Horror Book Review: Unburied by Rebecca Rowland (editor)

Horror Book Review

Title
Unburied
Author
Rebecca Rowland (editor)
Publication Date: June 1, 2021
Publisher: Dark Ink
Genres: Dark Fiction

With Unburied, editor Rebecca Rowland has gathered 16 genre-spanning authors to put their own ‘queer’ spin on dark fiction. While there’s some horror to be found here (along with other genres), the darkness comes more from the emotions and the experiences than any narrative tropes. Of course, dark emotions and dark experiences often evoke dark reactions, prompting something of a tiff between reviewers over trigger warnings. Personally, I don't want them, I don't need them, and I don't miss them, but if you do . . . well, proceed accordingly.

Like with any anthology, the stories here are an uneven mix, but there are a few stellar standouts and only two that I found myself skimming. The queer mix is somewhat uneven as well, heavily weighted towards gay men, but there are a handful of lesbian characters, one transgender protagonist, and another who is genderfluid.

Sweet Dreams by M.C. St. John is a great little story, an understated bit of nightmare-driven horror with a Twilight Zone twist. It’s more sweet than dark, which sets a bit of an odd expectation for an opener as it’s very different from the stories that follow.

Night Follows Night is a deeply unsettling tale by Greg Herren, set amidst the bright lights and friendly aisles of a supermarket, with a slowly unveiling backstory that feeds the increasing sense of dread. Exceptionally well done, with an ending I honestly didn’t expect.

Flawed by Felice Picano was one of those stellar standouts I mentioned, a curious tale of two gay men, a wealthy socialite in need of company, and a cursed antique mirror. There’s so much subtext to the story, so many layers of meaning, it’s a genuine joy to read and discover what it all means.

After one story that didn’t work for me and another that I skimmed, Laura DeHaan yanked me right back into things with Open Up and Let Me In. The opening half page is some of the creepiest, most intriguing material in the whole collection, and while epistolary stories (especially those heavy on chat transcripts) don’t often work for me, I was hooked on every little detail, every question, every doubt. Superb.

I don’t know what I can say about The Red Candle without getting into spoiler territory, but huge kudos to Louis Stephenson for tugging at my soul, breaking my heart, and turning my stomach all at the same time. Part of me wanted this to be longer but, really, it’s perfect just as it is. Another stellar standout.

After another pair of stories that just didn’t work for me, Christina Delia made me sit up and take notice with Moi Aussi. There’s a lot going on for such a short story, but I loved the interplay of language and images, the contrasts between living and dead, love and hate, longing and fear. Vengeful ghost stories shouldn’t be this much fun!

With the first two sci-fi tales falling flat for me, I didn’t initially expect much of Cut Off Your Nose to Spite Your Race by J. Askew, but the bold, brash, sarcastic narrator of Harper won me over. It’s a sci-fi tale of two women trapped in a government breeding program, a story of impossible loves and even more impossible choices.

For the Gods by Robert P. Ottone is the longest (and brightest) story of the collection, the story of a young man struggling with his identity, his sexuality, and the occupant of his closet.  The fluidity of the story, personified by Swayz and reflected by DeAndre, resonated with me in ways I can’t describe, making this weird romance my favorite.

1,000 Tiny Cuts by Veronica Zora Kirin is the most down-to-earth of all the stories, and that makes the darkness of controlling abuse all the more horrific. It’s one of those stories where you know it’s going to get worse before it gets better, and all you can do is hope for survival.

Blessed by George Daniel Lea closes out the collection on a beautifully, tragically, atmospherically dark tale in which we’re the character, the subject, the victim, being addressed by the narrator, whose soothing tones and carefully chosen words disguise such horror. One of those you need to reread to understand all that happened.

You never know what you're getting into with an anthology, especially one with so many unfamiliar authors, but Unburied was a pleasant surprise with enough variety and enough diversity to appeal to a wide range of readers. Definitely recommended for lovers of dark fiction.

Rating: ♀ ♀ ♀ 

My sincere thanks to the publisher for sending me an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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