Reviewed By Steve Stred
One thing that’s become evident with the onset of the novel coronavirus is the generosity and large hearts within the horror community. From authors offering up free ebooks so that people can have a healthy distraction while not worrying about financial constraints, to fundraisers and charitable anthologies. ‘Diabolica Britannica: A Dark Isles Horror Compendium‘ falls into the charitable anthologies category. (All profits are going to NHS Charities). The brainchild of dark fiction author, Keith Anthony Baird, Anthony Baird has collected together some of the UK’s best. We get a great cross-section of up and comers to tried and true vet’s in this anthology, which I think makes it all the stronger.
What I liked: You can’t really start off an anthology any stronger than having a living legend, and one of the nicest members in the horror world out there, Ramsey Campbell provide a foreword. Campbell did a brilliant job of providing a historical look at dark fiction coming from such a small island country, before giving us some insight into each story. From there, we get an incredibly strong opening story with Catherine McCarthy’s ‘Carreg Samson.’ I don’t believe I’ve read McCarthy’s work before, but no matter, I’ll be looking for more of her work either way. ‘Tourist Traps‘ by Christopher Henderson provided a stunningly chilly look at the common walking tour, and then Beverley Lee absolutely knocked it out of the park with her horrific ‘The Secret of Westport Fell.’ Arthur M. Harper had a tough job following Lee’s story, but his contribution, ‘The Conductor‘ suffered no setbacks, instead pushing the pedal further towards the floor. This was a really fast, dark tale.
But not to worry. Sitting at the halfway point, Baird ensured that the TOC wasn’t about to let up. Instead ‘Footsteps‘ by Janine Pipe delivered a novel’s worth of grotesque in a short story, which included a prologue, body and epilogue. I think this will be the story many folks talk about years later from this anthology. It’s really well done, but will also make every single person cringe while reading it. Kudos. Tim Lebbon’s ‘The Flow‘ & Stephanie Ellis’ ‘We Plough the Fields and Scatter‘ offer us two great stories, which then leads us into five of the absolute best groupings of stories I’ve read in some time. ‘Linger‘ by John F. Leonard adds some new quirks to his Scaeth Mythos (with a cheeky Bledbrooke easter egg tossed in), Alyson Faye’s ‘Song of the Moor‘ was so beautiful, while also brutal (stay away from that water!), and Keith Anthony Baird offered up the single best thing I’ve read from him. His story ‘Walked a Pale Horse on Celtic Frost‘ starts with a past incident before barreling back and forth. Well done. ‘The Hole‘ by Sarah J. Budd proves why she’s one of the best authors out there. I knew what was going to possibly happen but afterwards… jesus. Left me crushed. Morgan K. Tanner’s depraved ‘Scripted in Shadows‘ was a fantastic look at a book wrapping its hooks into an unsuspecting soul. ‘The Coven‘ by Sarah E. England delivered a story that was a fun read, and from the title you should know just what you’re getting into.
The bookend to this anthology is Adam L.G. Nevill’s surprisingly topical story ‘Call the Name‘ which itself is a reprint. We get thrown into the watery deep end with an extinction event occurring and the discovery of… well, give it a read! Nevill never disappoints.
Each and every story really delivers a great look at just why the Dark Isles always produces some truly amazing horror.
What I didn’t like: It’s a minor thing, but I think I would’ve liked a bit of a thematic tie in through the stories. While each story is solid on its own, I went in thinking it was either going to be all devil related or pandemic related. Not really an issue, but if you’re snagging this, keep that in mind.
Why you should buy it: Well, stunning stories from the best of the UK’s current crop plus all proceeds going to charity – bingo. Otherwise, if you love anthologies, this one is really well done and should be in every horror lovers library.
Diabolica Britannica is a collection of 14 dark tales from the dark isles. It features contributions from the following authors: Adam L G Nevill, Tim Lebbon, Keith Anthony Baird, John F Leonard, Morgan K Tanner, Arthur M Harper, Christopher Henderson, Beverley Lee, Sarah E England, Catherine McCarthy, Stephanie Ellis, Janine Pipe, Sarah J Budd and Alyson Faye.
Steve Stred is the author of a number of novels, novellas and collections. He has appeared in anthologies with some of Horror’s heaviest hitters.
He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada with his wife, son and their dog OJ.
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