Sing Sorrow Sorrow: Dark Chilling Tales
  edited by Gwen Davies

Seren Books

"Something spat and exploded in the fire: a sap pocket in a log, perhaps. When we looked away from the flames, Puckeridge had gone; his chair was empty. "

Reviewed by Mario Guslandi

In her afterword editor Gwen Davies tries hard to praise the large majority of the stories included in her anthology of "dark and chilling tales" by the extravagant title Sing, Sorrow Sorrow and to compare them favourably with horror genre classics, either books or movies. Unfortunately I can’t subscribe to her point of view. Let’s face it, the bulk of the twenty-two tales assembled therein are either mediocre or just passable pieces of fiction, mostly unable to elicit those chills promised in the front and back cover of the book.

Indeed the stories feature sirens, hags, spirits and man-beasts and endeavour to provide "magic, myth, the supernatural and the unexpected" but the results are often less than brilliant, the plots either a bit implausible even for works of fantasy or simply too flimsy and the quality of storytelling often unimpressive.

There are some stories, however, that I found really noteworthy. Puck’s Tale by Niall Griffiths is a solid, accomplished tale revisiting very nicely the conventional setting of the story told around a fire in a gentlemen’s club but adding to it a creepy final twist which will trigger shudders in the reader.
At this point Puckeridge broke his tale to re-light his cigar and re-fill his glass with brandy. The firelight had put his eyes into pits of ink and made the seams in his face appear like canyons.

His exhaled smoke was a hand this time, a skeletal hand, fingers of smoky bone reaching for the ceiling beams and breaking apart before they could touch.
The Handless Maiden by Richard Gwin is a colourful snapshot effectively depicting a day in the life of a group of youngsters with their hopes and disillusions.
The place to which we are headed is an abandoned village on a remote and undeveloped outcrop of land jutting into the Med, east of Almeria. It is called Las Perdidas, which means The Lost Women, and I should have known better than to go there in the first place, but I am intrigued by the possibilities.
In Matthew Francis’ delightful and allusive The Lovers, young men try to cope with a reality where love is as elusive as a ghost.
She would appear at first as a dream, the courtesan dancing for the sultan, or the leather-clad strippergram, or someone quite innocent, the girl who sits next to you in the cinema and accidentally drops her choc ice on the front of your trousers and then tries to wipe it off with her fingers, and you think, that’s funny, ice-cream is meant to be cold isn’t it, and then you wake up with the alarm clock showing three-thirty and a lot of mopping up to do before you can go back to sleep.
Just Like Honey by Tristan Hughes is a bittersweet tale (no pun intended) looking back to a lost childhood with a nostalgic attitude.
You were seven and I was five. It was late in a long, hot August and the fields around the cottage had turned as stubbly as old men’s chins. All through the morning we’d play listlessly in the living room at some game or other of make-believe…. I wonder what it was you wanted to be back then? An actress maybe? Some princess from a book?
Jon Gower’s vivid The Pit depicts the horror, hunger and desperation taking place in the deep tunnels of a coal mine.
The tunnels are long and preternaturally dark. Down there naked eyes are useless. In such recesses, where there isn’t so much as a glint or a hint of light, the ears are forced to compensate, so the sound of a scurrying rat seems swollen to twice its size, the rustle of hairs on its rancid pelt like brushfire. That is the darkest labyrinth, the passageways connected in ways that no one remembers nowadays, now that the mine entrances are padlocked.. After what happened down there.
The best story in the volume is perhaps The White Mountain by Charlotte Greig, atmospheric and ambiguous, carnal and supernatural at the same time.
I can’t remember exactly what happened after that. The mist came down, the room went dark, and the woman, whoever it was, came over to my bed. She got in beside me. I was terrified... I started to shake with fear, but she leaned over and kissed me on the mouth and then…I stopped being scared and got horny instead.
I hope to read more in the future by the above six Welsh writers, whose work was entirely unknown to me so far.

Mario Guslandi lives in Milan, Italy. Most likely the only Italian who regularly reads (and reviews) dark fiction in English, his book reviews have appeared in a number of genre websites such as The Alien Online, Infinity Plus, The SF Site, The Agony Column and Horrorwold.

Mario's other Short Reviews: Simon Stranzas "Cold to the Touch"

Cern Zoo anthology

Deborah Biancotti "A Book of Endings"

Joseph Payne Brennan "The Feaster from Afar and Other Ghastly Inhabitants"

Paulo Bacigalupi "Pump Six and Other Stories"

"Null Immortalis anthology"

Steve Redwood "Broken Symmetries"

Rosalie Parker "Old Knowledge and Other Strange Tales"

Michael Kelly "Undertow and Other Laments"
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Authors Niall Griffiths, Maria Donovan, Deborah Kay Davies, Gee Williams, Richard Gwyn, Tristan Hughes, Cynan Jones, Matthew Francis, Anne Lauppe-Dunbar, Mary-Ann Constantine, Zillah Bethell, Dai Vaughan, Imogen Herrad, Lloyd Jones, Euron Griffith, Jo Mazelis Glenda Beagan, Alan Bilton, Roshi Fernando, Christine Harrison, Jon Gower, Charlotte Greig

Editor Gwen Davies is a translator, literary critic and editor, supported by the Welsh Books Council and Translators’ House Wales. She has translated in English novels by Caryl Lewis.