book review, horror, Joseph Sale

Joseph Sale Month: Seven Dark Stars

A novella and six short stories, this collection of stars might be dark but they also shine brightly in the speculative fiction heavens.

The first half of the book is comprised of Grim. Inspired by the Old English epic poem, Beowulf, Sale has reimagined the tale of giants and heroes in a student lodging hall in Birmingham.

I loved this novella for many reasons. It’s a cracking story, well told, with layered and sympathetic characters. Sale always brings depth of meaning to his work, and Grim is no exception.

The link to Beowulf made me excited to read the novella. I delighted in how Sale adapted the tale, and it inspired me to think of how other ancient tales could be transported to the modern day. What would be our monsters and dragons? Who would be the heroes who slay them?

The second half of the book contains six short stories, some previously published and others new to the collection.

Phylactery is the story of Billy, who finds a bottle of mysterious black liquid in the walls of his home after the death of his roommate.

An interesting premise, and a well told tale, this story grew on me the more I read. Although it would be one of my least favorite of the collection, it’s still a solid, enjoyable entry.

I loved the foreshadowing in the next story, Wield the Fire. Inspired by a real life fungus that takes over ants, I expected a zombie story, but this is a different take. My least favorite of the collection, but still lots of fun.

Roth wakes in a pitch dark prison in The Grey Man. The focus on the senses of touch and hearing reminded me of Poe’s The Pit and the Pendulum, although Sale’s tale goes in a different direction. An atmospheric and creepy story.

One of my favorite short stories, The Tunnel Light sees Leanne discover something odd under Bournemouth. Inspired by At the Mountains of Madness, I loved Sale’s take on Lovecraft’s ancient ones.

Another favorite, An Echo of Intent, presents layers of fear as office worker, Christine, gets locked into the building after work one evening.

Inspired by Harlan Ellison’s dystopian short story, I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream, I also saw echoes of Robert W Chambers’s The King in Yellow. I loved the mixture of visceral, preternatural, and psychological horror in this clever tale.

The collection ends on a high note with Deadmeat Dogsbody. This story also conjured the atmosphere of Edgar Allan Poe as I read about Servus and Master Craven.

I loved this collection, and I award Seven Dark Stars…

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