‘Howls from the Dark Ages: A Medieval Horror Anthology – Review

*Disclaimer – I received free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review*

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There’s something delicious about medieval images of Hell too, isn’t there? None of this existential Hell is other people hooey. When you come to medieval Hell, you’re in for torture, devils, fire, and seas of the damned that are nauseating in their scope. Medieval Catholicism didn’t fuck around. It was in a fight to the death, not only with Islam, secularism, and much older indigenous religions; it was amputating and burning mutations in the DNA of its own teachings. You would not only go to Hell for murder; you’d go for heresy. You’d go for believing Christ was only spirit and never had a body. You’d go for not believing the bread you at at Mass was Christ’s body.

So Hell had to be really good at being really bad.

It had to be worse than the short, overworked, oppressed, shame-filled, opiate free life of war, famine and plague its underfed population lived from day to day and season to season.

And you know what?

It almost was.

Come and see, come and see.

– Foreword extract by Christopher Buehlman

Synopsis –

HOWL Society Press presents Howls From the Dark Ages, a horror anthology with 18 thrilling tales of medieval macabre and a foreword by Christopher Buehlman, author of Between Two Fires.

Thoughts –

With a range of ideas, cultures, and curiosities, Howls from the Dark Ages takes the reader back through time and puts the real DARK in dark ages. Accompanying each story is an equally curious and intriguing illustration of an object from that story, tying the whole anthology together as a fanciful tour through an ominous museum.

Ranging from the expected medieval age of England where monks find themselves confined to monasteries where devils disguise themselves as angels and forbidden loves are struck down by mysterious glowing mushrooms, to Irish mercenaries accepting a well earned drink at a feast that may lead to even more bloodshed, and an arranged marriage haunted by the ghost of a jilted lover. Each story is more dark and mysterious than the last and there is something for every horror reader, whether you enjoy ghosts, monsters, or just plain murder.

It was also refreshing to see great queer representation in this collection, as well as having a look at the medieval time period in different countries and cultures around the world.

Howls from the Dark Ages is an entertaining and frightening read, and the inclusion of the museum tour guide and the dark illustrations ties everything together beautifully.

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‘Diaries of the Damned’ by Ivan Radev – Review

*Disclaimer – I received free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review*

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Foreword (Extract)

This is a book of fears. Manifesting themselves as malicious monsters, my mind’s maladies formed crooked, misshapen phrases. Thus, they merged with reality. This release fully intends to give nightmares, shed tears, carve gentle scars into the soul of the reader. It is evil.

“Diaries of the Damned” is a work of fiction, but the feelings it expresses and evokes are all too real. There’s rampaging existential dread, psychological pain, loneliness, angst, and absolute, abominable horror. It is a hand that grips at the neck with no remorse, no compassion, nothing but the desire to blacken everything it touches.

However, I wish it also brings hope. After all, only light can cast shadows. The splendor of the stars, the magnificence of the mountains, the vastness of the universe are all beautiful things that make our existence seem small and meaningless. We are all too human: our lives are short, and death is the great validation that we ever lived.

Synopsis –

This anthology is not for the faint of heart and easily disturbed. All eleven narrators suffer from mental affliction, excruciating existential dread, or terminal despair. This book is evil. It is absolutely capable of inducing nightmares and scarring the mind. The characters within are ruthlessly relatable; they are normal people who drew the short straw. They got sick or old or just lost it all.

Beware the Damned! They are trapped inside wailing, waiting for a willing victim, a witness to their tales and tears.

Thoughts –

Diaries of the Damned from Ivan Radev is a collection of eleven stories told in some form by a narrator. Whether through diary style entries, interview transcripts, or online blog posts, the stories in this collection are all linked by one common thread – each narrator has an overwhelming and universal fear that is exposed through the telling of their story. This was a five star collection for me because not a single one of these stories was a miss, every single one was a hit. From the slow building tension and Lovecraftian horror of ‘The Transcript of Timothy Parker’s Interrogation, Deep Dive (Unsaved)’, to the dark and modern humour of ‘The Incident At the Toilet Paper Aisle’, Radev shows his considerable scope with pacing, language, voice, and strong and relatable characters.

Among some of the themes and fears explored in this collection are the fear of loneliness, of losing the person that you love the most, as well as the inevitability of time marching inexorably forward, and death itself. On the other hand, there are some narrators that embody the thing that is to be feared. Each story is told from a first person perspective in some way, thus the ‘diaries’ theme, but this never felt repetitive or overplayed, he did well in bringing variety into the collection.

I thoroughly enjoyed this collection and will definitely be perusing these stories again at some point.

About the Author –

Ivan Radev is a literary horror writer with an obsession for the arts, the absurd, the existential, the eclectic. His stories range from the naively romantic to the dreadfully deranged. One can find equal measures psychological pain and philosophical peace in his content. His writing might appeal to readers of Albert Camus, Edgar Allan Poe, and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.

