Dark Cities is a horror anthology by some of the best writers in the field today. The use of sprawling cities as a setting, rather than desolate forests and rickety houses, is the thread that ties these stories together. Alleyways, harbors, apartments, and skyscrapers hold nightmares and demons that stand ready to prey on the people who call the city their home. You won’t find any zombies or sparkling vampires in the 19 short stories collected here, as the authors turn the mundane, everyday streets and buildings we inhabit into something much more sinister.
I love anthologies since you get to sample many different authors and their styles without investing a hefty amount of time to ultimately be disappointed. In particular, horror has always thrived in such a format, with authors such as Poe and Lovecraft using the short story to cement their place in literature. I will always believe Stephen King’s best work is in his short story collections, even compared against some of his most famous novels. What might be limiting about the short story format to other genres, such as romance or a character study, actually enhances what works in horror? The less you know about the malevolent forces at work, the longer they hold their power and excitement.
This anthology had a lot going for it out of the gate. Authors Scott Smith, M.R. Carey, Scott Sigler, Sherrilyn Kenyon and Ramsey Campbell are probably familiar to people that don’t even read horror. There are also stories by Amber Benson (played Tara Mckay in Buffy), Joe R. Lansdale (Bubba Ho-tep), Jonathan Maberry (comic credits include Captain America and Marvel Zombies Return), and many other award-winning and best-selling authors. That’s quite a list, so my expectations were pretty high going in.
"Dogs," the first story in the collection, sets a great tone. A woman is given the chance to move out of her mother’s basement and live rent free in a downtown apartment. All she has to do is take care of the three dogs that live there. However, the dogs are special–they able to communicate with humans. She soon finds out that they can be quite demanding, and even if she doesn’t have to pay money to live in the apartment, a different kind of "rent" is due every month. Written by Scott Smith, author of "The Ruins" and "A Simple Plan," it’s a great showcase for a well-written horror story. It has a definite beginning and end, without filling in all the blanks for the reader, but gives you enough detail that the story feels complete. Other entries that stood out to me included: "Grit" by Maberry, "The Crack" by Nick Cutter, and "The Maw" by Nathan Ballingrud. There were other good ones, but those came out at the top of my list.
As all the stories were written by seasoned authors, there wasn’t an instance of "bad" writing that I can think of. However, given the constraints of the short story form–in particular length, or lack thereof–a few of the tales would have benefitted with a little more space. "In Stone," by Tim Lebbon, would have benefitted from a longer format, in my opinion, as the emotional impact that’s tied up between the main character and his relationship with a friend who committed suicide didn’t land as I wasn’t able to spend enough time forming an attachment or opinion about the characters. The horror aspect still worked for me, as the atmosphere and tension were kept tight throughout, so it probably comes down to a matter of taste.
Is It Good?
This is a horror anthology with stories written by some of the top authors in the genre that is full of originality, with tales that deliver chills and provoke thought while leaving the zombies and vampires behind.