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The Year's Best Dark Fantasy & Horror, 2019 Edition

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30 review for The Year's Best Dark Fantasy & Horror, 2019 Edition

  1. 5 out of 5

    Marie-Therese

    A decent if rather pedestrian anthology with a few outstanding gems scattered among mostly mediocre tales. Most of the work here skewed more towards dark fantasy and strange stories than outright horror, so if real chills are your thing you may want to give this a pass. Highlights for me included Kaaron Warren's "Sick Cats in Small Spaces", a beautifully sustained, suspenseful tale set deep in the Australian Outback; J.S. Breukelaar's mournful "Raining Street"; Anya Johanna DeNiro's "Faint Voice A decent if rather pedestrian anthology with a few outstanding gems scattered among mostly mediocre tales. Most of the work here skewed more towards dark fantasy and strange stories than outright horror, so if real chills are your thing you may want to give this a pass. Highlights for me included Kaaron Warren's "Sick Cats in Small Spaces", a beautifully sustained, suspenseful tale set deep in the Australian Outback; J.S. Breukelaar's mournful "Raining Street"; Anya Johanna DeNiro's "Faint Voices, Increasingly Desperate", a timely and imaginative take on Norse myths set in contemporary Vienna; "Asphalt, River, Mother, Child" by Isabel Yap, that takes Philippine myths and uses them in much the same timely, resonant way as the DeNiro story; the richly realized, zesty "Honey" by Valya Dudycz Lupescu; and P. Djèlí Clark's justly celebrated "The Black God's Drums". The rest of this lengthy anthology varies between good (stories by Angela Slatter, Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam, Tim Powers, Tim Lebbon, Naomi Kritzer, Mary Robinette Kowal and others) to umm...OK to just why??? (I'm omitting names here to protect the guilty and avert aggro from angry fans). Overall, this is one of the more disappointing entries in this series but I'll be looking out for more stories by Warren, DeNiro, Breukelaar, Yap, Lupescu and Clark in future.

