Genre: Dark Fantasy, Horror, Literary Fiction and everything in between
Length: 384 pages
Rating: 3.5 stars
Publication Date: February 22nd 2018
We live our lives in the daylight. Our stories take place under the sun: bright, clear, unafraid.
This is not a book of those stories.
These are the stories of people who live at night; under neon and starlight, and never the light of day.
These are the stories of poets and police; writers and waiters; gamers and goddesses; tourists and traders; the hidden and the forbidden; the lonely and the lovers.
These are their lives. These are their stories. And this is their time:
The Outcast Hours.
The Outcast Hours is the new anthology edited by Jared Shurin and Mahvesh Murad, a duo that previously worked on the acclaimed anthology The Djinn and Other Stories (Solaris, 2017). Though I haven’t read this particular anthology (yet, I have a copy), it was shortlisted for a couple of awards and received glowing reviews.
When I saw that The Outcast Hours was their new work and that it contained stories from authors I already know and love (Lavie Tidhar and China Miéville for example) and from ones I never heard about, I decided to give it a go!
The Outcast Hours is a collection of 25 stories all set during the night, during those dark hours where the worst as well as the best things happen. Following monsters, babysitters, exorcists, children, collectors or couriers as they go around living their life in the deep of the night, this anthology compiles a variation of stories playing around this theme.
This collection isn”t focused on a single genre, most of the stories contain speculative elements (mostly horror and dark fantasy) but quite of few of them don’t. I definitely liked this variety of stories and even if I had a slight preference for the genre stories, one of my favorite story doesn’t have any speculative twist.
I usually review every single story when I review an anthology but considering this one has 25 stories plus a couple of flash fiction pieces, it would have been too tedious to write or to read so I decided to focus on my favorites.
I made a selection of nine stories that I really, really liked and that I consider to be the best in the entire collection. However, even if a story isn’t on the selection, it doesn’t mean that I found it bad by any means. I gave the majority of the stories a 3 or a 3.5 rating. I rated two or three stories 2 stars (which for me means the story was just okay) but I didn’t go any lower. For me, this anthology didn’t have a single bad story. Even if I didn’t connect with a few of them, I could understand why all the stories were chosen.
However if I had a single thing to complain about it would be that this collection had too many stories for its length. It’s less than 400 pages which isn’t a lot for the 25 stories. Most of the stories were on the shorter side and some of them would have worked a lot better for me and they had been longer.
Most anthology are “mixed bags” and I’d say that The Outcast Hours fit the description since it has so many different stories and isn’t set around a particular genre. However, it’s a good one, I’m sure everyone would be able to find at least a few stories to their liking. At the same time, this variety makes it hard to recommend this anthology to a specific audience.
Indeed, if you just want to read horror, dark fantasy or literary fiction stories, you might be a bit frustrated by this collection. However if you want to read an eclectic collection, sample the work of 26 authors and see what can be done in short stories, I would recommend The Outcast Hours.
This Book Will Find You by Sam Beckbessinger, Lauren Beukes and Dale Halvorsen – 5/5
A woman’s lover is dead and her only way to bring her back to life is to complete the 6 steps of a mysterious book in less than 66 minutes.
This story was a great opening to the anthology, it has a lot of elements that I like, it’s start off pretty light (well as light as a story about a dead body can go) and we slowly unravel the circumstances of the death. It’s quite morbid but the pacing and the writing are excellent. I couldn’t help but to empathize with the main character even if she wasn’t a good person at all.
It’s about love, the consequences of love and how it can slowly change you for the worst.
It was a Different Time by Will Hill – 4.5/5
A young man works in a hotel in LA. Contrary to what’s almost expected of him, he doesn’t aspire to become an actor or a musician, he just want to be left alone. On one of his night shift, he encounters an old man relaxing in the pool when it’s supposed to be closed. What he doesn’t see at first is that the old man has a gun.
Inspired by the #MeToo movement and how it shattered the “old Hollywood” where it was usual for young girls to be assaulted behind the scenes, this story is about how the perpetrators have to live with their acts being made public. It Was a Different Time is a fascinating little story, very much of our time. The main character was very relatable in how angry he was at the entire world. This story doesn’t have any speculative elements.
Ambulance Service by Sami Shah – 5/5
Following an ambulance in a night shift in Karachi, what starts off as pretty regular story slowly shifts as we learn that the main character is an exorcist and that he deals with strange creatures haunting people.
It managed to take me by surprise quite a few times which I wasn’t expecting considering how short it is. The ending was fascinating, I really grew to love the characters and I would love to read other stories set in this mysterious Karachi.
Bag Man by Lavie Tidhar – 4.5/5
Like a lot of Tidhar’s works, Bag Man is set in Tel Aviv. Max, a man who used to work in the military is now working for the mafia. His latest mission is to deliver a bag to his client, he doesn’t know what’s inside and doesn’t care very much to. However, he wasn’t prepared to be assaulted by a gang of angry and high teenagers during his working time. And he doesn’t like when people stole what’s his.
This is a wild ride, the main character is quite the unlikeable old dude but I have read enough of Tidhar’s stories to know most of his male characters are this way. Bag Man is about the absurdity of violence and how it transforms people. In this story, all the brutal acts are done almost with boredom or unwillingly, it seems the perpetrators are forced to be this way not because they want to but because it’s their only answer to their problems..
It’s not my favorite of Tidhar’s work but I found it strong nonetheless in the depiction of the absurdity of violence.
Gatsby – Maha Khan Philips – 5/5
A girl is invited to Great Gatsby themed New Year’s Eve party in Karachi. She just lost her best friend and she’s definitely not in the mood for partying. She doesn’t even know the host, she only know of him: he’s filthy rich, from the USA and he invited about four hundred people to his party.
While she’s trying to stay far away from the festivities, she meets him. He’s nice, too nice perhaps but he has laughing lines and he’s kind, very kind, until he isn’t.
This story is one of my favorite from the collection, everything is so unexpected, it’s full of twists and turns and that ending was very unexpected. It’s very dark and creepy but memorable for sure!
Tilt – Karen Onojaife – 4.5/5
A woman who has lost everything spends her night gambling in a casino. She likes it there especially in those late hours because it’s the only place where she can forget about her daughter who died in a tragic accident.
One night she meets the new courier, a mysterious woman who seems almost attracted to her pain. And this woman will leave her with a terrible choice.
I very much liked the way the speculative elements were introduced pretty late in the story, it was very well written, the atmosphere and the slow built-up were done masterfully.
The Place of Thorns – Marina Warner – 5/5
Set in a refugee camp in Syria which seemed to suddenly appear one night on the border and surrounded by huge thorns, this story follows a young girl and her grandmother. The grandmother had a vision about the thorns and a battle coming and she is waiting for it to come true.
I’ve read mixed reviews of this story but I loved it very much, it’s a quiet story but it really touched me and the ending was beautiful.
Dark Matters – Cecilia Ekback – 5/5
A young girl tries her best to keep her family from falling apart when her dad keeps on dying and resurrecting, messing up their quiet family life.
In this story, Death is a character who tries and miserably fail on killing the father. Death is very frustrated because people are not supposed to resurrect and it definitely wasn’t part of the plan!
This story is delightfully quirky, the characters are all fascinating, I have to make a special mention to the grandmother and Death who were both amazing characters. It’s on the longer side compared to most of the stories of this anthology but I wouldn’t change or remove a single word.