Defy the Dark

Defy the Dark is an anthology of (mostly) horror and dark fantasy themed short stories, edited by Saundra Mitchell. Like all anthologies, it has its hits and misses, but overall it’s a pretty solid collection. Many of the stories are creepy; some are touching, and all of my favorite stories had one thing in common: they were haunting.

The best stories include:

“Nature”-Aprilynne Pike

First up is Aprilynne Pike’s “Nature,” which, while it is not at all a horror story, was one of my favorites, so I wanted to include it here. Kylie lives in a dystopian future where people are divided into 3 groups when they turn 16. Laborers do manual work; Nurturers continue their academic studies and go into related fields, and Natures produce babies. Kylie has her heart set on being a Nurture, but is relegated to Nature. While Kylie is heartbroken, Pike does allow the story to end on a hopeful note. I definitely walked away from this one feeling the warm and fuzzies.

“The Dark Side of the Moon”-Dia Reeves

Reeves contributes a story set in Portero, TX. the fictional town of her novels Bleeding Violet and Slice of Cherry. I love Portero (I seriously wish this place really existed), and this story serves as a fun, quick visit to that mysterious place. In “Dark Side of the Moon,” Cade, an outsider, tries to prove himself to his Porterene girlfriend by facing the one thing in town that even the natives are afraid of, the Night Trolley. This story is wondrously strange and can be enjoyed even if you haven’t read the preceding novels.

“Stillwater”-Valerie Kemp

When you live in a small, rural town, life can seem monotonous. It can almost seem like every day is the same. But what if it really was the same? What if your town was trapped in some sort of time loop? What if the reason that no one ever leaves town is because they can’t? That’s the premise behind “Stillwater,” a haunting, but hopeful, story of two teens who begin to realize the truth about their little town and look for a way out.

“Almost Normal” by Carrie Ryan

Taking place at the beginning of the apocalypse Ryan writes about in her Forest of Hands and Teeth novels, “Almost Normal” is a breath of fresh air in an oversaturated subgenera. Ryan’s story tells of the loss of innocence and hope, as four teenagers spend their last night of freedom before the zombie hordes reach their town at a local amusement park. Ryan is a fantastic writer, and while I’ve put off reading Forest of Hands and Teeth for a while (zombie stories aren’t really my thing), “Almost Normal” has pushed her other works to the top of my list.

“Naughty of Nice”-Myra McEntire

In Myra McEntire’s “Naughty or Nice,” two old friends realize their true feelings for each other as they battle Krampus in Bavaria. This one was a lot of fun, and I do love a good Krampus story, so this one easily made it on to my favorites list. McEntire makes us really care about her characters, and her Krampus is legitimately frightening. I can’t wait to check out more from this author.

“Where the Light Is”-Jackson Pearce

Will is a young man in a small mining town, who has reluctantly begun working in the mines after graduating high school. While underground one day, he meets Ennor, who is a “Knocker,” a race of fae-like people who live underground and are guardians of the mines. Knockers are powerful and can be dangerous to those who disrespect the earth, but Will and Ennor form an unlikely friendship, as they both dream of a life above ground and away from the darkness of the mines. Pearce has a gift for infusing her stories with a haunting, magical atmosphere, and this short story is one of her best works.

“This Was Ophelia”-Tessa Gratton

This is more dark romance, but it is a beautiful story, possibly the best in the collection. Ophelia is young heiress who likes to spend her nights out on the town, dancing and smoking cigars. On these nights, she is “O,” a handsome and charming young gentleman. She has always felt more comfortable this way, rather than as the proper young lady she has to be in the daytime. When she falls in love with a young man she meets on one of these nights, they both must make a choice. Romance is nor normally “my thing,” but this story blew me away, and I couldn’t stop think about it for a long time after I finished it.

Other good stories include Courtney Summer’s suspenseful “Sleepstalk,” Malindo Lo’s haunted house story, “Ghost Town,” the creepy cryptid tale “Eyes in the Dark” by Rachel Hawkins, and Mitchell’s own contribution, “Now Bid Time Return.” I also initially really liked Chrsitine Johnson’s “Shadowed,” but the ending felt a bit rushed and confused, not to mention depressing. As far as the other stories, while I really don’t think any were particularly bad, there were some I was admittedly not over the moon for. Ultimately, however, Defy the Dark is definitely a collection worth checking out for fans of horror and dark fantasy. Although I initially checked it out from the library, I plan on adding a copy to my own personal collection, so I can revisit it again and again.

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