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Monday, September 30, 2019

What I'm Reading: On the Night Border and Diabhal


Today, I have two horror choices that are excellent for a wide range of readers from hard core horror fans to newbies. Seriously both will appeal to all comers who want to feel the fear, and isn't this the perfect time of year for that already? And both are in the current issue of Booklist.

As usual, the reviews as they appear here on the blog are my longer, draft version and contain more appeal info and readalikes to make it easier for you to suggest these titles without reading the book yourselves.


On the Night Border.

Chambers, James (author).
Oct. 2019. 184p. Raw Dog Screaming, paper, $15.95  (9781947879119)
First published October 1, 2019 (Booklist).


Bram Stoker Award winner, Chambers’ first story collection is a haunting exploration of the space where the real world and nightmares collide. These are horror stories that are firmly planted in the genre’s 21st Century’s sensibilities but which also contain audible echoes of past giants most notably, Lovecraft and Poe. Set mostly and around New York City, from subway platforms to the shores of Long Island to small, upstate mountain towns, these tales are united by the visceral themes of guilt, regret, betrayal, and revenge, feelings that permeate the pages, drive the terror, and leave a lingering impression of tension and anxiety in their wake. Some of the notable stories like “The Driver, Under A Cheshire Moon,” deliver a twist on a trope you think you know, others such as “Mnemonicide” have you unable to look away despite the horror, unspooling on the page, and there are even tales like “Lost Daughters,” which hint at a soft sweetness under the darkness. This is a thoroughly satisfying collection, for a wide audience of horror fans, by a voice scratching on the door, pleading to be heard. Hand this out to readers of evocative story collections like those by Langan, Tremblay, and Machado.

Further Appeal: These stories have an old fashioned feel, as if you can feel their roots in the traditions of the American history of the genre, and yet, they are not trite or out of touch, rather they feel new and fresh just with a knowing nod to what has come before. A nod that gives respect but allows the collection to also move into our present. It means these tales will be enjoyed by fans of horror new and old [which is not something I can say about every new collection].

Each tale is well constructed from a character, pacing, and language standpoint. They can be very different in style but they all are fun to read-- well fun if you want to be scared. Specifically, I loved the use of language. Chambers clearly picks his words carefully, both the word choice and how he chooses to put them together. Not that others writers do not, but his use of language clearly helps to emphasize everything else he is doing in each story. He uses language as a tool along with character, pacing, and plot twists to make each story unique to itself. You can tell, and I mean that in a positive way.

Chambers' also has a great handle on a sense of place with each story, which is not an easy thing to do in short stories, especially those set in the rural NY settings. You can feel where you are in every story.

I think the point I made in the review about how the stories are all based on visceral themes that universally create feelings of unease, tension and dread is probably the most important appeal factor.

The best part of this excellent collection is that Chambers' joy for writing horror shines through in each story. He is good at writing, yes, but it is also clear that he is thoroughly enjoying himself. And that joy makes reading this collection even better experience.

Three Words That Describe This Book: evocative, haunting, visceral

Readalikes: Besides the ones I mentioned above, any stories or collections by Stephen Graham Jones are also a good choice. Both men write stories that use known horror tropes and themes in a new way, a way that is scary and unsettling as hell but also with a language that is surprisingly beautiful and sentimental.

Chambers is very involved with the NY chapter of the Horror Writers Association and last year he helped to publish, A New York State of Fright, solid story collection of stories centered around the Empire State. As I mentioned above, the settings here are key to the stories and all are set in NY.


Diabhal.

Kaufman, Kathleen (author).
Oct. 2019. 320p. Turner, paper, $16.99 (9781684423194)
First published October 1, 2019 (Booklist).
With the popularity of the movie Midsommar, folk horror is having its mainstream moment and Kaufman has positioned her newest novel into this spotlight. Ceit, has grown up on an unassuming cul de sac in suburban LA as part of an ancient,matriarchal, Celtic cult, one committed to keeping the old world’s evil spirits from infecting the modern world. It’s 1985 and Ceit, who has already been showing signs that she contains a powerful magic, is poised to be the next leader, but lands in the foster care system after a botched exorcism of her mother. What follows is a tense story of a confused and troubled girl, a “chosen one,” with power she cannot fully comprehend, stuck in a flawed child protection system, shunned by her family, and actively hunted by other powerful, dark magic groups. Ceit must come of age quickly, figure out her place in this magical world, and save her younger brother. The story is marked by strong world building making it easy for the reader to fall into the mythology of the various magical cults, but it is Ceit who will hook readers. While she is wise for her years in many ways, but she is also still a confused kid, albeit one imbued with a great power, one that she knows she must control and use for good, but how? And who can she trust? This is a great choice for fans of dark fantasy authors like Seanan McGuire or horror featuring strong, female, teen protagonists as seen in titles like Someone Like Me by MR Carey.

YA Statement: This is dark fantasy with a strong tween protagonist and a 1980s setting that will immediately draw in younger readers with its “chosen one” tropes. Teen readers will adore and root for Ceit as she is stuck in various orphanages and must fight for her survival against villains real and magical while she tries to find a safe place for herself and her brother against all odds.
Further Appeal: The main appeal here is the folk horror aspect. It is a huge trend right now and I have some readalikes below.

I had a few concerns about how Mormons are treated in this book [they are the butt of a few too many jokes to make me confortable] and the ending has some Native American spiritual stuff that gave me some pause, but the folk horror and the world building around the Celtic cult was solid.

Ceit is a believable young protagonist because of her attachment to this ancient culture.

The 1980s, LA setting is not as well built and is a bit of window-dressing, but I don't think it is a deal breaker. the Celtic, folk horror is the world building that needs to be done well. Although the connection Ceit has to VC Andrews' writing was a nice historically placed and spot on touch.

Readalikes: Besides the titles and authors listed above here is a list from Barnes and Noble on folk horror titles and a NoveList flyer suggesting even more options.

The Twisted Ones, which I also recently reviewed for Booklist is also a great folk horror option.

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