"The Best Horror of the Year: Volume Eight" Book Review
Written by Steve Pattee
Published by Night Shade Books
Edited by Ellen Datlow
2016, 360 pages, Fiction
Released on June 7th, 2016
If you've read any of my reviews (thanks!!) where an anthology is the subject, you'll know that this type of book is one of my favorites. I love the variety of not just the offered stories, but also authors; many times I will discover the work of someone previously unread or unknown, and that usually is an added bonus. The Best Horror of the Year: Volume Eight is no exception.
The book opens with a "best of the year" introduction from its editor, Ellen Datlow, my favorite editor of anthologies. I have a love/hate relationship with these intros, especially when they are written by someone whose opinion I hold in such high regard. I love these because I am informed of all the brilliant books/movies/events/etc. that I may have missed out on in the year. I hate these for the exact same reason; everything I don't have immediately goes on the wish list and it ends up costing me money. It's bitter sweet. In the case of The Best Horror of the Year: Volume Eight, "Summation 2015" contains about 33 pages of things I need to buy if I haven't already (at least I think it's 33, it starts at page viii and ends at page xli). Honestly, many people will be tempted to skip this, but don't. It's a wonderful breakdown of the past year, and everything that Datlow recommends that I too have read, I'm in full agreement with. The lady really knows her stuff.
Following "Summation 2015" is the first story in the book, Kelly Armstrong's "We Are All Monsters Here". This tale sets the bar for the rest, as it's easily one of my favorites. Here, Armstrong provides a vastly different take on vampirism than you're used to, and like all good authors, shows that the monsters aren't always the most terrifying ones. The story centers on one woman's experience during this apocalyptic environment, and the people she comes across in it. To say that the title is apt would be an understatement.
Stephen Graham Jones' "Universal Horror" follows, and it's another doozy. This time, our characters are a group of friends who gather each year on Halloween and play a drinking game based on what the little trick-or-treaters are wearing. This year is different, however, as one little guy stands out more than the others, and there's good reason for it. I'm not going to give it away, but he does play a part in another game the group is playing: Liver Chronicles, which are "...campfire stories, minus the campfire. Secrets you tell when you're drunk."
There are 20 stories found in The Best Horror of the Year: Volume Eight, and no way I'm going to go through them all because, like most if not all anthologies, there are hits as well as misses. Since it's my opinion of what the hits are, I'm only going to cover those because they far outweigh any of the ones that didn't grab me.
While I haven't read anything of his novels (yet), Laird Barron always impresses me with his short stories, and "In a Cavern, In a Canyon" is no exception. We all know the woods are filled with all sorts of nasty things, and Barron adds another slice of evil to look out for when traversing through a forest.
Dale Bailey's "Snow" is a wonderful examination on man's priorities when a blizzard traps a group of people in a house, while beasties are looking to do them harm lurk on the outside. Can't say I blame any of the decisions the characters make in this mean-spirited piece.
The creep-out factor is through the roof in Gary McMahon's "My Boy Builds Coffins". The title is pretty self-explanatory here, it centers on a boy who builds coffins, but it's everything else about it that will give you the willies for some time after reading. Kids are creeps.
"Lord of the Sand" by Stephen Bacon gets a mention if only for the punch he gives you at the end of story. For the most of it, you're hanging out with the main character as he partakes in a reunion of sorts with the platoon he fought with in Desert Storm. Then there's a nasty little turn in the final few pages that...well, I'm certainly glad that I'm not him.
Wrapping up the standouts is "Fabulous Beasts" by Priya Sharma. While it's not necessarily my favorite, it's the anthology's most powerful. I know that looks weird, but I'm fairly confident readers will know what I mean. The story is all kinds of messed up, filled with abuse, revenge, tragedy, sorrow, and even love. There's something else the tale contains that will make you feel icky (and I'm not even talking about the beasts in the title), but I refuse to spoil it for you. You'll have to find out for yourself.
The Best Horror of the Year: Volume Eight is a great addition to both the series and my bookshelf. As par for the course with a fine anthology, I've discovered both new authors I want to read more from (Sharma), and familiar authors I need to read more from (I'm convinced Stephen Graham Jones is mocking me at this point). There's no reason why fans of variety won't want to pick this up.