Gothic! Ten Original Dark Tales

Gothic! is a horror (although I use that term loosely here) collection, edited by Deborah Noyes, that I first read when I was back in high school. Like most collections, it’s a bit of a mixed bag, although overall it’s enjoyable, if nothing entirely special.

Joan Aiken (The Wolves of Willoughby Chase) contributes the first story, “Lungewater,” which is an old fashioned ghost story. Our narrator is on the way to visit her great-aunt at Christmas when she runs into an elderly man who relates the history of a local legend. It’s nothing particularly original, but it’s comforting in a way that I find old fashioned ghost tales tend to be.

Prolific author, Vivian Vande Velde, contributes the first of my two favorite works in the collection. “Morgan Roehmar’s Boys,” also included in her collection, All Hallows’ Eve, concerns a teenage girl working at a haunted hayride on Halloween. It soon become apparent that there are some very real horrors haunting the attraction, and our protagonist will be lucky to make it through the night.

“Watch and Wake” by M.T. Anderson would probably make more sense if I had previously read his novel, Thirsty, which this story shares a (truly bizarre) world with. It’s a weird little story that I don’t remember particularly liking when I first read it years ago, but I appreciate it a lot more now. I’m definitely more inclined to pick up his novel, which I’d always passed over before.

Neil Gaiman’s “Forbidden Brides of the Faceless Slaves in the Nameless House of the Night of Dread Desire” is a parody of gothic romances and horror stories. You know the ones: scantily clad women running away from dark castles on the cover? It’s a fun story, which Gaiman has also turned into comic book form, and I recommend checking out that copy.

“Have No Fear, Crumpot is Here!” by Barry Yourgrau was easily my least favorite story in the collection. Our “hero” (another word I use lightly) is the thoroughly obnoxious and unlikable Walter. I’ve never read anything else by Yourgrau, and after reading this story, I certainly wouldn’t want to.

Caitlin R. Kiernan is a fabulous writer, and while “The Dead and the Moonstruck” isn’t her finest work, it’s still one of the better stories in the collection. There’s a lot of mythology crammed into this short story, so it’s really no surprise that it’s a prequel to some of her other work. The protagonist, Starling Jane, also features in Kiernan’s adult novel, Low Red Moon.

“Stone Tour” is by Janni Lee Simner, an author I am not otherwise familiar with. It’s a brief tale of a young girl searching for something she’s lost. It’s sad and, ultimately, sweet, but it doesn’t really last long enough to leave much of an impression.

Gregory Maguire (Wicked) does not turn in his best work with “The Prank,” a tale of bad choices and family secrets. It’s an interesting read, but doesn’t hold a candle to his fairytale adaptations, and honestly almost seems like it’s written by a totally different writer. It doesn’t help that the main character is absolutely unlikable, although I did feel a little sorry for her by the end.

Celia Rees’s story, “Writing on the Wall” was my other favorite when I first read this collection, and I’m pleased to say I still enjoy it now. I love a good haunted house story, and this one doesn’t disappoint.

Garth Nix contributes the final story, appropriately titled, “Endings.” The story is well written, but it’s so brief as to be inconsequential. I know Nix can do better than this. If you want to see him at his best, check out his YA dark fantasy novel, Sabriel, or his adult short horror story, “Shay Corsham Worsted.”

Overall, it’s an entertaining collection, but nothing that ever left a lasting impression on me. It’s a quick read and probably better for older kids and teens just dipping their toes into the horror genre, rather than seasoned horror fans.

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