Last Updated on February 12, 2024
I love that time of year when Paula Guran releases her newest volume of The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy and Horror. This year’s anthology, officially titled The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy and Horror (Volume 4), is actually Guran’s fourteenth entry in the series, having restarted the numbering after switching to a new publisher (Pyr Books) four years ago.
Across her prolific career, Paula Guran has published over fifty anthologies in fantasy, science fiction, and horror. She is a two-time winner of the Bram Stoker Award and two-time nominee of the World Fantasy Award. With Paula Guran as editor, you know it will be a top-quality collection.
The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy and Horror (Volume 4) kicks off with “Shadow Plane,” Fran Wilde’s story of the physical and psychological isolation of two travelers stranded on a mountain that doesn’t appear on any map. The story is masterfully written and reads like an alpine version of The Blair Witch Project.
The next story, “The Dyer and the Dressmakers” by Bindia Persaud, is a subtle but unsettling tale, full of enchanting colors, where dying and dyeing are more than just homophones.
It seems inevitable that at least one of the stories in The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy and Horror would be a repeat from another collection that I’ve read. That story for me is the wickedly horrific “Wet Red Grin” by Gemma Files, which I also reviewed as part of Ellen Datlow’s outstanding anthology, Screams from the Dark. Personally, I enjoyed revisiting this masterful story set in a nursing home during the real-life horror of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Next up is “The Lending Library of Final Lines,” a dark fantasy by Octavia Cade about a magical book that can pull readers into the story when the pages are eaten. The setup of this story reminded me of The Book Eaters by Sunyi Dean.
Stephen Graham Jones is always a delight, and “Men, Women and Chainsaws” doesn’t disappoint. His contribution to The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy and Horror (Volume 4) has a classic horror feel and is inspired by the ultraviolent The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2.
The shortest story in The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy and Horror (Volume 4), “The Woman Who Married the Minotaur” by Angela Slatter, is brief but fun. The story is exactly what you would think based on the title.
Probably my favorite story in the collection is “The Voice of a Thousand Years” by Fawaz Al Matrouk. This story is both a philosophical tour de force and a deeply emotional tale of an old man who discovers spiritual transference.
I also thoroughly enjoyed “Bonesoup” by Eugenia Triantafyllou, about a grandmother who wants to provide proper nourishment to strengthen her granddaughter’s bones. “Bonesoup” has a fairy tale-type quality that strikes the perfect balance between dark fantasy and horror.
Cassandra Khaw’s contribution to the anthology, “How Selkies Are Made,” feels like a companion story to their masterful dark fantasy novella, The Salt Grows Heavy. The short story is not as dark as the novella, but it’s still an enjoyable read.
I adore just about all horror stories from A.C. Wise. Her contribution to The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy and Horror (Volume 4), “Sharp Things, Killing Things,” is a stylistic departure for Wise, told in the first-person plural. Wise succeeds in capturing the collective zeitgeist of young people in small-town America while delivering a truly chilling tale of horror.
A few of the stories were more uneven in the middle of The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy and Horror (Volume 4), but the anthology closes out strong with the final two stories: “A Monster in the Shape of a Boy” by Hannah Yang and “Lemmings” by Kirstyn McDermott, both of which are very creative and well written. Part of the joy of reading short story anthologies is discovering new writers. Both Hannah Yang and Kirstyn McDermott are new to me, and I look forward to reading more from them in the future.
Whether your goal is to discover new authors or revisit established favorites, The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy and Horror (Volume 4) is a very welcome addition to Paula Guran’s long-running series.