Reading a book by an author based in the North East of England has been one of the things I’ve wanted to do since I moved country. I have a list of authors to go through, and this happened to be on the top, since it features more than one author (not North East based, mind, but still mostly in the UK) and also has a submission by a friend of mine.
Before I dissect each one of those stories individually, I have to mention a couple of things they all have in common, just to spare myself and whoever reads this the mundanity of repeating it under each submission:
The first thing is spelling and grammar. Now, I know that even the best selling books out there have a spelling error or two, but with the exception of Agony Host (I’m going to be saying that a lot) each page of each story has about three mistakes, be it spelling or punctuation. This is not something I’m going to blame the writers for, as all writers make mistakes (I’m sure there will be one or two mistakes in this review.) Besides, they could be dyslexic, typing fast, or whatever reason that wouldn’t undermine their brilliance as writers, this is the publisher’s duty to make sure their product looks as professional as possible.
Second thing I’d like to point out is that, again, with the exception of Agony Host, they all give off first draft vibes. Description is stiff and dialogue is stilted, and there’s a whole lot of telling and not showing, which makes me believe that not only are they first drafts but their first attempt at professional writing.
Now that we got that out of the way, I’ll go through them one by one:
1. AGONY HOST By Jason Green
Great way to start the book at a high point. This is my favourite and highest ranked story of all submissions, and possibly one of my favourite short stories of all. It starts with one of those paragraphs that gave me the this-is-gonna-be-good kind of tingle, and I had to go back and read it one more time. It didn’t disappoint, the story raised the bar and upheld that status until the end. Now, I’m not one to extrapolate or assume a metaphor, for all I know the writer could be telling a story about a quadriplegic man going through unlicensed experimental treatment, but I couldn’t help but notice the poignancy of the story and how much it made me think of depression and dissociation. I’m just throwing that out there, my guess is it wasn’t intentional but either way it appealed so much to my tendencies.
2. THE LAST MOMENT OF THE CONDEMNED By Mark Green
I love the narrative voice changing from first to third person and vice versa, that was cool. The twist was given away quite early which was disappointing, and some of the scenes could be described better but overall a good story and having a brazen killer with a dark past is always a winner.
3. ACID RAIN By Peta Alexander
The vivid, horrific description of something somewhat within the realms of possibility made this one stand out. An interesting take on what could happen if everything and everyone in the UK were to get wiped out of existence by 30 or so minutes of rain. No forewarnings, no preparations, nothing. It’s a frightening idea but, just like the rest of the stories in the anthology, it needed maybe two or three more drafts.
4. UNSAFE HOUSE By Josh Darling
OK, I loved and hated this one. It’s up there with Agony Host regarding presentation of the most unique ideas and on top of that, the best dialogue and most nuanced characters but my god was it all over the place. It infuriated me because clearly the author knows what he’s doing, he’s toying with gore while still keeping characters and events interesting, and I know it could have been so much better. The whole thing read like Tarantino directing a Palahniuk book —granting the latter wrote about zombies. If I knew Josh Darling wrote a film script, I’d be first to watch that.
5. RED ROOM By Peter J Mackie
A whole lot of gore for the sake of gore in this one. Personally can’t say I liked it, but I can see it appealing to those into Saw films.
6. A STORY WITH ZOMBIES By Peter Scott
A vibrant, light-hearted story that worked as great buffer, an interlude amongst all the gore porn, and the only one in this anthology which made me want to read more about the characters in their standalone book. It’s hard in this day and age to take something as overplayed as zombies and make something original out of it, so I like the way he decided to play with it and make something more comedy than it is horror, hence —I believe— the title.
7. THE WEDDING DEAD By Mark Green
Second submission by Green in this anthology. Hickson and Orcsan are respectively a human and a demon working together to exorcise the spirit of a bride in a town’s church. I found the dynamic between the two more interesting than the corpse bride, and personally enjoyed it more than THE LAST MOMENT OF THE CONDEMNED.
I’d like to end this on another collective note. Despite their flaws, these were all fun and easy to read, they were entertaining, and that’s almost all one wants out of a book. I understand that the whole idea behind this anthology is to get submissions by not-so-well-known authors and put it in print, and that’s a great thing to have, but the lack of editing and proofreading can severely undermine a good book.
*After rating each one individually, that’s the average rating.