United States 🇺🇸 on August 20, 2015
This gets off to a terrific start. The first two tales, Gemma Files’ “A Wish from a Bone” and Nathan Ballingrud’s “The Atlas of Hell,” are thrilling and intense experiences. I couldn’t put them down and couldn’t wait to see where the anthology would take me next.
Not quite as far as I’d hoped.
While the 18 tales that follow are mostly readable (save for a couple of duds), they rarely measure up to expectations sync’ed to the openers, and my inner editor kept making mental margin notes.
Happily, there are exceptions. Robert Shearman’s “Suffer Little Children” comes closest to honest-to-goodness dread -- though it doesn’t quite get there, possibly because its protagonist is a distant figure. (It’s rare to find dread without intimacy.) And Michael Marshall Smith’s “Power” is a riveting take on Silicon Valley obsessiveness.
But, that said, many of the other stories seemed slight or somehow burdened. Laird Barron’s breezy “The Worms Crawl In” flew out of my head as quickly as it entered. Brian Evenson’s “The Window” felt more like an intro to a story than a story in itself. Terry Dowling’s “The Four Darks” seemed unnecessarily complicated. The out-of-order conceit in “Wendigo Nights” is a dated effect without persuasive justification. John Langan had a wonderful core idea for the afterlife in “Episode Three: On the Great Plains, in the Snow,” but made the mistake of crowbarring an actual monster into the tale, which almost instantly turns pedestrian. (Sometimes monsters are better suggested than seen.) And while most of Carole Johnstons “Catching Flies” is a lovely blend of attachment and detachment, the child-like and precocious, the vague and the specific, the appended afterword has the effect of defusing it.