Howls from the Dark Ages: An Anthology of Medieval Horror edited by P L McMillan and Solomon Forse
Joshua Mortensen (May 12, 2022)
352 pages; $19.95 paperback
Reviewed by Joshua Gage
HOWL Society, located on Discord, is the most active horror book club on the web. With hundreds of members, the club offers readers the chance to join a supportive community where they can enjoy books alongside other horror-lovers while engaging in meaningful discussions and forming long-lasting friendships. Aside from serving as an organized platform for discussing books, HOWL Society is also home to a tight-knit group of horror writers. Additionally, members can participate in tangential conversations about horror films, horror games, and much more. Because the club aims to provide equal access to all readers and writers around the world, membership is 100% free. Occasionally, HOWL Society publishes anthologies, and their most recent is Howls from the Dark Ages: An Anthology of Medieval Horror.
In his foreward, Christopher Buehlman speaks to research and authenticity in horror novels. He speaks of writing a novel in 14th century Paris and researching and translating maps to add authenticity and casual authority to a story, details that make for a more engaging and developed tale for the readers. This sort of authenticity permeates this anthology and it’s clear that the authors have done their due diligence when writing their tales.
For example, “Brother Cornelius” by Peter Ong Cook contains not just medieval Latin, but other medieval languages, seamlessly woven into a tale about alcohol, secrets hidden in a monastery, and the horrors of writing unholy secrets. It’s a really compelling tale, but the depth of language and research makes it so much more believable.
Other tales challenge and subvert medieval belief systems even while working within that world. “The Final Book of Saint Foy’s Miracles,” for example, takes the medieval ideas of hagiography and reliquaries and turns them into a haunting ghost story. Instead of simply making a ghost story set in the Middle Ages, author M. E. Bronstein investigates the belief systems that helped to support and sustain medieval life and topples them, all while terrifying the reader in the process.
Overall, Howls from the Dark Ages is an exciting anthology of historical horror. A majority of the tales center around themes of religion but are not overly or numbingly didactic. Furthermore, anyone familiar with the Middle Ages will expect such tales to permeate this sort of collection. However, these are not the only tales in this anthology. This is an impressively strong collection of stories centered around a cool, historical theme, and any fan of horror fiction will really enjoy reading it.