  2. 5 out of 5

    James Reyome

    Well, today is January 10, 2020, and last night I finished my annual journey through the fantastical “weirder-ness” that is “The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror”. Now, if you’ve been following my reviews—I’m sure someone somewhere is—you might recall that my wife gifted me with my first copy of this series back in 2012, and it’s been a Christmas tradition ever since. It’s usually published in the late Summer or early Fall, but I will wait patiently on it till Christmas Day, when it magically a Well, today is January 10, 2020, and last night I finished my annual journey through the fantastical “weirder-ness” that is “The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror”. Now, if you’ve been following my reviews—I’m sure someone somewhere is—you might recall that my wife gifted me with my first copy of this series back in 2012, and it’s been a Christmas tradition ever since. It’s usually published in the late Summer or early Fall, but I will wait patiently on it till Christmas Day, when it magically appears under the tree. So. I am amazed and perhaps indignant to find that this tome, published back in September, has NO reviews online anywhere. None! No starred reviews, no notes on Amazon or Barnes and Noble, no Goodreads, no NOTHING. So I will endeavor to provide a worthy summation of this, the 10th such volume of a book I so look forward to each year. I’ve always found the content to be hugely entertaining as well as original, and I’ve been introduced to several writers who have become favorites...just to pick a couple at random, Dale Bailey and Priya Sharma. Sadly, neither appear in this year’s collection, but that’s okay. We are thus inspired to read further work by collected authors, and as such I can say that Bailey’s “In The Night Wood” was terrific, and Priya Sharma’s “All The Fabulous Beasts” is on my reading list for 2020. But on to this year’s offerings. There’s so much goodness to devour! And I probably say this about every volume of TYBDF&H (that IS a lot to type out, after all) but this 2019 edition is the strongest such collection I can recall. The opening story, Naomi Kritzer’s “The Thing About Ghost Stories” gives things a proper kickstart. I’ve been a follower of the “Lore” podcast pretty much since the beginning and this tale of a folklorist and her research which quickly becomes personal will please everyone who enjoys Aaron Mahnke’s work. Then reliable Angela Slatter speaks to fallen angels, and Eden Royce (who earned me a rejection from Amazon last year!) spins another amazing Lowcountry yarn. She is an amazing talent, and has delivered another great story. Don’t think I skipped M. Rickert’s story accidentally. Last year I noted a story printed in TYBDF&H sans paragraph breaks...a mistake in formatting, I’m still convinced. Not so in this case: “True Crime” runs for all of two pages without a break to be seen, and it absolutely, completely is on purpose. Can you hold your breath for two pages? I hope so, you’re going to have to. Unusual, gripping, and horrific. So. NOW you can take a breath. You’re gonna need it, trust me. Things become increasingly dark with G. V. Anderson’s “Down Where Sound Becomes Blunt”. I won’t go into too much detail other than to say, Arctic mermaids, whoopsie. It MIGHT have been the best story in the collection…and yet…there’s A. T. Greenblatt’s “And Yet” (see what I did there?) which is horrific and yet (LOOK! I am being clever again!) warm-hearted. Really. Horrific AND sweet. You have to be able to breathe, right? You did take a breath where I suggested, didn’t you? That’s what a good anthologist does, she gives you a chance to breathe. Thanks, Paula! The almost sweet fare continues with...“Honey” by Valya Dudycz Lupescu. I don’t plan this brilliant wordplay, really, but your esteemed editor might. And with HBO’s recent rave showing of “Chernobyl” still on my mind, this haunting tale of creeping death in the Pripyat forest is very topical as well as spine-tingling. Nice! I must say, in ten volumes of this series I’ve not read anything quite like it. I must hunt down more of her work. Another new name for me is P. Djeli Clark, but his story is sort of familiar...in a good way. “The Black God’s Drums” is steampunk reminiscent of Cherie Priest’s “Clockwork Century” tales. The longest story in the collection, it is hugely engaging as well as loads of fun and is to be savored. Then there’s the Barrie pastiche “Second to the Left and Straight On” by Jim Hines, which is a wonderfully twisted take on Peter Pan...this is not Disney, needless to say. Tinkerbell as an evil kidnapper of children? Well, why not? There’s several good stories of loss; one of, perhaps, innocence (Anna Ow’s unforgettable “Big Mother”) and a couple of love (E. Lily Yu’s wonderfully gripping “Music for the Underworld” and Steve Rasnic Tem’s “Thanatrauma”). And then there are the stories that one just can’t easily compartmentalize, like Erin Roberts’s “Sour Milk Girls”. Wow! There’s a writer I will have to watch, to be sure. Speaking of breathing, free diving is a sport that few will ever begin to appreciate. No breathing allowed! Hold that breath as long as you can, dive, see how far you can go and how long you can remain down. We’ve already been under the sea with mermaids in this collection, but this…well…I mean, free diving! Its very nature makes it claustrophobically scary. Besides, it’s Brian Hodge, who I think of as the American Neil Gaiman. What’s not to like? Great ending too. And because we’re being cosmopolitan here, why not include an urban banshee? Sure! Kat Howard manages this difficult trick very nicely in “Just Another Love Song”, which most certainly is NOT. Michael Wehunt’s “The Pine Arch Collection” is a film project you want no part of, and then...and then... AN ALL-TOO-BRIEF BRIEF INTERLUDE (i.e., another chance to breathe): If you have been following this series of anthologies, you probably know that Paula Guran does not choose out-and-out horror by design. Her intros have tried to discuss this—sometimes to the point of defiance, like last year’s—but I don’t feel like she really needs to do this and hasn’t for some time. You either “get” Dark Fantasy, or you don’t. After all that’s how the book is titled: Dark Fantasy AND Horror. As in, mostly the former, with some of the latter thrown in. Which is only as it should be, for dark fantasy more often than not leads to horrific situations. Paula Guran seems to have the knack for touching just the perfect nerve in me. Which brings us to Simon Strantzas’s entry, “In This Twilight”. I once described a Priya Sharma story (“the Fox Maiden”, I believe) as being “lovely”. Well, it was, and so is “In The Twilight”. It sure doesn’t seem like it’s going in that sort of direction: a young woman with an uncertain past at a bus station meets a mysterious, perhaps ominous stranger. No, it doesn’t transpire how you imagine it might, and it is more lovely as a result. I shed some happy tears here. Then there is a Filipino story of a not-heaven-not-hell, which is equally wonderful. Isabel Yap concludes “Asphalt, River, Mother, Child” with a Filipino glossary, which is necessary...and delightful. Can you guess that I really, really enjoyed myself reading this book? But, horror. Every year I have read compaints from folks that there is not enough Horror in these books. Well, there IS horror, as in the previously noted mermaid-kinda-sorta story, and then there is...“Fish Hooks” by Kit Power. Now, I don’t use profanity often in this sort of thing, but HOLY SHIT, “Fish Hooks” by Kit Power. I mean, HOLY SHIT, “Fish Hooks” by Kit Power. And, thrice, for God's sake, HOLY SHIT, “Fish Hooks” by Kit Power. Omigod. This is one of those stories (like “Pin” by Robert McCammon) that will likely stay with me forever. HOLY SHIT. You’ll know it when you get to it. Remember, “Fish Hooks”. I certainly will. I’m not sure whether to thank him or swear some more. Probably a bit of both. All good things must come to an end, of course, and being as this book was so outstanding, it should end on an equally high note...which, blessedly, it does with “Blood and Smoke, Vinegar and Ashes” by D. P. Watt...lots of author initials this year, I must note...and this story has some recipes in it that you probably won’t want to try. Watt’s either got a weirdly wonderful imagination or has been researching things that I certainly wouldn’t. Amazing, and with an ending that will leave you wondering what exactly takes place after that final period. Want to know how to end a short story, budding authors? Read this one and be schooled. Now, don’t think that there isn’t stuff here to grouse about. There’s still the occasionally missed carriage return (do we still call them that, or am I just old?) in the text. A repeated paragraph (page 492/493) in the very last story. But nothing so jarring as in past volumes. So, Progress! Note, please that these blips haven’t stopped me from buying and reading the books. And of course there’s a few clinkers story-wise. Very few. Like, two that I could mention, but won’t...taste, and all, you know. Your mileage will certainly vary. And then there is the curious weirdness in the author bios...yes, Jim’s about to speak to the author’s bios! For last year I remarked (good naturedly, of course) about one of the authors—Kai Ashante Wilson—whose work was included in the book having been left out of the bios. Now, this year, there is one whose name and bio appears, but...NO STORY from said author! Did it just miss the last cut? What kinds of good stuff am I missing by Helen Marshall? I’m sure she’s awesome...her bio seems to indicate thus, but whither the story? I guess I shall have to go on trust and track her stuff down. So. (BRIEF GRAMMATICAL ASIDE): Jim sez, never begin a sentence with “so”. It’s annoying and so very millennial. Even NPR does it frequently and it’s...well, jarring. But—and this is a BIG but—Jim does NOT say, do not create a sentence SOLELY COMPRISED of the word “so”. Evidence provided above. So. 2020 has thus begun, and the beast has been consumed. I can only conclude from this volume that 2019 was a truly outstanding year in terms of Dark Fantasy, and I can hardly wait to get to next year’s creepily delightful collection. Thanks again to the wonderfully prolific Paula Guran for providing the sampler plate...it's tasty stuff!

