So here we have the first anthology I’ve reviewed on this here blog o’ mine, and it’s a mix of a few authors I’ve read and mostly authors I was previously unfamiliar with (though I have seen many of those names around before). That’s typically the case with most anthologies I read, though. However, The Library of the Dead is a bit different than your average anthology. This is not just a random collection of stories with zero connection or even a collection of stories that more or less fit a particular theme (both are approaches I’m totally fine with, by the way). This book goes one step further and creates a single work out of multiple stories.
Allow me to explain…there is a main (albeit short) “narrative” throughout, focused on the ghostly librarian of the Chapel of the Chimes (which, I didn’t realize until finishing the book, is actually a real place in Oakland), and the unnamed “you” being led through the tales of the dead (yes, you become part of the story this way…it totally works). In between these little interludes are the short stories that make up the bulk of the text. All of them are about completely different topics, yet I discovered about halfway through the book that all of them make some connection to Oakland (or at least the Bay Area as a whole). There are also images accompanying each story, something I always appreciate. The end result is a cohesive piece of fiction written by multiple authors, even if it doesn’t seem so on the surface. It flows pretty consistently if you let it, though. From what I know of Michael Bailey and Written Backwards, he prefers an unorthodox approach to his anthologies, something I support to the fullest. Like I said above, I’m completely fine with your basic everyday anthology so long as the stories are good, but why not take it to the next level if you have the itch to do so? And Bailey has an itch that cannot be satisfied. I say bring it on. He also won the Bram Stoker Award this year for this very book, so he’s obviously doing something right.
As for the stories within, like most anthologies, there are some that are stronger than others, but there were definitely no badly written stories within, just some that appealed to me more than others. For me, the clear winner here is “Reliving Through Better Chemistry” by Weston Ochse. He takes an “Oh shit, why didn’t I think of that?” idea and sends it to very dark places no one wants to visit. Beyond that, I really enjoyed his overall style, which to me is just as important as the story. Ochse also had one of the standout stories in the Midian Unmade anthology, so maybe it’s time I checked out one of his longer works? Any recommendations, folks? The story that follows this one, “Cthylla,” by Lucy A. Snyder, is also a standout. Maybe it’s because I don’t really read much Lovecraft/Cthulhu-influenced fiction, but I found this story to be a very refreshing take on the Mythos. Again, like Ochse’s story, it really gelled with my stylistic tastes as well. The most surprising story here was “The Last Things to Go,” a collaboration between Brian Keene and Mary Sangiovanni. Most of the stories in The Library of the Dead fall on the “quiet horror” spectrum (not the type of stuff I typically read, but I’m always open, naturally), which is exactly the opposite of what comes to mind when you hear the name Brian Keene, and this story is perhaps the quietest of the entire collection. Very odd, but cool. Always a good idea to buck expectations. Maybe it was the influence of Sangiovanni? Who knows?
Overall, if you want subtle creeps wrapped up in a solid overall collection, this anthology is a top-notch example.