Anthology Book Review – BLOOD RITES (2013)

Anthologies are a favorite of mine because they give you the opportunity to sample the work of various authors. Those enjoyed can be sought out while those providing zero thrills can be forgotten. In Blood Rites, an anthology of psychological horror from Blood Bound Books, there are plenty of authors and stories to choose from. But how do they measure up? 

“Cold Comfort of Silver Lake” by Nathan Crowder – The book gets off to a great start with this strange tale that put me in the mind of the writings of Robert Aickman. A deliciously ambiguous tale about new beginnings, an unborn child and a house with a strange past. What’s real? What’s imagined? Read and find out for yourself. 5/5

“Shine on, Harvest Moon” by Monique Bos – This tale of revenge and guilt has a lot going for it but drops a notch or two via the twist ending. Had it just been a story about bullying and the consequences thereof, it would have been great, especially given the emotion the piece gives off. I get what Bos was going for but it cheapens the piece. 3.5/5

“A Grave Matter” by Joe McKinney – This story takes place in the trenches of World War II. McKinney does an excellent job of conjuring up a rainy atmosphere filled with mud and blood, but the way the reveal is written undermines the precise care taken to get to that point. It has an unpolished, jack-in-the-box feel that makes me wish McKinney would have tweaked a few nuts and bolts to blend it more seamlessly. 3/5

“The Candle and the Darkness” by Aric Sundquist – Definitely one of the best in the collection, taking place during three nights when darkness overtakes the world to claim unbelievers. A young girl is protected only by the light of a blessed candle. But candles don’t last forever. The ending is delightfully sadistic, reminiscent of the tales of Ambrose Bierce and Charles Birkin. 5/5

“The Lullaby Man” by John McNee – The first dud in the collection. While the content is interesting, the story is written in such an affectless style that it’s hard to feel anything other than boredom. This story couldn’t keep my interest at all. 1/5

The Final One Percent” by Desmond Warzel – This story about an aspiring writer and her muse is one of the more bizarre stories in this collection. Unless you’re the “artistic” type who wants the muse to touch you and cause gold to spew from your fingers, it’s hard to care about what is going on and has all the impact of a fly landing on your shoulder. At least it’s well-written and short. 2/5

“The Philosopher’s Grove” by Brad C. Hodson – Maybe it’s because I studied philosophy in college, but seeing the familiar names and places so prescient in Greek philosophy brought a smile to my face. Explores Aristotle’s ambitions to become a great philosopher and the horrendous things he is willing to do to reach his goal. This story is both bloody and funny. Highly recommended. 5/5

“The Unbeliever” by Brian Lumley – Brian Lumley may be the biggest name in this collection, but his contribution ranks as the worst. This tale of military men and demons falls flat under the weight of its own clichés, and the narrator (who comes off as a manly-man who does manly things in an attempt to convince himself that he is, indeed, a manly-man) is as annoying as a hemorrhoid although not as endearing as one. On the plus side, it eventually ends and does include a rather gruesome death. 0.5/5

“The True Worth of Orthography” by Lisa Morton – This story about a magician and the power of words is… well, just sort of there. It’s very much a paint-by-numbers entry that doesn’t do much in the way of entertainment, but also doesn’t condemn the reader to boredom. The description of the L.A. coffee shop in the beginning is the story’s strongest point, perfectly capturing the rabble who write in coffee shops because they’re more interested in showing the world they’re a writer as opposed to actually being one. 2/5

“Falling Past Thessaly” by Christopher Hawkins – This story is, judging from the content and the fact that the story references it, no doubt inspired by the myth of Diana and Actaeon. Three frat bros watch a woman on webcam and want her to get naked, probably because they’re too drunk and limp-dicked to get any real action. Once the myth is referenced, you can see the ending coming a mile away. However, Hawkins summarizes the myth incorrectly which leads to an ending that, trite and predictable under normal circumstances, ends up making no sense given what the author was going for. One of the weakest entries in Blood Rites. 1/5

