Pros: A fun ride
Cons: Some stories are better than others
Rating: 4 out of 5
Kevin J. Kennedy has put together a wonderful Carnival of Horror: A Carnival Themed Horror Anthology. It has the typical anthology issue of having some stories that are better than others; when you put together a bunch of stories by different authors, they aren’t likely to all appeal to the same readers. There are still enough good ones, though, that if you like the genre of over-the-top carnival horror you’re likely to enjoy this book.
Some of the stories are basically creepy and fun. David J. Fielding’s “Wobbly Bob”, set in 1886, starts things off nicely and serves as a sort of prelude. I enjoyed Joe X. Young’s “The Frog Prince,” which has some fascinating character interplay and a bizarre ending. Gary A. Braunbeck’s “In a Hand or Face” was powerful and made me tear up just a little bit. Andrew Lennon’s “House of Illusion” is wonderfully creepy (the ending is where most of the stories that disappointed me tended to fall down, so I appreciated the delightful ending on this one). Selene MacLeod’s “Sweetheart” isn’t my usual kind of tale, but it’s mournful, dark, and sad. J.C. Michael’s “What a Price to Pay for a Fucking Teddy Bear” is dark, creepy, and surprising. John Dover’s “Frimby’s Big Day” is an odd tale of a horror that comes to the carnival rather than from it, and while it’s a bit over-the-top in its gore, well, it’s a book of carnival horror stories so you can expect some of that! Megan Franzen’s “The Scare Machine” gives us a nice bit of ancient Greek terror bound up in a little carnie machine, and we see what happens as several teens face their worst fears.
H.R. Boldwood’s “Mister Weasels and the Cosmic Carnival” didn’t entirely appeal to me. It’s an utterly weird tale that starts off well and then takes a left turn into a bizarre alien clown death match. Jason M. Light’s “Abandonland” (set in 1986) feels pretty random, and characters get into weird trains of thought out of nowhere. I liked Guy N. Smith’s “Blood Show at the Carnival” until the end, where it tossed in some unnecessary editorializing. David Owain Hughes’s “The Last Freakshow on Earth” (set in 2081’s Chinatown but really reliving the 1980s) was… confusing and weird. The pacing of Kevin J. Kennedy’s “Vampiro” was a bit hurried in places and thus lacked atmosphere. Steven Stacy’s “The Voodoo Man” had some original ideas, but the style was oddly glib, and the characters felt… flimsy, fake.
There are a few nicely original tales in here that hooked me. Christina Bergling’s “Zoltara” was my favorite tale from this book. Where most of the stories seem to dwell in the land of my childhood, this one jumps headfirst into the 21st century with a slick VR- and robot-based carnival with a chilling fortune-telling app. Ike Hamill’s “The Pinch” ends abruptly, but has a fantastic sense of place and character.
Overall I really enjoyed this collection of horror stories.