I have a confession to make. Every time I go to Google Play to look for the latest horror novel, I’m bombarded with trite selections featuring lovestruck humans and their paranormal paramours and/or vampires that play nice with humans, as opposed to eating them. I don’t care about any of that! I want to read a vampire novel that frightens me so much, I jump at the sounds of my own heart beating. That’s exactly what Simon & Schuster’s Seize the Night: New Tales of Vampiric Terror accomplished, and I am ever so satisfied.
via Simon & Schuster
Seize the Night brings together some of the most preeminent dark fiction and horror authors, like Charlaine Harris, Sherrilyn Kenyon, and Scott Smith, to create a deliciously horrifying collection of short stories that chilled me to the bone in many cases, and left me perturbed–in a good way–in most. Reminiscent of IDW Publishing’s V-Wars, the authors penned tales of vampirism from diverse perspectives, even the vampires themselves. There was no teenage or romantic angst here. The stories accomplished what they set out to do, which was to bring back a certain level of horror and fear of vampires that we haven’t seen in far too long.
In “Up in Old Vermont”, vampires are rendered more animalistic, and inhuman. They are quite simply animals that have been around for millennia, and while they are quite terrifying, Smith weaves a fearsome tale well before we see or discover any of the monsters. It’s a tale about how low expectations and unfortunate, misguided choices can lead someone so far off the beaten path, that they end up traveling headfirst into their own demise. I think any adult who has found themselves in a personal and professional limbo, will be scared well before the vamps show up.
Seanan McGuire’s “Something Lost, Something Gained”, was one of the jewels in Seize the Night. In fact, it was one of my top five favorites. What I loved about McGuire’s story was how the parental bond between a mother and her child, though positive in normal (read living!) circumstances is a good thing, turns into a fatal negative when one of them becomes the undead. McGuire’s description of the victim as she’s discovered, loaded into a body bag, and taken to a morgue, while simultaneously describing how her mother and abusive stepfather were notified, was chilling to say the least. If you were expecting bats, and a vampire with the accent of a Russian gangster, then you would be delightfully disappointed. McGuire opted for vampires from Ewe, a people from Togo and Ghana, folklore. And I really appreciated her mention of vampires from Asian, Native American, and Latino cultures to explain just how universal vampires are. McGuire makes the case that we have never been alone and that they have always been here, watching us everywhere we have ever been. You never know where a vampire will be waiting in the dark, and nobody’s really safe. Oh, and you’ll never really think of fireflies the same again.
Leigh Perry’s “Direct Report” was a fun, and whether it was intended or not, feminist take on traditional vampire stories where it’s the male vampire that does all the hunting. Think of more vampiric, less gratuitously violent and ridiculous version of I Spit on Your Grave. Keep in mind that rape is a central aspect of this story, so if you are triggered by that, be forewarned. Still, I found the ending totally rewarding. If you were a fan of some of the vampire lore in True Blood featuring makers and their children, then you’ll really like this story.
There were two stories that stood out the most to me as the scariest in the entire book (notice these round out my top five). “On the Dark Side of Sunlight Basin” was more chilling than anything I’ve read in the last year, and I actually had to stop to gather my thoughts, think of kittens and puppies playing in a field, unicorns, and rainbows, and go to my happy place. Michael Koryta weaves a tale of survival horror so frightening that I would be overjoyed if it was actually turned into a movie. The vampire in this short story perversely stalks his victims, taunting them and chasing them like a wild animal. Imagine if a wolf could talk to its prey as it hunts them down, what do you think it would say? It would probably say some of the things the vampire in Koryta’s tale said to one of his victims as he tries to wear her down. Koryta’s tale was yet another that was inspired by Native American folklore, which was just one aspect of the story that I loved. In reading “Dark Side…” you may be lulled into thinking it is just another horror trope. It is way more than that. It was a hair-raising tale of cat and mouse that will stay with you long after you’ve finished reading.
In “May the End Be Good”, Tim Lebbon makes the odds of survival almost impossible, if not entirely so for the average person, when a lone monk named Winfrid fleeing the violence and brutality of the Norman conquest travels the frosted wasteland in search of food and shelter. Lebbon’s story is an assault on the senses in that he fully immerses the reader into Winfrid’s surroundings. I could almost feel the cold, and witness the bodies on display, hanging from the trees. I could feel Winfrid’s terror and his fear as he wrestled with the realization that the supernatural and evil wasn’t just something humans did; it wasn’t something simply thrown about in his Bible. It was very real, and it was stalking him, and never letting up in its relentless effort to break down his resolve and his faith. Between the blanket snow enveloping the landscape around him, the two maniacs he encounters, and the vampires that he meets, my senses were shot. In fact, they were so frayed, that when my own child came running into my room at night, I almost hit the ceiling and woke the entire neighborhood. I had the lights on, for the love of God, and I was that unnerved. That’s some good horror right there.
Some stories fell flat, and very few had potential that was never seized upon by the authors. For example, “Separator” by Rio Youers kept building in its scariness only to fall a bit flat, which was disappointing. Youers spent so much time making his protagonist, a philandering playboy intent on clearing out a poor old woman from her land in the Phillippines, look like a bastard, that the real villain seemed like the good guy. There were no redeeming qualities in the guy whatsoever. Youers spent a great deal of time creating a gory picture–keep in mind the title of the story, folks–that would make any Robert Carpenter film look like Sesame Street. That was a huge plus, but he did not tamper it down when it came to describing the story’s wayward, privileged lothario masturbating simultaneously with his wife via video conference. At times, I wasn’t sure if I was reading horror-erotica or horror. It also took awhile to climax (no pun intended) into something spine-chilling. To be frank, all of the stories with sex as an undercurrent theme were burdened by the dichotomy of horror vs. sex. It might work in a novel, but in a short story, it can be frustrating.
And that’s what’s been missing from the vampire literary subgenre for a very long time. If you’re hankering for something to keep you up at night, make sure to pick up this book. Save the shiny vampires, and their consorts for Valentine’s Day.
Note: GeekMundo received this book via galley for free in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.