This modern, Gothic horror, feminist short fiction collection will bring you out in goose-bumps!
A CREAK IN THE FLOOR, A SLANT OF LIGHT - There were some quirky details (e.g. the patio set with an umbrella outside one apartment door) that put us in mind of Holly Black's work. This tale has a delightfully gory legend within it about three girls trapped in a lift with something... something that bites, and a motley bunch of interesting characters sharing (often bizarre) accommodation in an industrial warehouse. In our opinion, the story ended too soon.
THE RIDER - The story begins with a few paragraphs talking about a female character, but doesn't mention her name until the fourth paragraph. We liked the idea of the story with its reverse ghosts and the strange support group, but there wasn't much detail about the main character's past life.
THE GROVE - An interesting vignette on the nature of sickness, death, and the afterlife. Its tone made it almost like an old Japanese folktale. We particularly liked the poetry of the part where the mother tells the daughter what will happen when she goes to "sleep" in the ground and what she would dream of.
FOLDED INTO SHADOWS - This is one of our favourites. Agnes decides to renovate an old Victorian house where her brother vanished when she was a child, a house that was a "scourge and siren" to the neighbourhood children, infamous for making most of its visitors disappear. We liked this one for its juxtaposition of the past and the present, and of the mundane / kitsch with the cosmically horrible and inexplicable, the atmosphere, and mounting eeriness. This story preserves its weirdness and mystery even to the end, and is all the better for doing so.
UNRAVELLING - This one is told in the first person by an ironic and world-weary character forced to reincarnate again and again. It has a YA thriller vibe. This is another one of our favourites.
THE GUEST - We liked this one for the well-written Gothic tropes and the relatable main character, as well as the unique sci-fi angle it had. Something odd about moss...
THE GIRL IN THE STAIRWELL - A strange little story about a compulsive liar and a woman falling down some stairs to her death. This was another one we particularly liked.
RIG RASH - Another favourite. This Western-themed cosmic horror tale about the town of Sanctuary gave us goosebumps in all the right places. There's rumours of a huge, strange creature and a deadly infection. It gave us H. P. Lovecraft vibes.
DARK INHERITANCE - You've heard about buildings and places being haunted, but this story is about a haunted person. We liked this one as it introduced us to the concept of The Mara (or Mare, that rides on people's chests as they sleep and gives them nightmares) and took that concept to a new and grisly level. We won't look at the Sleep Paralysis phenomenon the same way ever again.
THE DROWNED SIREN - This was an interesting tale that fused a drowned ghost with the myth of the rusalka. The story would have been better if there was an explanation as to why the ghost chose the main character as her next victim.
THE HORROR ON SYCAMORE LANE - This story was unusual in the sense that although it was about a certain family, it was told through the third-person experiences of the small-town locals living around the family. This narrative method added an air of mystery that we liked.
THE RANCH - A longer, Western-set and horror-sci-fi tale concerning a traveller in the desert and a cattle rancher running unsettling experiments.
THE WIFE - A charming and bloodthirsty tale about a woman who isn't a woman, but isn't exactly a Selki either...
MATER ANNELIDA - This is a bizarre and primal vignette of an unnamed witch (we assume) undertaking a private ritual and the birth of something that could change the world... literally.
THE WOMAN OF THE WOODS - A lonely witch who can bring the dead back to life approaches a romantic relationship with a stranger... in a preying-mantis fashion.
THE DARE - An excellent vampire horror story that brings together contemporary teenagers and a monster that used to be a bon vivant from the 1920s. There is a different explanation for the nature of vampirism within the tale -- read it to find out!
THOSE BENEATH, DEVOUR - This tale begins right in the middle of the action, shortly after someone is consumed by something scorching through a university library basement floor.
THE NO PLACES - This began with the atmosphere and whimsy of a Neil Gaiman road-trip story, then turned sinister. A sacrifice has to be made, and a woman learns she is more than herself.
The writing in this short fiction collection has a lot of run-on sentences and could use another round of proofreading. For example, there were some mis-used words e.g. "clamored" when "clambered" was meant. Other than that, the narrative voice of these stories has a tone of private collusion with the reader, which we liked very much, and Victoria Dalpe's descriptions engage all of the reader's senses. She uses realistic dialogue and unusual ideas and details throughout.