Title: Hark! The Herald Angels Scream: An Anthology
Author: Edited by Christopher Golden
Page Count: 384 pages
Rating: 4.5 / ✨✨✨✨💫
Eighteen stories of Christmas horror from bestselling, acclaimed authors including Scott Smith, Seanan McGuire, Josh Malerman, Michael Koryta, Sarah Pinborough, and many more.
That there is darkness at the heart of the Yuletide season should not surprise. Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is filled with scenes that are unsettling. Marley untying the bandage that holds his jaws together. The hideous children–Want and Ignorance–beneath the robe of the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. The heavy ledgers Marley drags by his chains. In the finest versions of this story, the best parts are the terrifying parts.
Bestselling author and editor Christopher Golden shares his love for Christmas horror stories with this anthology of all-new short fiction from some of the most talented and original writers of horror today.
First things first: I actually started this book back in October, when NetGalley and Anchor Publishing sent me an e-copy in exchange for an honest review (thank you!). When it was announced later that it’d be featured in a Night Worms book box, I knew I had to sign up and grab a physical copy as well!
Christmas horror is my #1 favorite genre of anything – from books to movies to art, if it’s creepy and Christmas-y, I’ll probably love it. When I first saw HARK! being advertised, I immediately marked it down as something I knew I’d eventually have to own, even if just for the amazing cover art alone! Luckily, this anthology is stellar, and I was super happy with almost every story!
I’ve been a longtime fan of some of the contributors, including Christopher Golden himself, who edited this nice little collection. I was thrilled that the collection included stories from both women and men, and absolutely loved the way the different author’s voices created such varied horrors throughout. There are 18 stories in all – some longer, some shorter than the others – and out of all of them, I’d say only maybe 2 rated at less than a 3 for me – which is awesome!
While the entire collection centers around the central theme of Christmas, the stories are all extremely different and unique. I’ve included a short list of the stories I’ve rated 4 or 5 stars – although, again, even the ones with ratings lower than that had things I enjoyed, and I’d definitely recommend the collection as a whole!
🎄🎅 ABSINTHE & ANGELS by Kelley Armstrong – ✨✨✨✨
I’ve loved Kelley Armstrong’s writing since I discovered her WOMEN OF THE OTHERWORLD series as a teenager, although those lean more toward the urban paranormal genre than horror. I’m happy to say that her writing skills transferred over beautifully for me; this into to the collection was so perfect, and really set the mood for what was to come. I hadn’t ever heard of ‘mummers’ before this story, and after Googling, I’m hopeful I’ll never encounter anything as creepy!
🎄🎅 CHRISTMAS IN BARCELONA by Scott Smith – ✨✨✨✨✨
The was one of my favorites – it’s so twisted and terrible! A couple with a newborn decides that they aren’t going to let a baby stop them from enjoying their typical Christmas holiday. On their trip, things begin going wrong almost immediately, but the couple persists, determined to see the holiday through. I really sympathized with the characters in this one – traveling is horrible, and I can’t imagine doing it with an upset child in tow. When the father discovers a couple of enchanted toys, he believes that he’s found a bit of Christmas magic to turn things around for his family – and he’s right, but not in the way he thinks! 😉
🎄🎅 FRESH AS THE NEW-FALLEN SNOW by Seanan McGuire – ✨✨✨✨✨
I’m not sure why I always love weird babysitter type stories like this one, but this was so good! Modern and folkloric at the same time, the story is about a group of young siblings who stay home with a strange babysitter while their parents go out for the evening. I don’t want to say too much about this to avoid giving anything away – but this was another one of my favorites! I’m a big fan of Seanan McGuire’s writing and will happily devour anything she puts out – including 2 upcoming 2019 releases that I can’t wait to get my hands on!
🎄🎅 IT’S A WONDERFUL KNIFE by Christopher Golden – ✨✨✨✨✨
Okay, I’m probably slightly biased here because 1) my name is Cassie, 2) I freaking LOVE badass girl characters in my stories, and 3) revenge is my favorite. But I LOVED THIS SO MUCH!!! I hadn’t read anything that Christopher had written himself (although I own 3 books he’s edited!), and I’m happy to report that I’m sold as a complete fan!
🎄🎅 THE SECOND FLOOR OF THE CHRISTMAS HOTEL by Joe R. Lansdale – ✨✨✨✨✨
Remember that bit about me loving revenge? I really, really do. This is a bit of a ghost-story-mystery, and I really enjoyed the way it played out. I like stories that don’t give all the answers away up front, and I also really enjoyed the ‘monster’ in this. The smells and physical descriptions given were stomach churning, and I loved it.
🎄🎅 YANKEE SWAP by John McIlveen – ✨✨✨✨✨
Another favorite in the collection! This one starts out with a bit of gross office party misogyny, then quickly flips itself upside-down to become a sort of thriller-esque story that reminded me of the movie Would You Rather? I enjoyed the main character, the pacing, the writing – all of it! I’ve not read anything else by the author but will be absolutely keeping an eye out for more of his stuff.
🎄🎅 HONOR THY MOTHER by Angela Slatter – ✨✨✨✨
This was such a unique story! A family comes together at Christmastime to have a sort of intervention type thing for the elderly mother, whose adult children feel should be sent to a nursing home. Unfortunately for the siblings, their mother isn’t exactly who they think she is, and I loved the development of Agnes’ character, and of her perspective and hatred. I almost wish this were longer, so I could read more about her life, either before or after the timing of the story here!
🎄🎅 HIKING THROUGH by Michael Koryta – ✨✨✨✨
Another ghost story, and this one is probably the most loosely related to Christmas itself out of them all. I’ll admit that this one didn’t immediately pull me in, but once I realized the direction the story was following and saw the mention of Geraldine Largay, I couldn’t put it down. I first read about Geraldine a couple of years ago while waiting in a parking lot for a friend, and ended up forcing them to wait for 10 minutes while I poured through numerous articles about her disappearance on my little phone screen. Hiking and camping are both such terrifying subjects for me (I’m not outdoorsy AT ALL), and the thought of being lost in the wilderness gives me so much anxiety that I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to actually do something like that myself! I do, however, love reading about it!
🎄🎅 THE HANGMAN’S BRIDE by Sarah Pinborough – ✨✨✨✨✨
This is actually a novella, and took up the last chunk of the book. While it is another one that doesn’t focus too heavily on Christmas itself, it is a very wintry read, and there’s a distinctly chilly atmosphere to the story overall. I got an almost Princess Bride vibe from the grandfather-telling-a-story deal, and after his story began, I actually got so wrapped up in it that I completely forget until it circled back around that it was a story being told to another person at all! This one stars a super creepy spirit similar to ones from The Ring or The Grudge, and those girls freak me out SO badly that I was sure I’d be terrified throughout – However, it ended up being more emotional than scary – which isn’t a bad thing for me with horror as a genre especially, and definitely bumped this up to 5 stars!
Overall, this anthology is one I’ll be revisiting again and again, and it definitely did its job to put me in the Christmas spirit! I’m excited to read more by the authors I hadn’t yet become familiar with, and am pleased to say I wasn’t disappointed by any of my existing favs’ contributions here!