Wounds, by Nathan Ballingrud

An unsettling collection of the dark fantastic starting off with a jaunt through the swamps to retrieve a terrifying artifact of Hell and ending up in the water again with a historical pirate novella tying off the collection. First off, I love short stories. I love ‘em. Horror lends itself particularly well to the short form and this collection is a solid example of why shorts rule and novels drool (and I say that as a novelist, so take it with a pillar of salt). Secondly, as with any collection, I had favourites and less favourites, but overall, Wounds is tight.

“Atlas of Hell” has moments of visceral dread at an intensity I’ve rarely felt in fiction, and the imagery in this story absolutely kills. “Visible Filth” (recently adapted to film) is body and tech horror in one. I’ve never found the idea of “angels among us” to be of much comfort and now I know why. Yuck. My favourite of the bunch was “Skullpocket”. One of those gems where you spend most of the story wondering what the damn hell is going on and slowly, so slowly, like stitches ripping out one at a time, you get it. Giving details would ruin the magic; I’ll only say that particularly in “Skullpocket” and “The Diabolist”, Nathan Ballingrud reads like nihilist Neil Gaiman and I am 100% here for it. At the same time, there’s tenderness in these stories. Between parents and children, childhood friends, struggling lovers, even strangers thrown together by desperate circumstance as in “The Maw”.

Horror is tricky. It needs to check a lot of boxes to work, and Wounds pulls it off. These stories are not keep your light on at night scary. They’re look over your shoulder in the middle of the day and wonder what dark worlds are rubbing against the skin of our own. If you’re a fan of horror and wonder in equal suffocating measure, you’ll love this book.

4/5