Bookshots: 'The Monstrous' edited by Ellen Datlow

Bookshots: Pumping new life into the corpse of the book review


The Monstrous

Who Wrote It?

It's that perfect mix of sentiment and horror, violence and survival, the unavoidable and the unspeakable.

Edited by Ellen Datlow, the queen of horror anthologies.

Plot in a Box:

Take a terrifying journey with literary masters of suspense, including Peter Straub, Kim Newman, and Caitlín R. Kiernan, visiting a place where the other is somehow one of us. These electrifying tales redefine monsters from mere things that go bump in the night to inexplicable, deadly reflections of our day-to-day lives. Whether it's a seemingly devoted teacher, an obsessive devotee of swans, or a diner full of evil creatures simply seeking oblivion, the monstrous is always there—and much closer than it appears.

Invent a New Title For This Book:

It Lives

Read This If You Liked:

The Best Horror of the Year or The Doll Collection, both edited by Ellen Datlow.

Meet the Book’s Lead(s):

A cast of classic and obscure creatures—as well as the deviant monsters that lurk inside us all. 

Said Lead(s) Would Be Portrayed In a Movie By:

With so many stories, and characters that could not be portrayed by actors or actresses without a certain amount of special effects, it's difficult to nail it down, but I'll pick a few. I see Natalie Portman as the dancing swan (for obvious reasons) in "The Beginning of the Year Without Summer", and I kept picturing the lead actress in the Carrie remake, Chloë Grace Moretz, as the young girl Hailie, in "The Last Clean, Bright Summer."

Setting: Would You Want to Live There?

For the most part, HELL NO. Each of these stories depicts some horrific event or unsettling creature, so the worlds they live in, while some seem pleasant enough, considering the darkness that's coming, I'd rather pass, thank you.

What was your favorite sentence?

And the world spins, like a tossed coin, moving in constant, indecisive, predictable revolutions, and I hold it in the palm of my hand.

—Caitlín R. Kiernan, "The Beginning of the Year Without Summer"

The Verdict:

If you're familiar with Ellen Datlow's editing work (and really, how can you NOT know about the amazing work she's doing) then you probably know what you're getting yourself into with this collection of dark stories. I've come to expect certain authors in an anthology she edits, and I'm always drawn to those names first, as they rarely disappoint—Stephen Graham Jones, Caitlin R. Kiernan, Llivia Llewellyn, John Langan, Gemma Files, and Steve Rasnic Tem, for example. But just as often, and this is one of the strengths of her editing, I find a few authors I've never heard of before, and I consider myself to be fairly knowledgeable about horror fiction. I obviously don't read enough.

Another strength of Ellen Datlow's editing is the selection of the stories. You'll get a few stories that echo classic storylines, classic monsters, even familiar plots and tropes, but always written in exciting and unique ways. In addition, you'll also get innovative horror stories that not only aren't told nearly as often, but structures and voices that scream out of the void in new ways, terrors previously unseen. There is something for everyone in this anthology, echoes of Lovecraft, brutal moments of horrific violence, unsettling depravity, and even a bit of humor sprinkled in for good measure. There are devils, demons and fallen angels in this anthology; Japanese Jinmenken (dogs with human faces); giants (buried and shipwrecked); fairy tale creatures gone dark; and rogue killers seated in a diner. It's a fascinating mix of the familiar and lesser known mythologies.

Here are my favorites from the collection, and it was not easy selecting these, I can tell you that much.

"Grindstone" by Stephen Graham Jones

I've read so much of Stephen's work that it's like slipping on an old baseball glove, the fit familiar and reassuring, no matter how dark the journey. And this is one of his most unsettling stories, the depravity and imagery both haunting, and somehow, oddly touching. I'm not sure what exactly Derle is (or was) but the stories he tells, the dark acts committed in private, you wish for his punishment, the ending echoing out into the future, as all good horror stories do.

"The Totals" by Adam-Troy Castro

This story was so strange, very funny amidst some bizarre, and horrific moments, a cast of killers, monsters, and creatures seated around a diner, tallying up their kills for the year, to see who gets the grand prize (and what a prize it is). I'm not familiar with Castro's work, so this is a perfect example of an author that is new to me, and a story that I wouldn't normally seek out (I don't particularly like humor in horror).

"The Last Clean, Bright Summer" by Livia Llewellyn

I'm really becoming a big fan of Llewellyn's work. This story is so weird, the rituals the small town observes, the violence that unfurls in the most unexpected of ways, the family dynamic threatened at every turn. It's that perfect mix of sentiment and horror, violence and survival, the unavoidable and the unspeakable.

Overall, this is a fantastic anthology. I didn't love every story in here, but that's to be expected. As a reader you will be challenged, as an author you will be inspired (and likely intimidated). Some of the biggest and best voices in horror are telling monstrous stories in this book, paired with new, emerging authors as well, for a stunning mix of the familiar and unexpected, horrors spiraling out into the darkness in a myriad of unsettling ways.

Richard Thomas

Column by Richard Thomas

Richard Thomas is the award-winning author of seven books: three novels—Disintegration and Breaker (Penguin Random House Alibi), as well as Transubstantiate (Otherworld Publications); three short story collections—Staring into the Abyss (Kraken Press), Herniated Roots (Snubnose Press), and Tribulations (Cemetery Dance); and one novella in The Soul Standard (Dzanc Books). With over 140 stories published, his credits include The Best Horror of the Year (Volume Eleven), Cemetery Dance (twice), Behold!: Oddities, Curiosities and Undefinable Wonders (Bram Stoker winner), PANK, storySouth, Gargoyle, Weird Fiction Review, Midwestern Gothic, Gutted: Beautiful Horror Stories, Qualia Nous, Chiral Mad (numbers 2-4), and Shivers VI (with Stephen King and Peter Straub). He has won contests at ChiZine and One Buck Horror, has received five Pushcart Prize nominations, and has been long-listed for Best Horror of the Year six times. He was also the editor of four anthologies: The New Black and Exigencies (Dark House Press), The Lineup: 20 Provocative Women Writers (Black Lawrence Press) and Burnt Tongues (Medallion Press) with Chuck Palahniuk. He has been nominated for the Bram Stoker, Shirley Jackson, and Thriller awards. In his spare time he is a columnist at Lit Reactor and Editor-in-Chief at Gamut Magazine. His agent is Paula Munier at Talcott Notch. For more information visit

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