Reviewed by Logan Noble.
I discovered my copy of Kirby McCauley’s seminal Dark Forces anthology on a sagging shelf in the Salvation Army one town over. This particular Salvation Army had been a treasure trove of horror fiction for me—I found my first Lovecraft and Bentley Little here—but this find was especially lucky. DARK FORCES in a gothic Sans-serif font. A behemoth dressed in Halloween-style orange and black. I didn’t know who Kirby McCauley was, but I certainly recognized the names on the cover once I’d picked it up. Bradbury. Bloch. A Short Novel by Stephen King! This was an incredible purchase, and this was a book that I spent a large majority of a summer break reading.
Dark Stars, edited by John F.D. Taff and being published by Tor Nightfire in March 2022, is a tribute and a necessary sequel to the essential Dark Forces. The two books somehow feel in tandem with one another, even with the many decades that separate them. As stated by Taff in the introduction, they even share a common goal. It’s about bringing horror to a wider audience, and that goal is absolutely met throughout 368 pages. Dark Stars features thirteen novelettes from horror’s best and brightest. These stories span time periods and various subgenres, giving us a whirlwind tour of short horror fiction.
After a socially-distanced foreword by genre stalwart Josh Malerman, the anthology kicks off with Caroline Kepnes’ The Attentionist. This is a story filled with youthful longing, about an outsider looking in. It helps that Maeve (the story’s lead) is witty and sharp as shears. It stands to reason that the author of the ‘You’ trilogy would create such a compelling viewpoint. Caroline’s incredible descriptions and wandering tone serve as a signpost for the themes throughout this book.
Ramsey Campbell’s (represented in A Life in Nightmares) unconventional imagery is bone-chilling. Papa Eye by Priya Sharma is a fascinating story of want, of the need to fit into something larger than ourselves. It’s an intimate piece that drowns us in cosmic dread. The next two stories (Volcano by Livia Llewellyn and All the Things He Called Memories by Stephen Graham Jones) use their distinct voices and ideas to shock and dismay. These stories are perfectly placed beside each other (bravo Mr. Taff) and flow together seamlessly.
These first five novellas are just the start. The rest of the anthology makes good on the editor’s stated goal. With Dark Stars, we journey from the fascinatingly classic (Alma Katsu’s vampire send-up The Familiar’s Assistant and Chesya Burke’s jazzy specters in Trinity River’s Blues) to the biting new (Mrs. Addison’s Nest by Josh Malerman and the trapped lore of Usman T. Malik’s Challawa).
I have to imagine that a budding horror writer will find this book on a shelf someday and fall in love. This book is a view into diverse worlds and important themes. There are world builders here, and these stories would last you an entire summer if you give them the time they deserve.
A digital copy of Dark Stars was provided for an honest review by Tor Nightfire.
Reviewed by Logan Noble.