The argument that 'genre-fiction is merely escapism' can be firmly put to rest with the debut of Dark Faith. It is real, present, in your face and not letting the reader go anywhere. Thirty-one stories of love and loss, faith, questions, anger, tests. This is horror as it should be: subtle one moment, punching the lights out the next. Brutal and delicate both.
It is dark, certainly. Dark Faith is not an easy read. It requires thought, processing and consideration. The stories do not preach, nor attempt to convert. Faith is examined from many angles and perceptions.
It is a star-studded table of contents. Co-edited by Maurice Broaddus and Jerry Gordon, the authors include Tom Piccirilli, Catherynne Valente, Jay Lake, Wrath James Wright, Brian Keene and Linda Addison, to name just a few. With such a varied group of styles and a fairly tight subject, the possibility of staleness is a reasonable suspicion. However, there is not a sign of staleness in this book.
Instead, each author brings a unique voice and outlook to the book. A cohesive whole is formed, yet all the little parts are quite capable of being seen individually. It is not only Christian faith which is explored. The actions of faith are as varied as the believers.
The highlights were hard to pick out. However, a few of the darkest gems stuck with me well after reading.
Douglas Warrick's Gordon Drach and the Art of Zen has a slow, quiet intensity. The character had depth and history, telling a past story without wandering into info dump. And the portrayal of God was unique and memorable.
The first story, Ghosts of New York, tips the reader right off of the cliff. 9/11 and a ghost girl cursed to live the moment of her death over and over again. Eternal punishment for a necessary sin? While it is not a ground-breaking plot, author Jennifer Pelland handled it with a considerable amount of empathy and emotion.
The Choir, by Lucien Soulban is equal parts Llovecraftian horror, Nazi experimentation, and the awful prejudice and persecution suffered by men who dared to be 'perverts'. It is a sympathetic portrayal of men in the most desperate circumstances, and their determination to light a torch for others to follow.
There are a few stories in here that sometimes meander and lose focus here and there, but they are the minority.
At twenty-six stories and a handful of poems, stated by Apex to total over 130,000 words, Dark Faith is a hefty read. Its contents are equally hefty. Allow yourself a few days to read and process. It is worth the time, and many of the stories are well-crafted enough to not only stand up to multiple readings, but to reveal new things with each reading.
The crew at Apex can be proud of themselves with this one, and if its quality is any indication of the majority of Apex's anthologies, I will certainly have them front and center on my reading list from here on out.