Dark Stars: New Tales of Darkest Horror ed by John F.D. Taff from @TitanBooks #horror #shortstories #BookReview

Dark Stars: New Tales of Darkest Horror ed by John F.D. Taff

Titan, pb, £8.99

Reviewed by Sarah Deeming

Cover of “Dark Stars: New Tales of Darkest Horror” edited by John F.D. Taff. The book has a skull and uneven spikes rising out of blackness into a dark red.

A homage to the classic 80s horror anthology, Dark Forces, Dark Stars contains 12 original short stories from today’s top horror writers. Horror is such a broad genre with so many subgenres, and the anthology’s remit is to bring that wide spectrum of horror to an audience in a single collection. Pushing the boundaries of what is horror and where it can be found. All I needed was Alma Katsu’s name on the front, and I was sold.

Unfortunately, few stories landed with me. The opening story, The Attentionist by Caroline Kepnes, was a strong, sinister start exploring what a teenage girl will tolerate for the appearance of having a boyfriend. It was creepy and sad. The protagonist’s situation had more to do with her sister’s social expectations than her own actions. It drew me in, building tension both in threat and with the family fallout afterwards.

After that, most of the stories I would only loosely consider horror. Some were weird, others confusing, and a couple were literary in style, which doesn’t agree with me, but reading is subjective, so what didn’t work for you might be right up your street. I won’t focus on the ones that didn’t work for me. Instead, I’ll explore the ones that did.

Priya Sharma’s Papa Eye takes the horror trope of an isolated island community with strange customs and turns it around. This was an interesting take, pushing horror’s boundaries and exploring how outsiders handle such unusual circumstances. We’re left without a firm resolution regarding the main character’s future, but that worked for me.

Mrs Addison’s Nest by Josh Malerman reminded me of Stephen King’s IT, with adults facing a childhood nightmare they thought they’d escaped. I loved the flashbacks mixed in with illusions and the present. Questioning whether people can ever move on from their childhood traumas, Mrs Addison’s Nest combines real-world problems such as children in care going missing with supernatural monsters for a satisfying delve into the real horror of social apathy.

I mentioned at the beginning that I picked Dark Star’s up because of Alma Katsu, and she provided my favourite story in the collection. The Familiar’s Assistant plays with the good old-fashioned vampire story and presents us with two monsters, one supernatural, one human. It is excitingly chilling and creepy and reaffirms why Katsu is one of my favourite authors.

Dark Stars has brought together some other of horror’s biggest names and presents the massive range the genre covers. While there were only a few that worked for me, you might find more you love, and if there is a name in the author list that calls to you, then it is probably worth taking a with this book.