Short ReviewsThe Stepsister Scheme by Jim C. Hines

What happens after the ‘happily ever after’? In the case of the Princess Danielle (aka Cinderella), it involves learning to live with getting what she thought she wanted… and rescuing her prince when he ends up being the one in jeopardy. Hines’ take on the fairy tale worlds of Cinderella, Snow White, and Sleeping Beauty mixes the darker nuances of the early versions of the tales with humor–not the ‘wokka wokka’ kind, but the more trenchant and wise kind that relies on fully-realized and nuanced characters and their observations and decisions. I enjoyed this first book in the ‘Princess Series,’ and look forward to the next.

Afterlife by Naomi Clark

Yasmin Stoker, a ghost tour guide who also happens to be a 600-year old wraith who feeds on the souls of revenants, sees a man get pulled into the netherworld by a ghost. Soon, she’s both investigating the incident and trying to deflect someone else in their investigation, while the complications pile up. Afterlife serves up a potent urban fantasy story that weaves plots and subplots without ever getting tangled up. P.I. Ethan Banning, a secondary character in this one, steals just about every scene he’s in. Shoregrave, the fictional setting of the novel, had a subtly dangerous feel that crept in and lingered.

Four in the Morning by Malon Edwards, Edward M. Erdelac, Lincoln Crisler, and Tim Marquitz

Four in the Morning is an unusual anthology, in that instead of collecting a lot of short stories, it is made up of four novellas, loosely based on different stages of life (youth, early adulthood, middle age, and old age). The genres and styles of these dark tales vary as well, from steampunk (“Half Dark” by Malon Edwards) to urban fantasy (“Gully Gods” by Edward M. Erdelac) to science fiction (“Queen” by Lincoln Crisler) to horror (“Cenotaph” by Tim Marquitz). I enjoyed all four offerings, though it took me a bit to warm up to “Gully Gods”. Malon Edwards’ “Half Dark” was my favorite of the quartet, though, by turns dark, strange, charming, and memorable–qualities I only sometimes find in steampunk stories.

The Noctuary by Greg Chapman

In The Noctuary, a dark fiction writer is given a tempting offer–the ability to make his words become reality, if he becomes a scribe for underworld creatures known as the Dark Muses. He can write things out of existence, and rewrite the tragic elements of his past… but at a price. This novella is the kind of horror that appeals to me most–the slippery, chaotic kind where the fear comes from seeing how thin and easily torn reality could be, and being forced to face what is left–if anything–when all that defines us to ourselves is stripped away. Which isn’t to say it’s not gruesome and bloody–it certainly is. It’s also a lot more than that, and worth a look for supernatural horror fans.

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Gary W. Olson is the author of the dark fantasy novel Brutal Light and a contributor to the dark fiction anthology Fading Light. His blog originates here. Photo: silver-john/Bigstock.com.