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By Alex Carrigan
HOWL Society is a horror literature group on Discord that formed during the pandemic last year to bring people together to share their love of horror and the macabre. The group hosts a virtual book club amongst its many chat rooms, and offers a chance for horror lovers all over the world to connect and share their favorite books and media, discuss the genre, and find other ways to connect and develop bonds. Naturally, a group like this would assemble several of its writers to put a book together, and the group's first anthology is finally out on May 18th.
Howls From Hell is a collection of sixteen horror short stories from writers all over the world. The pieces range in genre and tone, with some being as simple as encounters with eldritch monstrosities or as complex as being set in completely alien or foreign settings. The collection contains stories that can range from bleak and terrifying to optimistic and humorous.
Since this is the first anthology their press would release, it would make sense that the collection would be more open in regards to themes and submissions. The anthology does read like a manifesto of the group, where the pieces show the range of modern horror stories from emerging horror authors. The collection, at the very least, does have the benefit that no two stories seem quite alike, and any similarities are more due to the conventions and tropes of the genre.
Still, there are some interesting connections between some pieces in the collection. Several of the stories deal with female protagonists and how their responses to horror and the strange are often treated with skepticism from those around them, especially from men in positions of power. Said skepticism often leads to tragedy and death, as these warnings and concerns weren't properly considered before everything went awry. Shane Hawk's "She's Taken Away" is written as a transcript of a psychologist's meeting with a troubled young woman whose sister has made an odd, violent turn in recent years. "Suspended in Light" by Alex Wolfgang is a frightening tale of an American film student in the Netherlands who seems to have been cursed by a collection of film reels that make her question her sanity as she appears to be slowly decaying. Then there's Joseph Andre Thomas' "It Gets in Your Eyes," probably one of the most visceral tales in the anthology, where a woman returns from a trip convinced that there is something wrong with her eye, despite how many doctor's appointments and treatments she takes.
There are also several stories about the dangers and mysteries of nature, especially when humans either don't respect or abuse the natural world. Solomon Forse's "Gooseberry Bramble" is written as a recollection of a childhood memory of when the narrator disobeyed his granny's warning about a nearby Gooseberry Bramble where children who go near it disappear. "Junco Creek" by S.E. Denton follows a mother and son on a trip to a cabin, unaware of the exact nature of the setting they've found themselves in. In these pieces, characters have to learn to respect the environment or learn from it, especially if they want to survive.
However, some of the strongest pieces in the anthology are the ones that do the most with genre and setting to create stories of wider scopes and with more creeping subtext. P.L. McMillan's "Manufactured God" already fascinates the reader with its futuristic, post-apocalyptic Earth, but it's when the crew of scientists and researchers go deeper into the ruins of Egypt that it turns into cosmic horror. Then there's Christopher O'Halloran's "Possess and Serve," a sci-fi tale in a Minority Report-esque setting where people can allow special police officers to possess their bodies in order to handle dangerous and troubling situations, and just how that power can be abused. One of the anthology's best stories, Thea Maeve's "Red and the Beast," is a fairytale mashup that plays with conventional fairytale tropes in a way that provides a fresh, queer, and terrifying take on stories like Little Red Riding Hood and Beauty and the Beast (similar to my last Quail Bell book review of Remapping Wonderland).
For a debut anthology from a new press, Howls From Hell is a refreshing and enticing collection of indie horror literature. The pieces are all well paced and can easily hook the reader to see exactly where the tale may go. It serves as a good gateway for those looking to read modern horror literature, but it also speaks highly of the group behind it, and hopefully promises more exciting work to come from the group and its individual authors.
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