Book Review – Left Hand Path by Steve Stred

left hand path

Last week saw the release of Steve Stred’s latest novella, The Girl Who Hid in the Trees. So because I’m such a rebellious rule-breaking badass, I thought I’d check out one of his earlier collections of stories instead.

My first stroll through Stredsville was the excellent novella, Wagon Buddy, about an imaginary friend with gory intentions. Left Hand Path had been on my TBR pile for a while so I thought it was about time I got on this. The collection contains 13 short stories, all of which I enjoyed very much.

I’ll admit I was left with a feeling of ‘where’s the horror?’ after the opening To the Moon – Joy, in which a young boy dreams of travelling to the moon. Backed by his parents encouragement he finally makes it there. It was a great little story, but horror? No, not at all.

However, the next story, To the Moon – Sadness, abated my fears that this wasn’t going to be a nasty, gore-soaked affair. This is ‘Moon pt 2 where the same boy dreams of travelling to the moon, but things don’t quite work out the same this time around. Talk about drawing you in only to slam you in the face!

A post-apocalyptic world is the backdrop for Why do Babies Cry? where the horrors awaiting a group of survivors are fully realised. Is it really safe out there?

The Witch is next up, involving a, erm, witch. Set in the middle ages when witchcraft was all the rage, this longer story details the events around a village where things have taken on quite the occult twist. Three sisters live in wooden huts in the woods beyond the village and before long one of them falls in love with the local bard. Things go downhill for those who try to deal with the witches, as you can probably imagine.

Set during the plague, Tossers is the story of a man working to clear and burn the dead who’ve fallen foul to this mass disease. The setting here was grimly realistic and made me feel a little filthy at the depressive squalor described. There’s no real plot to this one, but the atmosphere created is top-notch.

Head Case has its feet (or head, I suppose) deeply rooted in the bizarro realm of fiction. A man who narrowly escapes death wishes he hadn’t, as life now is not what he could ever have imagined. Although a little ridiculous, this story was also pretty shocking.

And just when you thought things couldn’t get any darker, Wardrobe Malfunction pops along to rightly screw with your head. A man inherits his grandfather’s house and possessions. Missing him dearly, he begins to see visions of what his grandfather was actually like. By wearing various jackets from Gramps’ past, the man sees previous events in all their grisly details. The ending to this one is downright bleak and definitely a ‘noooooo’ moment.

I loved The Call in which a family reunion goes wrong. The family are forced inside the house when all the animals from the forest congregate threateningly around them. But these animals are blood-hungry and seemingly under the power of some malevolent force. The tension in this story was great and the whole situation incredibly unnerving.

My absolute favourite in this collection was James. James is just an old widower dude who hasn’t been able to sleep since his wife’s death. Another of the longer tales, the story describes the monotony of James’ life expertly. Although his life is very boring, the story never gets bogged down in this boredom. And then things get weird. This story was extremely gripping; when weird thing after weird thing happens, there seems like no possible conclusion to tie things all together. But, of course, the revelation plays out, and with shocking consequences. Great stuff!

The next three stories, Thunder Storm, Isaac, and 17 Hours act as a kind of trilogy. I don’t want to say too much about them because it may give things away, but I really liked the way they… In fact no, I’m stopping there. Just read them yourself.

Things wrap up with a poem, Under Moon, the Huntress. I have to admit I’ve never been a fan of poetry, and although this was in keeping with the darkness throughout the book, it didn’t do much for me. But that’s my problem and this in no way takes away my enjoyment of this collection.

A gripping and sometimes shocking collection of excellent stories, fans of horror should certainly be checking this one out, especially if you like your stories ending on a downer.

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