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Review: Subterranean: Tales of Dark Fantasy 3

Rating: 3 out of 5.


Tales of darkness and inexplicable happenings have always been with us—and always will. In its contemporary form, this sort of story is not only alive and well, but flourishing, and it continues to speak to us in a variety of voices. Subterranean: Tales of Dark Fantasy 3 is the latest installment in an acclaimed anthology series, and it brings together ten voices—some familiar, some less so—that are at once distinctive, compelling, and irresistible.

The volume opens with award-winning novelist Kat Howard’s “An Ordinary Progression of Hearts,” an elegant meditation on the fragility of the human heart; and closes with acclaimed newcomer P. Djèlí Clark’s “Skin Magic,” a stunning account of sorcery and dark magic set in an unnamed third world country. Elsewhere in the anthology, Caitlin R. Kíernan (“Cherry Street Tango, Sweat Box Waltz”) offers a piece of near-future noir in which a “blackstrap” (a hired assassin) contemplates the failure of her latest murderous assignment. “At the Threshold of Your Bedchamber on the Fifth Night” by Sarah Gailey is the tale of a courtship that leads to a most unusual consummation. In “Final Course,” a rare short story by rising star C.J. Tudor, the reunion of old school friends takes a savage and unexpected turn. In addition to these and other stellar tales by the likes of Bentley Little, Richard Kadrey, Stephen Gallagher and Ian R. MacLeod, Tales of Dark Fantasy 3 contains Robert R. McCammon’s “Death Comes for the Rich Man,” a rare novella set in Colonial America and featuring McCammon’s popular “problem solver,” Matthew Corbett. – Goodreads


Thanks to NetGalley for giving me a free copy of this book in return for an honest review.

This anthology gets a solid three stars from me because, for one reason or another, every story in it was simply average. Each of the stories managed to fall into either: Category A) generic story with okay writing or B) great story idea with so-so execution/writing. There was a decent amount of variety, despite the fact that the three most similar stories were pilled on top of each other. While there did not seem to be a cohesive idea of what “dark” is, you could argue that the anthology does a good job of providing many different definitions of the term. However, you could also argue that some of these stories are not really dark at all – just supernatural, or sad, or violent.

“Final Course” was easily my favorite of the stories, I just wish it hadn’t wrapped up so quickly. The ending felt as if the author had suddenly realized he was out of time. If he had had time to make it a full novella, it would have been five stars.

I would recommend this anthology if it has authors you already like or you have liked previous installments of the series. Otherwise, there are stronger collections out there.