My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
I want to start this review by saying that it may not be entirely fair. I started reading this while a bunch of other stuff was going on, so it took me a long while to get through this book, which may have taken away some of my overall satisfaction.
I seem to be on a short story kick lately. After reading Attic Toys, Christmas on Crack, and Eyeballs Growing All Over Me, I’ve tackled Evil Jester Digest Volume One, edited by Peter Giglio. This book is a collection of mostly short horror stories, with a fantasy novelette mixed in at the end and marked “Best in Volume.” Most of these stories are quite good, but the mix of stories is much more eclectic than I’m used to. While books like Eyeballs Growing All Over Me is a collection written by one author, giving it a fairly consistent style, and Attic Toys and Christmas on Crack followed a theme, these stories have little to connect each other and have drastically different styles and themes.
Here, you have stories about a demonically possessed girl, a biblical Cain in the modern world, Lovecraftian horrors rising on the “Mayan Doomsday,” and a possessed GPS, among others. Most of the stories in this collection are of the horror variety, but there is one story that stands out in particular, both in style and tone, not to mention length. There are some stories that, while they’re not bad, are very predictable and didn’t quite work for me. For example, “The Girl Who Drowned” and “Dust at the Center of All Things” left me feeling a little cold. They were too obvious, which took away some of the horror element. “Lone Wolf” was a little better, but while it’s mostly a zombie story, the surprise doesn’t come from the horror at all, and makes it a better story.
At the end of this collection is the aforementioned novelette rather than a short story. “The End of Autumn” by Aric Sundquist (who also wrote “The White Knight,” one of the better stories in Attic Toys) is actually a very charming little fairy tale, following children as they attempt to stop the Timekeeper from reversing death and disrupting the natural order. There are strong shades of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows to this story, and I dare anyone who has read that book to not draw the same parallel. This is not a bad thing, but it is something that immediately comes to mind. But, as I mentioned, the story is really rather touching. At the same time, it not only stands out from this volume because of its length, but also the tone and theme. Drastically different. As in “I’m not sure it really belongs in this volume” different. I would go so far as saying that I could see this expanded and published as a standalone novella.
Evil Jester Digest Volume One is a decent collection, and everyone should read “The End of Autumn.” I’m going to be watching Aric Sundquist’s career closely. He is definitely an author to keep your eye on, and has the definite standout story in this collection. But the collection as a whole is not without its issues. The quality, while good, is also a little too varied and unpredictable, detracting slightly from the overall quality of the volume.
Evil Jester Digest Volume One earns three and a half grains of hourglass sand out of five.