Multi-author anthologies are usually worth a try, because if the reader doesn’t click with a specific author or story, the next is a few pages away.
Similarly, themed anthologies can be fun, because the authors and their stories are confined to a particular set of rules, whatever those may be.
Here, the rules are simple, clear, and brutal. Lovecraftian nihilism, references, and tone are married to (mostly) familiar fairy tales, often in their more grim (or was that Grimm?) renditions. The result of this potentially bland mash-up is uniformly fresh and effective. Readers who don’t know much about Lovecraft or who have missed one or more of the fairy tale origin stories will still be able to enjoy the deformed offspring of the premise. A few Lovecraft-related Easter eggs will be missed, but the general point will remain.
Heavy-hitters in the horror space grace the pages here, and while some are more effective than others, none do badly. This includes authors who were less well-known (to me), and there are some delightful stand-outs, which I was keeping a list of, and said to heck with it, because about ten stories in, the highlight reel was already full, and kept on going. Here are a few: a twisted, twist-filled take on Rumpelstiltskin begins some of the “Lovecraft stretching” that I came to enjoy as the stories progressed. Another good twist was in the immediate aftermath of WWI, in which a well-armed wolf takes on three little pigs. And then there is Red Riding Hood (and the wolf and lumberjack) locking horns with dueling gods. Not every story worked, but there is not a total dud in the lot.
If there is any complaint to this collection, it is intrinsic to the theme: the confines of “apocalypse” can be too confining. In short, a few stories are short on tension, given the reader’s understanding that the ending (see title: Apocalypse) is preordained. However much you like, or do not like, whatever happens in a given story, you already know how it ends… badly. Catastrophically. There is no real way not to end “the world” (or the characters’ world) given the premise, and although this makes perfect sense within the parameters of the anthology, it can remove a degree of reader buy-in and empathy.
But, I’ll note that a couple of the stories “only” destroy a smaller fraction of their world, and a couple flat-out don’t go with an apocalypse… though they might hint in that direction. It’s fun, to an extent, but it’s a factor to consider, especially if read back-to-back. A fair few of these tales, taken as a standalone or hidden in a different and more varied anthology, would build a pretty little world, then punch you in the gut very, very hard.
As it is, twists are tricky to accomplish, because the reader expects to be punched. Whether it’s the humanizing of a contemplative troll or the somewhat endearing conscience of a hunched little man who has second thoughts at following-through on his cruelty, darkness and despair are the destiny—and not for one or two characters, but for all of them… every time, or very nearly every time.
So, anyone who appreciates punishing forms of music (death metal comes to mind) will love that repeating hammer to the face aspect of this mash-up. For a reader to endure is not to necessarily enjoy, however, particularly for an extended period of time, and I found this anthology worked best when enjoyed a story or two per day, spread over several days, as this breaks-up the intentionally bleak tone and revived the stakes somewhat.
All said and done, the collection is creative, well-written, edited to near-perfection, and does a fine job of overcoming many other potential failings that have scuttled hundreds of other such mash-ups.
This is well worth a look for anyone who likes short horror fiction of any kind. For a fan of dark fairy tales and/or Lovecraft, it’s an unmissable addition* to your personal library!
*Note that your personal library will be unsorted, weather-stained, and tested by fire before it is ultimately crushed beneath the uncaring heel of a behemoth shape stretching to the limit of fuzzy-edged madness; but don’t worry… you’ll be long dead by then, mourned by nothing and unremembered by all.