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‘Screaming Creatures’ by Sean M. Thompson – Review

*Disclaimer – I received free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review*

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You put the key in, and the lock catches a bit. You’d forgotten about this quirk with the door, but there are many little things to get used to as a house sitter. You have to use a good amount of force to fully engage the mechanism, but you manage it, even one-handed, with the Jensen’s mail balanced against your side.

The heat is the first thing to hit you: stifling, cloying humidity, which seeps right into your lungs. The smells of potpourri left in the blazing sun, of no doubt thirsty begonias in a crystal vase, mix with the smell of the chemically-treated water in the fish tank. You’re surprised the mauve wallpaper hasn’t just peeled off the wall like a snake’s skin.

Maggie Jensen hired you primarily to feed her fish while she takes some much needed R and R at Acadia National park in the good old state of Maine, where life is slower. Being from Rhode Island this has a certain appeal. And who knows, maybe you’ll take some time off in September to go yourself.

Sunny Village

Synopsis –

Enter a world where nowhere is safe. These 14 stories take our everyday lives and turn them upside down. Encounter wendigos and succubi, demons and beings from beyond the stars, travel from the forests of New England to the wasted plains of the old west, succumb to haunted media and plagues of madness. Screaming Creatures is a fast ride to surreal landscapes full of hard decisions and frayed sanity.

Thoughts –

Screaming Creatures is the latest collection from Sean M. Thompson and Nictitating Books. From unsettling naked strangers in ‘Sunny Village’ to a world lost to insanity in the titular story ‘Screaming Creatures’, Thompson takes you on a journey through creeps, chills, horrors, and unbelievable terror.

Thompson’s writing is swift and engaging, a style that you can trust to keep you locked in with characters and events at all times. The tones of the stories are wide ranging but always with an undercurrent of tension that is enough to turn your stomach. The thrill of a secretarial job for a blood thirsty employer, the cold yearning for a connection with strangers – you’ll find a story that hits a nerve.

The final story of the collection ‘Screaming Creatures’ is a tale of a world infected by madness, and one that reflects all too much our current situation. Seemingly a virus with unknown origins infects the world, though they never find out how it is spread, but instead of physical sickness here it is insanity, irrationality, and violence that push our world over the edge, turning us all into nothing but screaming creatures… or maybe we already are.

A powerfully written collection to dive into, Screaming Creatures is sure to echo in the mind long after the last page.

About the Author –

Thompson grew up in a suburb of central Massachusetts. He is, in no particular order:
A weirdo. An angry ghost. A redhead. An asshat. A soda-swilling, sarcastic son of a bitch who loves cats and gallows humor.

He is a transplant to Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he’s doing his best to become a desert-dwelling surrealist

Sean M. Thompson is the author of the collection TOO LATE, TH3 D3M0N, the novella HATE FROM THE SKY from Eraserhead Press, and FARMINGTON CORRECTIONAL from Planet X Publications. His work has been featured in TEST PATTERNS, TERROR IN 16-BITS, VASTARIEN, and UNNERVING.

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‘Dark Divinations’ Anthology edited by Naching T. Kassa

*Disclaimer – I was given a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review*

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Alexandria, Virginia, 1872

I did not know how long I had been unconscious, but when I opened my eyes, I saw… Nothing. Surrounded by a blackness darker than the Virginia woods on a cloudy night, I could feel the closeness of the space around me and smell the stale air. It took me a few moments to realize I was lying in a coffin. I groped the sides of the box, then pressed against the lid only inches from my face. (The Bell by Jon O’Bergh)

 

Synopsis –

It’s the height of Queen Victoria’s rule. Fog swirls in the gas-lit streets, while in the parlor, hands are linked. Pale and expectant faces gaze upon a woman, her eyes closed and shoulders slumped. The medium speaks, her tone hollow and inhuman. The seance has begun. Join us as we explore fourteen frightening tales of Victorian horror, each centered around a method of divination. Can the reading of tea leaves influence the future? Can dreams keep a soldier from death in the Crimea? Can a pocket watch foretell a deadly family curse? From entrail reading and fortune-telling machines to prophetic spiders and voodoo spells, sometimes the future is better left unknown. Choose your fate. Choose your DARK DIVINATION.

 

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Thoughts –

An anthology pried from the cold, dead, ghostly hands of the Victorian era, Dark Divinations leads the reader down a trail of blood chilling seances, ominous tea leaves, and curses that echo through the ages.

From a stellar list of writers including Jon O’Bergh, Hannah Hulbert, and the editor themselves Naching T. Kassa, this is an anthology chocked full of atmosphere, tension, and a building dread. From the blood curdling dreams of the doting wife Jennie in Ash Hartwell’s Copper and Cordite, to the ominous appearance of a fortune telling automaton bearing only grave news in Stephanie Ellis’s Romany Rose, Dark Divinations spans a century of Victorian characters and the perils that lie within attempting to see, or even change, ones own fate.

