TITLE: Hark! The Herald Angels Scream
EDITOR: Christopher Golden
RELEASED: October 23rd, 2018; Anchor Books
AGE RANGE: Adult
If there is one horror theme I never get tired of, it’s holiday horror—especially when that holiday is Christmas! When you look at the roots of so many Christmas rituals and celebrations, there really is a dark and fantastical element; when you couple that with the bizarre antics so many are driven to during this stressful and busy time of year, it’s no surprise that these authors could come up with such fun stories.
The thing people really hate remembering, even as they celebrate a guy nailed to wood: all Gods demand a sacrifice. They’re so fucking hungry.
— Sarah Langan
When it comes to an anthology this solid, I feel like I’m doing a disservice if I don’t take a moment to touch on my thoughts for each individual story—especially in a case like this, where some of these were genuinely some of the most delightful and well-written short stories I’ve had the pleasure of reading. I know not everyone has the time or desire to read this long of a review, though, so I’ll make it easy on you and list my favorites first:
F A V O R I T E S :
→ Fresh as the New-Fallen Snow — Seanan McGuire
→ Good Deeds — Jeff Strand
→ Yankee Swap — John M. McIlveen
And now, if you’re still with me, let’s get into the specifics!
Stories like that don’t start in the dark. They just end there.
— Michael Koryta
→ Absinthe & Angels — Kelley Armstrong ★★★★★
All Michael and Ava wanted was a quiet Christmas weekend in the cabin, but the mummers from Ava’s childhood nightmares have different plans.
What a way to kick off a Christmas anthology! This is such a legitimately creepy story that gave me major The Strangers vibes, but with a fun twist—and certainly piqued my interest in Armstrong’s writing.
→ Christmas in Barcelona — Scott Smith ★★★☆☆
A couple who’s grown accustomed to Christmas holidays doesn’t let their newborn stop them from making a trip to Barcelona, where the father finds some very interesting magical toys.
This one had an incredibly slow start for me, and I began to wonder if the ending would pay off, but I was definitely horrified by the outcome. Unfortunately, the terrors of the story aren’t what had me on edge—it’s the total disregard everyone in the story has for the wellbeing of this poor infant.
→ Fresh as the New-Fallen Snow — Seanan McGuire ★★★★★
Andy’s parents have found a new babysitter for the evening, and she has a very strange Christmas story for him and his siblings.
Technically, this is the third story in the collection, but I saved it for last because Seanan is one of my all-time favorite short story authors (literally, she’s only tied with one other writer), so I knew this would be wonderful, and it absolutely was. I’m interested in seeing how people who are new to Seanan’s writing will receive it, as it’s more dark fantasy than horror, but I was endlessly delighted by the lore and care that went into crafting the babysitter’s story and the ending.
→ Love Me — Thomas E. Sniegoski ★★★★★
Fresh out of prison again, all Flynn wants is a way to see his daughter—and he’ll do anything, even if it means robbing that strange old woman above the antiques shop…
A slightly slow start, but so worth it, as the direction this story took stunned me. It’s creepy, gross, and bizarre in all the right ways, and the ending pulls no punches.
→ Not Just for Christmas — Sarah Lotz ★★★★★
Tired of the responsibilities of real pets, the people of the future have created GenPets—wifi-enabled “pets” with apps, updates, and the ability to speak.
This absolutely needs to be an episode of BlackMirror ASAP, because it reminded me so much of that show in the best way. I was torn between feeling horrified and completely amused by the whole thing.
→ Tenets — Josh Malerman ★★★☆☆
Reason #6 why you should always know exactly who the +1 invites are at your Christmas party: what if someone brings a former cult leader?
I think Josh Malerman is a talented writer, but his short stories never seem to resonate with me, and this was no exception. It had an interesting idea but the execution felt under-developed and lacking.
→ Good Deeds — Jeff Strand ★★★★★
When a particular Grinch-y man is shopping right before Christmas, he meets a little boy who desperately needs to buy his dying mother a pair of shoes—and decides to write an incredibly depressing song about it.
This has to be one of my favorite stories in the collection, if only because I laughed my ass off from start to finish. I hate that damn Christmas Shoes song and this entire story was a goldmine, even if it does get rather… well, messy.
→ It’s a Wonderful Knife — Christopher Golden ★★★★☆
It’s Cassie’s big Christmas Eve night with the hot-shots in Hollywood, when an infamous producer takes her to tour his room of macabre and unique movie items—including a very peculiar murder instrument.