“Sleep Grins” by Chad McKee – A story about a party and a strange drug. One of the most forgettable in the collection. It drags and drags before ending with nothing too special. Sleep doesn’t grin while you read this but screams for you. At least it ends. 1/5

“The Lady with Teeth like Knives” by Mark C. Scioneaux – This story examining guilt could have been something special had it not been a paint-by-numbers affair, or at least kept itself ambiguous. It seems to have been thrown together, albeit competently, to meet a deadline. Though not at all special, it at least isn’t boring. 2.5/5

“The Binding” by Daniel O’Connor – After the few duds preceding this entry, hope was dwindling. However, this one knocks it out of the park. Four men meet every Thursday at a shitty little dive, but for what reason? Expertly builds a staircase of tension and mystery, and leads to a conclusion that presents an interesting little spin on a Biblical quote. In the words of Wayne Campbell, “Excellent!” 5/5

“Cry” by Jeff Strand – “Cry” examines the lengths some of us will go to feel human. Strand is known for infusing humor into his stories, but what could have been a bullseye is too odd to be truly disturbing and too humorous to be truly horrifying. Still, it’s one of the better entries here. 3/5

“Corpse Lights” by Ed Kurtz – This story is one of the most haunting in this collection, if not the most haunting. There’s a sort of melancholy underlining the horrific, nightmarish imagery Kurtz conjures up in this story examining will-o-the-wisps. Are they real, or the products of imagination? Read it to find out. 5/5

“Life and Limb” by Adrian Ludens – This story of a soldier during the Civil War is a straight-forward, no-bullshit little romp. Getting a limb amputated is a fear most, if not all, of us harbor, so imagine getting a good limb amputated to feed some creatures lurking in the darkness. I’d love to see this story expanded into at least a novella. 4/5

“Who is Schopenhauer?” by Brian Oftedahl – Thomas Ligotti is an obvious influence in this story about guilt and a man obsessed with a cathedral he can’t seem to get to. However, the ending brings it down a notch or two as it explains everything instead of allowing the reader to draw their own interpretation. 3.5/5

“Phantomime” by Gregory Norris – Another one that falls completely flat. A man hates his job and something about a mirror. It seems to want to be about something important but can’t keep the reader’s interest long enough to uncover it. 1/5

“Never Say No” by Angela Bodine – Another story in Blood Rites that examines guilt and its after-effects. The method of composition will make you wonder what is real and what is imagined. Bravo for that; but in the end, the story is nothing special. 2.5/5

“Saturnalia” by Maria Alexander – A story about a missing brother, sin and religious fanaticism. Some gruesome bits punctuate this nice, atmospheric story. You can almost feel the torches held by the religious nutjobs. Definitely a favorite. 5/5

“The Butterfly” by K. Trap Jones – Reads more like the beginning of a story rather than a story in and of itself. A man focuses on a butterfly seemingly unaffected by some kind of catastrophe. It’s short and just there. 2/5

“The Leaving” by Matt Moore – A town that doesn’t want anyone leaving is the setting for this story. A wonderful story full of the spirit of autumn. You can almost feel it. However, I wish Moore would have kept a level of ambiguity about it. No matter, this would have made for a solid and fitting conclusion to this anthology. Alas, there’s one more… 4/5

“The Trapdoor” by Douglas J. Lane – A couple discovers a trapdoor beneath their carpet. Yet another story about guilt, the trapdoor-as-metaphor approach isn’t anything special. However, what comes out of it, while twisted, doesn’t really have any impact. It just happens, and the reader will be glad the end has come. 2/5

Overall, Blood Rites is worth picking up for those who prefer psychological horror over anything else. While it is a mixed bag, the good stories are definitely worth the price of admission and will stay with you long after you finish. Blood Rites is available in paperback and e-book format from various merchants, and from the official Blood Bound Books website.

About Evan Romero

Evan Romero has been a horror fan since watching “Leprechaun” at the age of five. Aside from watching and writing about horror flicks, he delights in torturing friends with Z-grade movies. He’s also an unabashed Andy Milligan fan, God help him.

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