No windswept moors, no crumbling castles perched at the top of cliffs, just waiting for a distraught maiden to cast herself onto the jagged rocks below. As the subtitle suggests, and the stories themselves make clear, this is not your grandfather’s gothic horror. In the words of editor Alex Woodroe: “Twenty-five women and non-binary authors from the worlds of Horror Fiction and Illustration form an unholy union and drag the blackened heart of Classic Gothic Horror into modern daylight! In the process, they have sculpted an altogether sleeker, more feral beast.”
This is an apt description. In Somnio is crafted from 19 short stories and several wonderfully macabre illustrations, and what strikes me is the breathtaking variety of subject matter. Most have modern settings, some could easily be described as experimental in structure, yet they are all recognizably gothic horror. I mentioned distraught maidens above—the women characters here have power and agency. They are not helpless victims. And make no mistake, this is gothic horror with the accent on horror. There are some seriously creepy stories here, the kind that crawl under your skin and lodge themselves at the base of your brain.
As an editor, Woodroe has a keen eye and a deft hand. In Somnio is a uniformly strong collection. Each story, individually, belongs here, and they also work together as a whole, thematically. That, to me, is the sign of a good editor.
In a book filled with excellent stories, I’d like to mention a couple of standouts. These ones in particular sunk their claws into me a little extra deep:
• The Blight of Black Creek by Mary Rajotte
• Trespass by Aster S. Monroe
• Wild Thing by S.E. Zeller
• What We Sow by Taylor Jordan Pitts
• Always An After by A.P. Howell
• The Reaching Sea by Victoria Nations
As I said, Woodroe has gathered together a great group of stories, and your favorites may be completely different than mine.
I believe this is Woodroe’s first collection as editor. If that’s the case, I look forward to seeing what she does next. In Somnio drops November 1st, and is available for pre-order now.