This was just a really fun middle finger to the Weinstein types of Hollywood, and I loved it a lot for that.
→ Mistletoe and Holly — James A. Moore ★★★★★
It’s been a long, hard two years since Deanna’s spouse died, but who knows what kinds of miracles can be worked on Christmas?
Oooh, this one hit me right in the heart. I saw the ending coming a mile away, but that didn’t make it any less anxiety-inducing to watch it form, especially as we learned more about the truth behind Deanna’s lost husband.
→ Snake’s Tail — Sarah Langan ★★★☆☆
Every Christmas, God grows restless and takes child sacrifices—but the adults never seem to learn how to stop it.
First, this story is a nightmare for a parent; the idea of children going missing every Christmas and nobody figuring out how to stop it is devastating, and worse yet is the constant parallel being made to our own world and the way we, as adults, look away over and over again from the children dying in oil wars and unnecessary famines. While I loved the entire idea behind the story and the point it presents, I only feel that the execution lacked a little.
→ The Second Floor of the Christmas Hotel — Joe R. Lansdale ★★★☆☆
An elderly man is invited on Christmas Eve to learn the story from a childhood friend about a young woman they met once, so long ago, and the terror of her ghost’s annual presence after her untimely demise.
This story was a mixed bag for me; on one hand, I enjoyed the idea of this young woman showing back up each Christmas Eve seeking revenge, and I loved the disgusting descriptions of the form she appeared in. On the other hand, the writing voice felt stilted and unnatural.
→ Farrow Street — Elizabeth Hand ★☆☆☆☆
An American woman decides to spend Christmas alone in London, but her last-minute planning lands her in poor circumstances as she explores the city.
The protagonist of this story in insufferable; she makes terrible decisions and has nobody to blame but herself for her own miserable holiday in London, but worse than how frustrating she is, is how dreadfully slow the pacing in the story is. Nothing of any interest whatsoever happens until the last two pages or so, and even then, the ending wasn’t able to make up for what the bulk of the tale lacked.
→ Doctor Velocity — Jonathan Maberry ❌
This story evidently ties into a collection of Maberry’s short stories. I gave it a try but quickly decided that it didn’t work for me as a stand-alone tale (or maybe as a story, period), so I’ve opted not to rate or review it here.
→ Yankee Swap — John M. McIlveen ★★★★★
When Kat is abducted from a company Christmas party, she wakes up tied up and being forced into the worst game of Yankee Swap anyone’s ever seen.
This was such a fun theme to play with; as soon as I read the title, I had an idea of where I hoped the story was going, and I was right. As someone who already hates Yankee Swap in real life, I don’t think I’ll ever look at it quite the same way!
→ Honor Thy Mother — Angela Slatter ★★★★★
Agnes’ family has come to visit her for Christmas, using family bonding time as a guise for their real goal: convincing her to go willingly to a nursing home. They have no idea what Agnes has been hiding.
I loved this so much. I’ve never read anything quite like this, and it’s so fun to get inside Agnes’ head and slowly unravel her secrets as she looks onto her family with disgust and venom (rightfully so, at that!).
→ Home — Tim Lebbon ★★★★★
In a post-apocalyptic setting, an old man and his silent, strange companion search.
There’s basically nothing I can tell you about the plot of this story because it’s entirely character-driven, but it’s incredible and speculative and a little bit weird.
→ Hiking Through — Michael Koryta ★★★★★
There’s a mighty interesting ghost story set in the rugged woods of Maine…
This is definitely more of a ‘wintry’ than ‘Christmas’-y story, but it’s so atmospheric and well-written. That ending, though? Perfect.
→ The Hangman’s Bride — Sarah Pinborough ★★★☆☆
On a cold Christmas Eve night, a grandfather regales his young grandson with an old ghost story about his home.
This story has a lot going for it—the writing is beautiful, and the creepy scenes are genuinely unsettling—but it’s far longer than it really ought to be, which diluted the overall effect. Unfortunately, like a few other stories in this collection, it also didn’t feel like it actually had any sort of Christmas theme to it besides one or two sentences in the very beginning. Had the story been in the middle of the anthology, it might not have been so noticeable, but it felt like a letdown to close the collection with a story that didn’t feel as though it fit the theme very well.
Content warnings for suicide, self-harm, violence, murder, child death, sexual harassment, ableism
All quotes come from an advance copy and may not match the final release. Thank you so much to Anchor Books for providing me with this ARC in exchange for an honest review!
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