©2022 Michael Raven
I just finished reading an advanced readers’ copy of Carnival Macabre: An Anthology of Gothic Horror, published by Quill and Crow. Was it yummy? Or yucky?
Below is a modified review of what I left on goodreads.
Dislaimer: I received an advanced copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.
As I was reading “Carnival Macabre”, the impression I most often returned to, time and again, was that this collection of tales was reminiscent of one of Bradbury’s collections of shorts — perhaps most notably those with his macabre themes: collections such as “The October Country”, “Dark Carnival”, and “The Illustrated Man”. While none of the stories quite approached Bradbury’s genius, the collection itself felt familiar in that way and I found myself thinking I might need to revisit those old classics and my fond memories of them after I was done with this book.
Overall, the collection is like any other collection of short stories; there are stronger entries than others and there was a bit of unevenness in some of the storytelling for me. In my experience, that is how it often is regardless if there is a single author’s work presented, or multiple authors’ work. That’s just the nature of short story anthologies and I accept that as part of reading a book of this type.
That said, there were some stories I struggled to like: two or three of which were right after the fantastic opening story. Their placement and inclusion were headscratchers — it I were ordering tales, I probably would have put them elsewhere or broken them up. Obviously, it might just be a matter of taste, as several other reviewers seemed to like the very stories I found to be lacking. While decent tales by themselves, they seemed related to the theme of the anthology only in a very cursory way and they felt out of place. That’s not to say they were bad inclusions — it’s just that these stories might have belonged better elsewhere.
Another reviewer (who did like one of the stories I didn’t care for) pointed out one of the criticisms I had of it: the story needed breathing room, as the author resorted to a heavy-handed use of exposition to provide the background, a full 2/3 of the story before the story really began. Feeling crammed in, all the exposition could have been excised entirely, as it didn’t follow Chekov’s Gun Rule; e.g., none of the backstory played a significant role in the actual story. Perhaps the reason others liked it more than I did is that it was one of the tales to move beyond macabre and into some level of horror, albeit it was “gross-out” horror (to use Stephen King’s definitions of the three types of horror as described in Danse Macabre).
Sometimes the tense of the tales seemed a bit wobbly as well, with several authors changing tense at the turn of a page. Or some narrative POVs that were a bit too freely swapped in my opinion. That said, all of the authors could quite possibly put my own writing to shame, and it is easy to be critical of someone else’s writing as the armchair reviewer.
I hesitate to single out one piece or another for praise or criticism (aside from the one I alluded to a few paragraphs above). The stories each had something praiseworthy that could be said about them. If forced to name the story that most resonated with me, it was probably the first tale in the anthology, “The Bone King” (Craig E. Sawyer). It was the story that initially set my mind on the sense this book reminded me of Bradbury, with later tales reinforcing that notion.
Readers should keep in mind that the book is true to the title, filled more with tales of the macabre while never really venturing into something I would consider real horror. If you want to scare your pants off, this probably won’t work to achieve that goal. The caveat that applies to such an assessment is that I only very rarely find something truly horrifying or frightening — be it movies, books, or graphic novels. I grew up with horror as part of my regular, steady diet and may have become desensitized to what might scare or terrify other people.
I feel this is a great book to read over a weekend at a casual pace. Especially on one of those dark and stormy weekends in front of a crackling fireplace. Perhaps an evening read, if you read quickly. Definitely worth the ebook price of admission at $5.99.