  3. 5 out of 5

    DeAnna Knippling

    A collection of darker fantasic fiction, where the sum is greater than its parts. I had casually read one other year's edition of this series, but found it predictable at the time. These stories aren't showstoppers, aren't big-twist stories, but either the editor has made more interesting choices, or I've matured as a reader, or both--because I liked these quite a bit. Each story was low-key interesting, and not quite what I expected, but not over-the-top dramatic. You're more likely to find a "I A collection of darker fantasic fiction, where the sum is greater than its parts. I had casually read one other year's edition of this series, but found it predictable at the time. These stories aren't showstoppers, aren't big-twist stories, but either the editor has made more interesting choices, or I've matured as a reader, or both--because I liked these quite a bit. Each story was low-key interesting, and not quite what I expected, but not over-the-top dramatic. You're more likely to find a "I wish X had chosen differently, but now their fate will come upon them" in this collection than a giggling splatterpunk tale. A few "I wish I didn't have to do this terrible thing, but bless me if you weren't asking for it" stories that are more active, and a few "I don't like to say, but, well, there is such a thing as the supernatural" stories that are even quieter and more subtle. Some particular favorites were: --The Crow Knight, by Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam --The Black God's Drums, by P. Djeli Clark --Second to the Left, and Straight On, by Jim C. Hines --Big, Dark Hole, by Jeffrey Ford --Tom Is in the Attic, by Robert Shearman --A Man Walking His Dog, by Tim Lebbon I feel like this editor doesn't look for the perfect ending (although some of the stories nail it, like Tim Lebbon's), but more of a good vibe and vivid details. I always went to the place where the stories were--even if I sometimes had to roll my eyes at the end. Recommended if you like quiet horror, low-key darker fantasy, and the occasional larger-than-life ironic adventure story.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Sue

