Darkly thrilling, these twenty new ghost stories have all the chills and power of traditional ghost stories, but each tale is a unique retelling of an urban legend from the world over.So this was my effort to try something a little different this year. I found Haunted Legends in the same search that lead me to Bleeding Violet, and the theme intrigued me. An anthology of spooky legends from around the world re-told by a group of diverse, critically acclaimed authors?
Multiple award-winning editor Ellen Datlow and award-nominated author and editor Nick Mamatas recruited Jeffrey Ford, Ramsey Campbell, Joe R. Lansdale, Caitlin Kiernan, Catherynne M. Valente, Kit Reed, Ekaterina Sedia, and thirteen other fine writers to create stories unlike any they’ve written before. Tales to make readers shiver with fear, jump at noises in the night, keep the lights on.
These twenty nightmares, brought together by two renowned editors of the dark fantastic, are delightful visions sure to send shivers down the spines of horror readers.
The actual reading experience turned out to be a mixed bag. I grabbed this hoping for a genuinely spooky read for the Halloween season, and while there were stories in here that I liked, and found interesting or unique, none of them ever managed to conjure any sort of actual creepiness for me. There were horrifying things, gross things, things that made me as uncomfortable as I’m sure they were intended to, but if you’re looking for an anthology to send a shiver down your spine in the midnight hour, I don’t think this one’ll quite do the trick.
Granted, creepy shivers may not have been the goal for some of these stories. Many used the set-up to examine/illustrate different kinds of more everyday horror – loss, life, loneliness, guilt, that sort of thing. There are a few straight-up monster stories/campfire tales, but the majority read more like moody vignettes. Lots of examinations of weighty concepts that were sometimes interesting, but not usually action-packed.
Basically, it can get a little boring.
Standout StoriesTin Cans – Old man encounters ghostly apparitions in the former home of a notorious Russian government official. By far one of my favorites. Dark, moody, with an unexpected backstory that unfolds well, though I wish the narrator had had more impact on the resolution.
You can actually read this for free at Weird Fiction Review. TW: pedophilia, rape
Fifteen Panels Depicting the Sadness of the Baku and the Jotai – A tapir demon falls in love with a folding screen. Just as strange and wonderful as it sounds. Lovely writing.
Return to Mariabronn – A variation on the haunted hitchhiker story, told in a fractured narrative split over a couple of different time periods. The story is familiar, but the Memento-esque telling and the emotion behind the titular “return” makes it one of the more compelling reads.
Following Double-Face Woman – The Lakota legend of the double-face woman as metaphor for meth addiction. Affective and memorable.
Oaks Park – The tale of a child who haunts the local amusement park reaches a suburban house wife. Another favorite. Strange and surreal and melancholic, telling this story in the second-person was a good hook. It makes the narrative urgent and engaging and as intimate as it needs to be.
The Foxes – A group of foxes bring destruction to a Vietnamese village. This was by far the hardest thing in the book to read, for the descriptions of gore, violence, and the impact of colonization. This story seared my brain like a white-hot brand.
The Redfield Girls – A group of weekenders run into trouble at a cursed lake. The most traditionally story-ish of all the entries, with the most likable characters.
Between Heaven and Hull – An unusual but interesting reversal of the ghostly hitchhiker.
Total MissesKnickerbocker Holiday – Slice-of-life story about a group of old co-workers coming together for an associate’s funeral. Supposedly a take on The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, if by “take” you mean they randomly mention it once or twice and nothing even remotely similar happens. Boring af, would skip again.
Akbar – Racist tourists visit Fatehpur Sikri – an ancient ghost town in India – where the spirit of its founding emperor helps the husband pressure his wife to get pregnant again after a series of painful miscarriages. Appreciated the emotional turmoil, but it was a whole lot of build-up to a whole lot of nothing, and the ending left me completely baffled.
La Llorona – A grieving woman encounters La Llorona. The story itself wasn’t awful, but seriously, this thing took place entirely in Mexico and the only featured Mexican characters were service staff. UGHHHH.
For Those in Peril on the Sea – A group of reality-tv contestants spend the night on a ghost ship. The biggest let-down by far. This had the potential to be a really interesting story, and for 3/4 of it, it was, despite the increasingly improbable actions of the entire cast. But it builds to a climax that happens entirely off-screen, and then just ends. Wut.
Chucky Comes to Liverpool – A pre-teen’s experience with Child’s Play sets off a violent chain of events. A total slog to get through, with incomprehensible writing and an obnoxious cast of characters. Worst story in the anthology, imo.
Though most of the stories weren’t terrible, aside from one or two standouts, there isn’t anything I’d go out of my way for in retrospect. It’s entirely possible that this is all just too highbrow for me, but from the perspective of someone just looking for something to creep them out, I can’t recommend it, and as a sampler platter, given the meh-ness of the stories, you’d probably be better served finding something else.