Today’s review is of “Mistresses of the Macabre”, edited by Lori Michelle and published by Dark Moon Books. I help read slush for Dark Moon Books’ magazine, Dark Moon Digest, of which Lori is the managing editor, but I had zero involvement in the selection and editing of “Mistresses of the Macabre”. And I received a free ebook from the publisher for review purposes.
So with the usual disclosure out of the way, it’s on with the review.
The horror is poured on right from the get-go with the introduction from Angel Leigh McCoy. After reading her chronicle of women’s historical status as victims of rape, sexual objectification, honour killings and ridiculous myths about menstruation, I felt quite depressed to be female. McCoy states that “the stories in this anthology deal, whether metaphorically or directly, with the trials and tribulations of being a woman.” But don’t be misled – often, the women in these stories give as good as they get. In Kelli A. Wilkins’ story “Sometimes Monsters Are Real,” the main character reflects that “Doctor Montgomery would tell her to face her fears,” which I found to be a recurring theme throughout the anthology (although, to be fair, most of the characters who attempted to face their fears ending up suffering for it).
There’s a certain cohesiveness to this anthology that is often missing from other such small press offerings. It’s difficult to achieve without having all the stories sound the same, but Lori strikes a good balance between diversity and cohesion. One thing I think most of the writers handle superbly well in this volume is the gradual ratcheting up of tension to near unbearable levels. And there’s a distinct pulp fiction feel to many of the stories, “Moths” by Magnolia Louise Erdelac and “Heart and Soul” by Suzanne Robb being two great examples (but then I would say that; I edited Robb’s “Were-wolves, Apocalypses, and Genetic Mutations, Oh My!” for Dark Continents Publishing).
It should go without saying that I didn’t connect with all of the stories, as is to be expected of any anthology. I also had trouble turning off my internal editor, finding myself thinking, “Oh, too much description of the décor,” or “this could do with more backstory,” or “that story would be more powerful if you just chopped off the final section.” (But then, I’m weird like that, and you should probably just ignore this entire paragraph.)
My favourite stories were –
“The Hangar” by Melissa Clare Wright. Well-written with an original monster which is made all the more terrifying because it is never fully revealed, and with a main character whose flaws make her all the more sympathetic.
“The Way” by Erin Eveland. This story also features an unusual monster. I very much enjoyed the way the author established the rural setting and explored her themes of tradition, courage and redemption through self-sacrifice.
“And One for the Road” by Joanna Parypinski. A cleverly crafted and surreal story. I predict that some readers will appreciate the final few paragraphs that “explain” everything, and some will prefer a less tidy ending. I fall into the latter camp, yet the story was still powerful enough to put it in my top three.