TITLE: The Gathering Dark: An Anthology of Folk Horror
EDITOR: Tori Bovalino
AGE RANGE: YA
PUBLISHER: Page Street Kids
A cemetery full of the restless dead. A town so wicked it has already burned twice, with the breath of the third fire looming. A rural, isolated bridge with a terrifying monster waiting for the completion of its summoning ritual. A lake that allows the drowned to return, though they have been changed by the claws of death. These are the shadowed, liminal spaces where the curses and monsters lurk, refusing to be forgotten.
Hauntings, and a variety of horrifying secrets, lurk in the places we once called home. Written by New York Times bestselling, and other critically acclaimed, authors these stories shed a harsh light on the scariest tales we grew up with.
While I definitely think a handful of the stories strayed very far from being actual folk horror, this was still perhaps my favorite YA anthology I’ve ever read. There were a ton of incredible, creepy, touching stories in this collection and I’m so glad I read it! I highly recommend it for anyone who enjoys horror short stories, but in case you need further convincing, here are my thoughts on the individual stories:
How much can you give to a place before it swallows you whole?
→ Stay by Erica Waters ★★★★★
This first story was one of my favorites from the entire collection, and despite being my intro to Waters’ writing, made me immediately want more from this author. I loved the bleak, dismal “stuck in a rotting small town” vibe this had and the twist at the end was absolutely tragic and exactly what I wanted from this story.
→ The Tallest Poppy by Chloe Gong ★★☆☆☆
Unfortunately, the second story resulted in a bit of emotional whiplash from how severely I disliked it. This was my intro to Gong’s writing, too, and sadly it gave me zero interest in their other works based on their writing style and the way this plot played out.
→ Loved By All, Save One by Tori Bovalino ★★★★★
Back on track with story #3: I adored everything about this. I fully saw the ending coming from a mile away, but I was so happy that Bovalino went in the direction they did with it!
And wasn’t that the worst part, every time? How the love and the caring stayed, even as everything around it rotted?
→ One-Lane Bridge by Hannah Whitten ★★★★★
I went into this story knowing I loved Hannah’s writing anyways, and it was perfect. I would say this one felt more solidly “folk horror” than most of the other stories, but most of all, I appreciated the exploration into friendships and relationships going sour over time, and how we can hold on to those crumbling partnerships despite knowing that they’re hurting us, because it feels safer than walking away.
→ The Ghost on the Shore by Allison Saft ★★★★★
This piece was so damn sad and it just broke my heart over and over again, but wow, it was beautiful. I’m incredibly fond of the whole “ghost hitchhiker” trope and I thought this story gave it a big breath of fresh air!
→ Petrified by Olivia Chadha ★★☆☆☆
The plot on this one held my interest for a moment, and overall had a cool concept, but I’m sad to say I loathed this author’s writing style! It felt incredibly disjointed and unnatural, and I can safely say I have no desire to ever experience it again.
→ Third Burn by Courtney Gould ★★★★★
Oh, I loved this so much. Very cool premise, loved the ending, and in general I just really enjoy seeing a character who is so fed up with the small-town bullshit that they reach their breaking point and want to do something to shake things up.
→ It Stays with You by Aden Polydoros ★★★★★
Honestly, this story came for my throat and I just cried through pretty much all of it. Aden Polydoros pulled no punches and this is an incredibly dark and triggering piece of the collection, but it’s also one of my favorites in the anthology and has made me extremely eager for more of Aden’s writing in my life. Justice for Gabe, please. 😭
It was impossible to keep something that never intended to stay.
→ Truth or Dare by Alex Brown ★★★★★
If I had to pick a single favorite from the collection, it would be this one, with It Stays with You coming in at a very close second. This piece takes an urban legend theme I’ve never seen before, but one that feels so natural, it seems like it could exist in a thousand towns around the world. The toxic relationship in the story hit brutally close to home for me and some of my past experiences, which made this a painful but ultimately very cathartic read. The writing was lovely on top of it all, and I’m just genuinely in awe over how much I loved this story.
→ The Burning One by Shakira Toussaint ★★★☆☆
Alex Brown’s story was a hard one to follow, sure, but I also struggled with the fact that this story didn’t feel like a horror piece at all. While it definitely does examine some real-world horrors, thematically, I’d call it speculative at most and kind of wondered why it was included in this anthology, but I digress. It was fine, just not memorable or what I expected.
Overall, The Gathering Dark was a mostly very successful collection for me, as you can see! I highly recommend picking up this anthology and giving it a try, and I have a few new-to-me authors that I can’t wait to read more from thanks to this book!
Thank you to the author and publisher for the review copy! All thoughts are honest and my own.
WARNINGS (click to expand):
violence, death, murder, betrayal, insects, cancer, child abuse, sexual assault, loss of loved ones, grief, abusive and/or toxic relationships and friendships
many stories feature queer and/or BIPOC characters and are written by queer and/or BIPOC authors
— destiny ♥