*** Review copy received from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. ***
Table of Contents:
John C. Foster spins “Gilda,” a yarn about Avarice;
Bracken MacLeod takes us on the road to Wrath with “A Short Madness”;
Kasey Lansdale’s “Cap Diamant” teaches us the steep cost of Pride;
Brian Kirk lays bare the Jealousy hidden beneath affluence in “Chisel and Stone”;
Rena Mason reveals a new and terrifying guise of Sloth in “Clevengers of the Carrion Sea”;
Richard Thomas examines Lust in his dystopian “Ring of Fire”; and
John F.D. Taff feeds us the darker aspects of Gluttony in “All You Care to Eat.”
Review: I’ve been chomping at the bit to read this anthology pretty much since John F.D. Taff, the King of Pain, mentioned it in a few interviews, and it’s one of the most epic anthologies of the year. The stories were all novelettes that explored their assigned sins in decadent detail, all of which embroiled me completely in the narratives they presented. As well, I quite enjoyed the post-piece write-ups each author did explaining their process for their particular stories.
Batting for Avarice, we have “Gilda” by John C. Foster. This story reminded me of getting to be a fly on the wall for the show “Feud,” which transformed the famous battle between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford into an episodic format. I loved the interactions between Gilda, Marie, and Hysteria. It didn’t take long for things to get very dark with this tale, and I think Foster did a masterful job with vivid characterization. As well, the tension and suspense that built throughout the piece were very well-executed calling to mind “The Tell Tale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe. The action eventually builds to a dynamic crescendo and will leave the reader reeling afterwards.
For Wrath/Anger, “A Short Madness” by Bracken MacLeod starts off with a priest who has in many ways understandably become jaded to the confessional process, and who could blame him considering the kinds of things he puts up with on a regular basis? They say they’re sorry but continue to commit horrible sins. He is tormented by the death of a woman he once knew and it drives him into an unexpected direction. I thought the author did a great job evoking an anger the reader would understand, and it built on the momentum of the previous story, which was a nice added dimension.
Kasey Lansdale tackles Pride in “Cap Diamant,” a historical tale about a sailor, George. His brother, Jean, meets a mysterious and beautiful woman in a bar named Eloise, and as one might expect, things go south from there. I enjoy historical horror quite a bit, and found this story to be an entertaining yarn.
Master of mind-bending horror Brian Kirk explores the roots of Envy/Jealousy in “Chisel and Stone.” A woman stuck in an unhappy but wealthy marriage debates happiness with her husband, Paul. It’s difficult to say more without spoiling the entire story, but she ends up doing what she thinks is an act of kindness and believes she’s doing it out of altruism, but is really doing it with the expectation of something in return whether she likes to admit it or not. It has been said many times, and we see it on the news non-stop, but it bears repeating that man is the most frightening and worst of all monsters.
Next up, “Clevengers of the Carrion Sea” by Rena Mason goes into one of the most creative and inventive interpretations of Sloth I’ve read. Like Kasey Lansdale’s piece, it is also historical horror, which I adore. For me, this story called to mind “The Turn of the Screw” mixed with “Wuthering Heights” laced with “The Lair of the White Worm” with heaps of horror, death, and tragedy thrown in for good measure. I loved the lush, Victorian imagery and the Industrial descriptions fused with the creature horror toward the end. Two storylines converge in this tale of Margaret Fitch, a young woman who is en route to be with her fiancé, Andrew Pettit, but has to contend with a less-than-kind mother-in-law. Meanwhile, a young boy named Danny recovers from an accident at a hospital. Margaret insists she can hear him calling out for her help. Her new husband, Andrew, has more sinister things in mind while Helen, the maid who assists Margaret, tries to help as best as she can. Eventually, the two worlds collide. As each kernel of truth spreads out and grows, the twists and turns grow sharper until they combust into a dynamic and unforgettable conclusion.
Richard Thomas deals with Lust in “Ring of Fire,” in which the protagonist is obsessed with a woman, Rebecca. It’s a very trippy story and at first I thought that one or both of the characters were robots meant to look like humans, but let’s just say things took a turn in a much more Alien-like direction and that fans of sci-fi horror will really get a kick out of this one. Thomas explains in his afterword that he wanted to do something different with his pairing of lust and horror, and rest assured, he has pulled that off.
And capping things off is the King of Pain himself, John F.D. Taff, taking on Gluttony with “All You Care to Eat.” Lisa, the protagonist, has a weight problem. Her mother and sister stage and intervention and convince her to go to a therapist specializing in issues of weight loss. Her results seem to good to be true, and the intrigue comes from wondering of all the terrible costs she has to pay as the story goes on and that continue to accelerate, what is the big reveal going to be? It just keeps getting worse and worse until it blows up into an extraordinary crescendo of consumption.
Each story presents a unique and inventive twist on the Seven Deadly Sins, which is not an easy task to accomplish given the plethora of works in the horror genre that have charted this well-worn territory before. The authors make each of their takes seem fresh and dynamic, and this anthology is not one to be missed. If you haven’t already, put it on your ‘must-read’ list because it is a solid contender for the year’s best in horror.