Title: Haunted Nights
Writer: A Horror Writers Association Anthology edited by Elen Datlow and Lisa Morton
Publishing House: Anchor Books
Publication Date: October 3rd 2017
Rating: 5 stars
“Mary, Mary, quite contrary, how does your garden grow?” “With graveyard weeds and wolfsbane seeds, and empty graves all in a row.”
Who would pass a book entitled Haunted Nights? Would you pass it? I think not. And do it came to that this collection of stories was added to the October reading list and took priority over other books. I was optimistic that I would enjoy the collection, but I believed that nothing too special was in store. I thought I’d find tales that would be eerie, mildly creepy and Halloween-y (…and this word probably doesn’t exist, but let’s pretend…). And I was wrong.These are stories that are dark, bleak, heart-wrenching and utterly frightening. They are unsettling and upsetting and will make you feel more than uncomfortable. They will make you scared and sad. In short, this is probably the best Halloween stories you’ll have read by now.
“Halloween’s always been the night when the rules don’t hold, hasn’t? It’s like the world’s night off.”
The stories take place in the night of Halloween, a night that is hallowed, wild, sacred, potentially orgiastic. A night when masks are on and the world becomes a different place, both magical and haunted, beautiful and dangerous. Sad and nostalgic, if we accept that the dead come to wander with us, a moment of being “alive” in the nothingness of immortality. Who knows of such things? What I do know, however, is that these are the adjectives I would use to describe this collection.
The richness and diversity of the stories will definitely attract your attention, since there seems to be something for everyone. We find ‘’traditional’’ spooky characters and techniques. Haunted houses, dead children, forgotten spirits, owls, gargoyles, vampires, werewolves, but what is truly special is the inclusion of traditions dating back to the pagan days. This makes the stories dark, menacing and unpredictable. A Halloween story from Argentina with a terrifying nod to Seleenwoche, a tale of justified revenge and comeuppance. Poor old Jack-O’-Lantern speaks to us. There is a story dedicated to Nos Galan Gaeaf, the Spirit Night of the Welsh tradition. We experience Samhain and our favourite Dia De Los Muertos with the Sugar Skulls and we come face to face with Keres, the chthonian Greek deities of blood, darkness and death.
The sixteen tales of the collection are excellent but there are a few that made a lasting impression on me:
‘’Dirtmouth’’ by Stephen Graham Jones is a beautiful story, containing the most accurate observations about this very special day of the year. This is a tragic, haunting tale.
‘’Wick’s End’’ by Joanna Parypinski has a Neil Gaiman touch, reminding me of his ‘’Coming to America’’ chapters in ‘’American Gods’’. And I won’t tell you who is the narrator of the story…
‘’A Flicker of Light in Devil’s Night’’ by Kate Jonez has a nightmarish, menacing atmosphere, right from the start…
‘’The Turn’’ is scary and chilling as is ‘’Lost In the Dark’’. Now, I’d definitely pay to watch that film…
I felt that ‘’The First Lunar Halloween’’ was the weakest link in the collection. I don’t like sci-fi and I couldn’t appreciate the inclusion of this tale, but if you enjoy the genre, then you will definitely like this intergalactic story.
These are not stories to be read in Halloween and be forgotten afterwards. They are scary tales for readers who want something more besides the same old jumpscares or gory spectacles. This is a collection that communicates the eerie, menacing atmosphere of these days to perfection.
Many thanks to Blumhouse Books/Anchor Books, Penguin Random House and NetGalley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.