    One of the better year's best collections I've read for a while, these stories almost all hit a sweet spot for me. Particular favorites include the opening story by Naomi Kritzer, The Thing About Ghost Stories; The Black God's Drums, by P. Djelf Clark; And Yet, by A. T. Greenblatt; Jim Hines' take on Peter Pan; Music for the Underworld, by E. Lily Yu; Just Another Love Song, by Kat Howard; and A Man Walking His Dog, by Tim Lebbon. These and other stories differed widely in tone and style, but st One of the better year's best collections I've read for a while, these stories almost all hit a sweet spot for me. Particular favorites include the opening story by Naomi Kritzer, The Thing About Ghost Stories; The Black God's Drums, by P. Djelf Clark; And Yet, by A. T. Greenblatt; Jim Hines' take on Peter Pan; Music for the Underworld, by E. Lily Yu; Just Another Love Song, by Kat Howard; and A Man Walking His Dog, by Tim Lebbon. These and other stories differed widely in tone and style, but struck emotional chords with me for various reasons. I'm glad I finally got my hands on this book; it kept being announced as available, only for my order to be canceled due to "unavailability". Finally shipped in late December, 2019. Worth the wait, though!

  5. 4 out of 5

    Amanda

    Leans more towards the dark fantasy side then the horror side. All of the stories in this anthology are good. Which is saying something! Usually when you read an anthology like this one its a mix, some stories are good, some are bad, a few are great. Every story in this anthology is good if not great. There is a good mix of different writing styles and all the tales kept my interest. I especially enjoyed "Down Where Sound Becomes Blunt" about mermaids and secrets as well as "Honey" about an old Leans more towards the dark fantasy side then the horror side. All of the stories in this anthology are good. Which is saying something! Usually when you read an anthology like this one its a mix, some stories are good, some are bad, a few are great. Every story in this anthology is good if not great. There is a good mix of different writing styles and all the tales kept my interest. I especially enjoyed "Down Where Sound Becomes Blunt" about mermaids and secrets as well as "Honey" about an old woman living in the exclusion zone near Chernobyl.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Daniel

    Reading through the Best of anthologies, one story a day, slowly catching up to the current volumes. They make a fantastic daily read - or reread for many stories that I've encountered before. The Dark Fantasy and Horror is one of my favorite, as there are so many SF ones out there, several with fantasy as well, but far fewer dedicated to the darker ones I'd gravitate toward. Guran's collections is always fabulous, and while I may not appreciate every story, the majority are well worth it. Reading through the Best of anthologies, one story a day, slowly catching up to the current volumes. They make a fantastic daily read - or reread for many stories that I've encountered before. The Dark Fantasy and Horror is one of my favorite, as there are so many SF ones out there, several with fantasy as well, but far fewer dedicated to the darker ones I'd gravitate toward. Guran's collections is always fabulous, and while I may not appreciate every story, the majority are well worth it.

  7. 4 out of 5

    JJacy1

    Good stuff Every year I have the same sort of reaction “Mostly good, a few ‘mehs’” but this time around I will say it was a good variety of all types writing. I am very glad to read these yearly as tracking down this much quality one by one is quite the task! Have a read and enjoy!

  8. 5 out of 5

    Christine Dunne

    Fantistic I love this stories and will be back to get a The two years earlier thank you Tell you what you keep writing them and ill keep reading them sincerely Christine Dunne Harlingen Texas

  9. 4 out of 5

    Jo Dee Pederson

    As always Paula Guran did it again. I read quite a few anthologies and hers are a favorite, the stories are always good and a bit different from the usual fare.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Asdrúbal J.

    Very beautiful and compelling stories, they really moved me.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Sheena

    Some really nice variety. I'd say this was better than 2018. A.T. Greenblatt never disappoints. Naomi Kritzer, Michael Wehunt, Tim Lebbon, and D.P. Watt were my favorites. Some really nice variety. I'd say this was better than 2018. A.T. Greenblatt never disappoints. Naomi Kritzer, Michael Wehunt, Tim Lebbon, and D.P. Watt were my favorites.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Tyson Pierce

  13. 5 out of 5

    Ben

  14. 4 out of 5

    Literary Lion

  15. 5 out of 5

    Tina

  16. 4 out of 5

    Pat Lewis

  17. 5 out of 5

    Jamie

  18. 4 out of 5

    Shari Alwee

  19. 4 out of 5

    Sirensongs

  20. 5 out of 5

    Lori

  21. 4 out of 5

    Andrew Arch

  22. 5 out of 5

    Sylvia Ford

  23. 5 out of 5

    TaylorMarie

  24. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth Gross

  25. 5 out of 5

    Jenny Barber

  26. 4 out of 5

    Rowan Clemente

  27. 4 out of 5

    Jack Hastings

  28. 5 out of 5

    L'erin

  29. 5 out of 5

    Susan Mazur Stommen

  30. 4 out of 5

    Ezgili

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