This post is part of a blog tour organised by Random Things Blog Tours. I received a free copy of the book in return for an honest review.
‘Darkness Beckons is the fourth volume in the non-themed horror series of entirely original stories, showcasing the very best short fiction that the genre has to offer, and edited by Mark Morris.
‘This new anthology contains 20 original horror stories, 16 of which have been commissioned from some of the top names in the genre, and for of which have been selected from the hundreds of stories sent to Flame Tree during a two-week open submissions window.
‘A terrifying cocktail of the familiar and the new, the established and the emerging.’
Having enjoyed the Close to Midnight anthology in 2022, I jumped at the chance to read and review this year’s addition to Mark Morris/Flame Tree’s New Short Horror Stories series, Darkness Beckons.
This collection more than lived up to my expectations. Each of the 20 stories is engaging, memorable, and intriguing, and by far the majority of them have satisfying pay-offs.
After just a few stories, my wishlist had grown substantially, as I’d added so many books by new-to-me authors I just have to get to know better!
As the blurb suggests, Darkness Beckons covers all sorts of ground, encompassing timeless-feeling folk horror, dark academia, perception-altering illnesses, mythical entities, creepy crawlies, horrors yet to come, and various types of haunting.
Further variety might have been achieved, though, by looking beyond the UK, the US, and Australia, where all of the contributors are from, and almost all of the stories are set.
As mentioned above, this is a strong collection where all the stories captured my imagination, as I wanted to know where each one was going. However, as with any anthology, I had favourites that particularly appealed to my tastes and left a lasting impression.
One of these was the very first story in the book, Saint Barbara by Nina Allan, where a lonely, unfulfilled young woman forms a relationship with an unconventional older one. Among other things, I loved this story’s brilliantly-observed, vivid descriptions of people and places, references to folklore and legends, and blazing finale.
Another standout for me was Dusk by Angela Slatter. With a mansion that’s filled with stuff but low on people; a troubled young woman narrator who is, for all intents and purposes, isolated and friendless; and an elderly woman whose fantasies insulate her against a tragic past, this story gave me much-appreciated Shirley Jackson vibes.
I also especially liked Remember Me, by Ronald Malfi; He Wasn’t There Again Today, by Peter Atkins; and Facts Concerning the Disappearance of the Orloff Six, by Alyssa C. Greene.
I group these together partly because of their classically North American settings (college campuses, a Maine hiking trail, a suburban street on Halloween), but also because each reminded me of what drew me to spooky/mysterious stories as a young reader.
Remember Me is told from the perspective of a ghost who’s using Halloween night to surface the story of his death in people’s minds, thus keeping it in circulation a little longer. Poignant and melancholy, this contribution put me in mind of Casper the Friendly Ghost and Dyan Sheldon’s Ghost Twins series – my two formative encounters with ghosts.
Similarly, in He Wasn’t There Again Today, the ghostly apparition of a college professor in a stairwell, and rationale behind it, gave me a thrill I’ve rarely experienced since I first started reading ghost stories as a child.
Facts Concerning…, meanwhile, attracted me with the characters’ attempt to solve the disappearance of a group of hikers some years before, as well as the possibility of clues surfacing from “beyond the grave” – elements that have drawn me to many books over the past 25+ years!
Darkness Beckons is a stellar collection of engaging, intriguing, and memorable horror stories.