The Haunting Season: Ghostly Tales for Long Winter Nights by Bridget Collins
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The Haunting Season includes eight short stories full of mind-bending haunts and cold winter nights. This was a wonderful read to get me into the spooky mood, and the cold, dark, and snow of Winnipeg was the perfect atmosphere for these wintertime spooks.
Overall, I thought all of the stories were good. I will, however, briefly go through each story and discuss my favorites and least favorites. The short, spoiler-free review will end here with this recommendation: if you want to get back into the spooky mood, this is a great book to read on a cozy winter night.
Discussion of the stories:
Story 1 – A Study in Black and White by Bridget Collins
If you guessed that this story has to do with chess, you would be right. And that premise alone got me into the story. An entire house that is obsessed with chess, even the garden is a giant chessboard. However, I did not like the climax of the story so much. It is indeed a haunted house, with its own chess-playing ghost. But that’s all it does. The protagonist is terrified for his life of this ghost, and all the ghost wants to do is play chess. If the ghost did have nefarious, chess-related schemes, the author needed to expand upon it further.
Story 2 – Thwaite’s Tenant by Imogen Hermes Gowar
This is your classic, gothic haunted house story. A woman and her son have come to an ancestral home to escape her tyrannical husband. But she soon discovers that the ghost of this old house is another tyrannical husband, bent on making all the women in that house miserable. What I liked, though, is that even though things went wrong at every turn, the protagonist knew her own mind and ended up better for it.
Story 3 – The Eel Singers by Natasha Pulley
I loved this story, I think it was my favorite of the anthology. This is a mind bend if I ever read one. A man and his clairvoyant friend (partner?) go to an old village where the clairvoyant is not able to see the future. However, they find out that the reason for this is more sinister than they would have liked. This has elements of folklore that I love – going somewhere where old traditions live on, a Lovecraftian eldritch whatever that is trying to eat them, the bog. What I also liked is that you don’t really know what is going on, you only have hints – to me, the not knowing is the scariest part of these stories.
Story 4 – Lily Wilt by Jess Kidd
You know the story about Carl Tanzler? The guy who was obsessed so with a young woman that he kept her dead body and lived with it several years after she died? This is like that story, but also kind of the opposite? Basically the same sort of plot, except the man meets the woman after she is dead, and the whole thing is her idea. I liked this story because we really don’t know what it is that’s causing the dead woman to remain earth-bound. Is it even the same woman? Is it a demon or some other spirit? Either way, it does not end well for her. I also liked the author’s use of the photographic technology available at the time this story takes place, and the creepy lore of afterimages in old Victorian photographs. I could see this being made into a movie or short.
Story 5 – The Chillingham Chair by Laura Purcell
This story is basically a murder mystery that never gets resolved. Yes, we find out what happens, but the main character is sort of trapped in such a way that she can’t tell anyone, and no one will listen. Think Gaslight meets Crimson Peak. This story was the most nerve-wracking for me because the protagonist was for all intents and purposes trapped. No one would believe her anything, except the ghosts who were trying to help her. Death is almost certain for her, even as she realizes what is going on. The imagery of the rooms and the titular chair is very claustrophobic, but I like it, and I do hope that it was the author’s intention. This atmosphere makes the story that much more frightening.
Story 6 – The Hanging of the Greens by Andrew Michael Hurley
This, to me, was the weirdest story, and the most Christmassy. Think of it as a sort of reverse Christmas Carol, where the past of someone else comes to the protagonist in order to right a past wrong, and the protagonist is only too willing to help. This is one story where I wish the author had described just a bit more of the supernatural phenomena, or the folklore behind the “Greens” of this story. There wasn’t much real fear to be felt, only a lot of sadness. Then again, many ghost stories are just symbols of sadness, and the author does this well.
Story 7 – Confinement by Kiran Millwood Hargrave
This story was very clearly based at least partly on The Yellow Wallpaper, but what’s also cool is that the author based the villain of this story on Amelia Dyer, a notorious historical serial killer. This serial killer, however, is a malevolent ghost in this story, the one driving the protagonist mad during her confinement after giving birth. Unlike The Yellow Wallpaper, this story does not take place in just one room. In fact, the journey from the protagonist’s room, through all of the snow, and to the church a ways away is an important spatial feature. I also liked how we as the reader knew for certain, even if others didn’t, that the protagonist was not mad.
Story 8 – Monster by Elizabeth Macneal
This isn’t really a ghost story, at least I don’t really think so. It’s about a man who wants to discover a new type of dinosaur, but gets a boy killed in the process. He then goes mad, thinking that the dinosaur is the boy, and vice versa. This is a story with a definite unreliable narrator. I think this is my least favorite story, mostly because it’s not very haunted, it’s more like you’re in the mind of an insane person, which can be scary, but it’s not my cup of tea. I did like the atmosphere of the stormy coast though!
And those are my thoughts! I definitely recommend this anthology for a cozy winter night. This book also makes me want to check out the other works of each author.
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