NOTE: This review was originally published at High Fever Books in September 2019. That website has been closed, so I am republishing it here.
Publisher: Nightshade Books
Release Date: September 3rd, 2019
Pages: 480 pages
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Putting together a ‘Best of’ collection must be a real challenge. To consolidate a year’s worth of horror fiction into 20 plus stories must be nothing short of a Herculean task.
It’s a good thing we have Ellen Datlow. She’s one of the most esteemed editors in the horror field, and she’s been doing these particular collections for ten years. Ten years of selections, each plucked from the darkest depths of the genre. After all this time, it might be fair to ask if she’s lost her touch. After all, a good run must someday end. Has this particular series lost its touch?
Spoiler alert: not even close. It’s as great as ever. The books (of course) starts with a deep dive (a summation) into the year. It’s a curated list built for horror/thriller fans, going over novels, collections and other anthologies. If your TBR pile wasn’t already massive, it will be after this summation. If you were concerned that Ellen hasn’t done her homework, you will be glad to know that every effort has been made to see every spooky corner.
Now for the stories. An eclectic bunch, most of them from some of the greatest names in the genre. While not every story worked for me perfectly, it wasn’t because they weren’t well written and interesting. The nature of an anthology of like this is that every creation is has its own orbit. And that’s why a well curated ‘Best Of’ anthology is so important. We need room for all kinds. So that begs the question. Which stories do I think stand above the rest?
Let’s start with the opener. ‘I Remember Nothing’ by Anne Billson. It’s one heck of a way to start. It’s a grisly piece and very startling. A little further ahead is the very disturbing ‘Painted by Wolves’ by Ray Cluley. It is the most effective story of human evil in the anthology, and may be the most disturbing within it’s page count.
‘You Know How the Story Goes’ from novelist Thomas Olde Heuvelt takes an urban legend to chilling heights. It’s my favorite story in the book, and a reminder of why you shouldn’t pick up hitchhikers. From there, I enjoyed the formal terror of ‘The Donner Party’ (Dale Bailey) and the familiar-but not-quite tale of John Langan’s ‘Haak’. In the final half of the book, I enjoyed stories from Thana Niveau (White Mare), Laird Barron (Girls Without Their Faces On), and several others.
As I stated earlier, Ellen Datlow doesn’t put out bad anthologies. With her annual anthology, you are guaranteed to get a buffet of horrors both loud and quiet. If you have the cash for one horror anthology, this is a worthy purchase.