As spooky season starts to kick in, I have a review of the ideal anthology for this time of year. The Gathering Dark: An Anthology of Folk Horror is that lingering sense of dread spooling on your skin, the pit formed in your stomach by fear and the whisper of something beyond your comprehension in the shadows.
This review originally appeared on The Nerd Daily.
A cemetery full of the restless dead. A town so wicked it has already burned twice, with the breath of the third fire looming. A rural, isolated bridge with a terrifying monster waiting for the completion of its summoning ritual. A lake that allows the drowned to return, though they have been changed by the claws of death. These are the shadowed, liminal spaces where the curses and monsters lurk, refusing to be forgotten. Hauntings, and a variety of horrifying secrets, lurk in the places we once called home. Written by New York Times bestselling, and other critically acclaimed, authors these stories shed a harsh light on the scariest tales we grew up with.
Publication Date: 6th September
TW: suicide, overdose, violence, murder, death, gore, grief, cheating, self-harm, mention of attempted murder, murder, sexual assault, fire, arson, classism, cancer, abuse, parental abuse, physical abuse, slavery, blood, dismemberment pedophilia, car crash, bones, suicidal ideation, drowning
This folk horror anthology offers thirteen distinctive voices, with unique voices and characters. They are all rooted in some sense, be that to a community, isolated setting or character. This review will break down each story, giving you a sense of the terror uniting them all.
Stay by Erica Waters proves once more why Waters is so damn good at these stories bogged down in myth and mystery and a little sprinkle of magic. This story really digs into toxic family enmeshment, particularly the idea of familial duty. Ghosts are the embodiment of our past refracting into our present. Waters emphasises this in the honouring of ancestry and family, but also indicating how this can perpetuate a toxic cycle. Similarly, The Tallest Poppy by Chloe Gong is a classically unnerving horror story. It is no surprise that yet again I adored Gong’s style – it was mysterious, lyrical and tinged with danger. I felt utterly wrapped up within the story. It was wonderfully Gothic, brimming with a cursed house, mysterious illnesses and dolls that I’m not sure I can ever forget. Loved by All, Save One by Tori Bovalino was a fantastic ghost story about unsolved murders, memory and legacy. Bovalino knows how to handle tension, with it constantly ramping up. This is underlined with the unexpected plot shift, which was great fun. It questions the narrative surrounding victims of violent crimes, namely why do we only remember the violent end rather than the life that came before?
One-Lane Bridge by Hannah Whitten is a fiercely insightful story about anger, fracturing friendships and growing up. It is mired in blood and sacrifices, calling to that deep pit of anger that lurks inside us all. Whitten introduces an intriguing examination of the validity of that anger and how it can be abused by others. Following on, The Ghost on the Shore by Alison Saft was a stunning sapphic story about love, loss and grief. I thought it enclosed really quite beautiful sentiments about these topics in a creative way. One of my standouts of the anthology was Petrified by Olivia Chadha. I loved the way the protection of the land and nature forms a key part of the narrative here. It is such an impactful and genuinely chilling story that reflects the monstrosity of mankind. Third Burn by Courtney Gould has a similar reflection, with a focus on female anger and the patriarchy’s reaction to women it cannot control. I loved the way Gould intersected the past and present, to really demonstrate this legacy of women moving beyond the control of their town/society.
It Stays With You by Aden Polydoros does not hang around, getting straight into deadly territory. I adored this fresh take on the Bloody Mary myth, with a pinch of Pennywise mixed in for good measure. Polydoros deftly explores facing trauma and defeating your monsters, while emphatically emphasising how recovery is a journey with highs and pitfalls. Alex Brown continues that raw vulnerability in Truth or Dare. This story is so about a toxic and manipulative relationship, with elements of narrative ambiguity and distrust. The ending continues this, with nothing being truly explained and plenty left open for discussion. Finally, we conclude with The Burning One by Shakira Toussaint. What a firecracker of a story for the anthology to end on. This is an incredibly strong story, with an unconventional writing style that really pulls you into the narrative.
The Gathering Dark is an incredibly strong anthology, with every story adding another layer of fear and intensely atmospheric writing. This is a must-add for every horror lover’s shelf.