I was fortunate enough to be advanced a copy of this book prior to publication. And I mean fortunate. This book is destined to generate strong sales, firstly on the strength of the names involved (Neil Gaiman, Clive Barker, Ramsey Campbell), and then on the strength of the poem and stories included.
Stephanie M. Wytovich leads off with an effective piece of verse, which leads into what I think is the best story in the book: Brian Kirk’s “Picking Splinters From a Sex Slave.”
That story illustrates what lengths a person might go to to accomodate a loved one, in exquisite detail. The actual tableau is revolting, but the internal logic is inescapable. The tone is perfect.
“Splinters” is followed by Lisa Mannetti and then Neil Gaiman. Both stories are good — not pedestrian, but are overshadowed by the excellence of Kirk’s piece. Christopher Cooke’s “Dominion” levels up one from those and leads into a tetralogy of really effective horror tales by Mercedes M. Yardley, Paul Tremblay, Damien Angelica Walters, and Richard Thomas, before Clive Barker takes center stage with his “Coming To Grief”. I’m not going to say that this story is as good as “classic Barker” pieces like “In the Hills, the Cities”, but it is a Barker story, and has a certain resonance.
The second-best story, John F.D. Taff’s “Cards for His Spokes, Coins for His Fare”, which has distinct Kingian undertones, is set in the early 70s of my own childhood and morphs into a fairly classic ghost yarn. Cheers for the setting and characters.
Amanda Gowin contributes a decent piece, “Cellar’s Dog”, with a good portrait of po’ white trash, and Kevin Lucia adds “When We All Met at the Ofrenda”, which again hits me especially, as I live in the Southwest and am familiar with the lore that contributes to the setting and setup.
That’s followed by good pieces from Maria Alexander and Josh Malerman, before the capstone, Ramsey Campbell’s “The Place of Revelation”, which does not disappoint.
Strong, strong, strong. Pieces that find beauty in grotesquerie, love amid the ruins, that entice you with beauty and magic and then hang you on a meathook, still wanting more.
Gutted will have out your liver and lights in an instant, after you give your heart willingly.
An easy five stars.
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