With a strength in tone and immersive atmosphere, this is a collection of story for the historically leaning, and for anyone who loves a good old bewitching tale of the unchangeable tapestry of destiny. There are methods for every enthusiast in this anthology, and you will not be disappointed by the variety.

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Grab your bustle, keep your pocket watch wound, and settle in for fourteen gothic tales of future telling. Recommended to be read by candlelight as a storm rages outside.

 

All the Authors –

Power and Shadow by Hannah Hulbert

Copper and Cordite by Ash Hartwell

Damnation in Venice by Joe L. Murr

The Pocket Watch by Emerian Rich

They Wound Like Worms by Naching T. Kassa

Miroir de Vaugnac by Michael Fassbender

The Bell by Jon O’Bergh

Romany Rose by Stephanie Ellis

Miss Mae’s Prayers by H.R.R. Gorman

Breaking Bad by R.L. Merrill

Broken Crystal by Rie Sheridan Rose

Ghost of St. John Lane by Daphne Strasert

The Moat House Cob by Alan Fisher

Of Blood and Bones by Jeremy Megargee

 

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‘Burnt Fur’ Anthology Edited by Ken MacGregor – Review

*This book has a trigger warning for torture and sexual violence*

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‘Phaedra fucking hates ducks.

Once, her Secondary School biology teacher, Miss Esmer Powell, told her that ‘ducks are the most perfect sexual specimens’. Perfectly vile, Phaedra thought. It was about the one thing she’d disagreed on with Miss Powell. She was a wonderful teacher, if a little on the edge sometimes of what was appropriate for students aged nine to ten. She got away with it because she was as charismatic as she was authoritative. As pretty as she was tactful. And her knowledge of wildlife, flora and fauna, species of animal, was frankly mind-blowing. Phaedra had been amazed to discover she didn’t have a PhD. It was part of the reason Phaedra was on a mission to get one herself.’ (‘Mallard’s Maze’ by Joseph Sale)

 

Synopsis –

There are no good boys in in this anthology, only twisted, deviant, and burnt encounters with pets, people in costume, animals who behave like humans, and creatures who blur the line between the three. Violent pigs, killer ducks, horny bees, a naughty rabbit, and many more fill these pages with tale after tail of hair-raising horror.

Don your Fursuit, slip into your Fursona, and ride the dark wave of horror that is Burnt Fur. You may never go back to wearing your normal skin again.

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Thoughts –

Burnt Fur is an anthology for the animal in you. Rife with sexual exploits, gorey violence, and questionable characters. Burnt Fur takes you on a journey through the worst of humanities fantasies, vengeance spurred on by supernatural forces, men with pig faces, opossums who want men’s faces, beasts that masquerade as humans, and humans that masquerade as beasts.

Taking the horror we feel for beasts that we don’t understand or can’t control and blending it perfectly with the horror we feel for the beasts we are ourselves, this anthology crawls under your skin and stays there. Starting off on one of the more somber and non-erotic stories, ‘The Moon in Her Eyes‘ by Sarah Hans eases you in with an unusual take on a usual trope. Next up is ‘Mallard’s Maze‘ by Joseph Sale brings the first toe dip into the horrors of beastiality, and more importantly, how terrifying ducks are.

From there the series escalates in theme and tests just how strong the readers stomach is, but I never found the violence or erotic scenes gratuitous. The writing of each story has its own voice and there isn’t a story in this collection that felt phoned in – the writing is impeccable. There is violence though it serves the story, sexual deviancies though they aren’t excuses for cheap thrills, there are chilling and thrilling stories and every one of them with characters both sympathetic, utterly disgusting, and deranged. Read at your own discretion.

 

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Whatever you’re into, this anthology will certainly get under your skin… or fur.

 

About the Editor –

Ken MacGregor’s short stories have appeared in dozens of anthologies, magazines and podcasts. One of his stories was nominated for the Micro Award. Ken is a member in good standing of The Great Lakes Association of Horror Writers and an Affiliate member of HWA. He lives in Michigan with his family.He can be found on Facebook (Ken MacGregor – Author), Amazon and at ken-macgregor.com.

 

Contributing Authors –

Sarah Hans (The Moon in Her Eyes)

Joseph Sale (Mallard’s Maze)

Theodore Deadrat (Salivation)

N. Rose (The Hamford Pigs)

Paul Allih (The Willingness of Prey)

Rachel Lee Weist (6 Dicks)

C.M. Saunders (The Others)

Elliot Arthur Cross (Randall Rabbit)

Rue K. Poe (A Concubine for the Hive)

Thurston Howl (Five Nights With Teddy)

Matt Scott (Oh Piggy, My Piggy)

Stephanie Park (Ware the Deep)

Michelle F. Goddard (Molt of a Diminishing Light)

James L. Steele (The Victims)

 

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