Sunday, 19 August 2012

From Dark Places - Book Review

From Dark Places is a short story collection by Emma Newman. The stories are mostly very short (three or four pages, usually), and deal with the darker, bizarre side of human nature. These are all character-focussed, subtle, yet deeply moving stories, and often quite funny too, exploring where the magical meets the ordinary, and where supernatural horror connects with the horror of the human mind.

The stories are beautifully written. Emma Newman seems to have a touch for capturing all the little things people do that make them human, their vulnerabilities and quirks, their grief and their humour. All her characters feel completely real and believable, and it is these characters that really drive the stories. The author delivers the messages and the horror within the stories with just the right tone, subtly yet insistently, and with a very good feel for pacing. About two lines in, I was hooked every time. The stories grab hard, and do not let go until the end.

The interweaving of many different elements is also pulled off extremely well. The stories can be vaguely categorised as speculative fiction, or dark fiction, or perhaps horror, or even, at points, the weird, but just as you think you’ve settled on a genre, the next story defies you. There’s something Neil Gaiman-ish (Gaimanesque?) about them; the supernatural is inextricably mixed up in the everyday, and it would be pointless to pretend that our world is not magical, or that it is not also deeply dark, twisted and creepy.

Although much of the content leans towards horror, many of the stories are also funny, moving and observant. There are also a few good twists on old ideas. The stories complement each other well, although it might have been nice to have a few longer ones in the bunch, just to balance out the series of sharp, wickedly relentless punches that each of these very short stories were.

Although I didn’t love every story, this is probably one of the best collections I’ve read in terms of consistently good stories. There isn’t a single one that felt like filler, or any that jarred with the overall theme. And there were so many memorable ones that I honestly can’t pick a favourite. Based on this collection, I’m very excited to read more of Emma Newman’s writing, and am eagerly awaiting her first Split Worlds novel (coming soon from Angry Robot). And, if anyone is interested in reading some free stories by Emma Newman, you can sign up for Split Worlds shorts sent to straight to your inbox, here. I’ve done this, and I’m really enjoying them so far!

This is a beautiful little collection. It’s very short, and the stories are a quick and easy read, but each one will linger for a long time after the book has been put down. Dark, complex, subtle and moving, and a great amount of fun to read.

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