Edited by Clayton Snyder
Dark Ends is a collection of dark fantasy novelettes, written by five very talented authors. These tales tie into longer length stories from these authors, which is absolutely great because in every instance I found myself wanting more of these worlds and these characters. This is a really well put together anthology, each story able to stand on its own.
“Tainted” by Krystle Matar feels like a combination of 1984 and the sort of worlds found in Final Fantasy. This world is powered by humans with extraordinary abilities, who are marked and monitored to ensure they follow the law. Glaen falls in love with Gianna, despite their love being forbidden. Gianna is a healer, and as such, should be with another healer. But though Glaen wants to protect her, she convinces him to continue their relationship. This is a story about fear and love, and about survival. Though they have ‘powers’ in a sense, they are not able to use these to their advantage, and are at the mercy of the ruling government. It’s a strong story to kick off the anthology, and sets the bar really high, with characters the reader quickly becomes invested in. Like the anthology title implies, these stories do not have happy endings, but “Tainted” keeps the reader hoping for one all the same.
The second story, “The Laughing Heart” by Luke Tarzian, again revolves around love, but in a much different way than “Tainted”. We meet Caliean, who carries the wounds from the loss of his husband. This is a character very much adrift, seeking revenge for Bar’s death in a fully realised, vivid world, where demons are a constant threat. It’s hard to read this without feeling the pure sadness and grief entwined with the character, and Tarzian’s writing really brings everything to life. The pain inflicted on Caliean is felt by the reader, and the ending left me really glad I own Tarzian’s Vultures. It’s a world I’m very much looking forward to revisiting.
Angela Boord’s “Dragonmeat” comes at the perfect point in this anthology. This story, although still dark and dangerous, isn’t quite as bleak as the other two. Peri lives in a brutal city, looking after her father. Her life is full of fear and loss, after her mother’s abandonment, her sister’s marriage, and her father’s illness. This story really burrowed its way into my heart, for deeply personal reasons. It’s a fantastic tale, as Peri struggles to feed herself and her father, often going without so he, at least, can eat. It also serves as a good coming-of-age story, as Peri discovers more about herself than she could have ever imagined.
“Strays” by D.P. Woolliscroft offers the most comedic relief in this anthology. It’s a heist story, with Trypp leading a small band to first steal then recover a valuable artifact. The darkness feels more on the edges with this one, though the tension is a constant undercurrent. It’s intriguing and fun, with well written, entertaining characters and moments of pure comedy.
The final story in this collection is “Savages” by Clayton Snyder, a perfect story to end the collection. Jack Nyx shares his body with a host of bound demons, able to call on them at will to use their various ‘talents’ in his job. He’s a fixer, but what seems like a simple job gets him into a lot more trouble than he expected. I have to admit, I’m a sucker for these kinds of tortured characters, and I love well done urban fantasy. This story really did not disappoint, and like the previous tales, Snyder creates a world I would be keen to enter again.
Dark Ends is a really strong anthology with authors able to give you small glimpses into their worlds that make you really want more. These stories are definitely worth dedicating some time to, and it’s such a wide range there’s something in here for every type of fantasy fan.
Review by Elle Turpitt
I won this book from a competition run by The Write Reads and author Luke Tarzian.