All in Fear: A Collection of Six Horror Tales
by Steve Berman, KJ Charles, Avon Gale,
Roan Parrish, Kris Ripper, and J.A. Rock
Publisher: Open Ink Press
Release Date: December 1, 2016
Michele’s Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Horror wears many faces, and its masks can be tantalizing. Some of the top names in queer fiction come together to spin their own versions of horror. Worlds rife with dark beauty and mystery, the familiar becoming terrible, creatures ethereal and alluring—and all bearing the gleam of love. Does hope lie along these grim passages or only doom? It will become clear. All in time—and all in fear.
Six of the top names in queer romance join forces with Open Ink Press to bring you a deliciously unsettling horror anthology slated to release December 1st, 2016. All in Fear will feature chilling new and original stories from KJ Charles, Roan Parrish, Avon Gale, Kris Ripper, J.A. Rock, and Steve Berman. Coinciding with the winter holidays, the anthology will focus on the traditional macabre elements of horror coupled with the possibility for romance.
(The blurbs for each story can be found with our reviews, see below.)
Anthology, Short Stories
See each Review for more Detailed Tags and Content Warnings.
Mel: I was a fan of most of the authors already and I always wanted to try a book by Avon Gale, and I really like to read good short stories in between longer reads. But horror is not entirely my genre, so I knew going in that I might not like all of the stories—which is totally okay for me.
Judging from the stories that I loved and from the overall good writing quality (even if I dnf’ed 2 stories because of the great horror), I think this is a very good anthology and I recommend it for people who are into shorts and horror, or only partly into these things like me. I think you will find something you’ll like and maybe even love, because the short stories vary in genre, theme, sexual identity, and pairing, and I’d daresay there’s something for everyone here.
Michele: I was excited to read this anthology when it was announced, curious to see how these romance authors would interpret a horror theme. I don’t consider myself a horror fan, although a surprising number of my favourite stories do contain horror elements, or are written by authors who are well known in the genre. I’m very pleased to know my excitement was not misplaced, as this is a superb collection covering many different writing styles and genres, and I’m sure every reader will find something they enjoy.
For me the best thing about this anthology is that it absolutely made me want to read more by every author – the quality of work is fantastic, and I truly cannot wait to devour everything I haven’t yet read.
Our ratings for each story can be found in the reviews and the rating above is the average rating.
Company by Roan Parrish
Nick Levy’s family is falling apart and he has no friends, but at least he can escape into the world of his favorite comic book series, The Face of the Vampire. Naturally, when the vampire in question shows up one day, Nick is enthralled. After all, what could be better than his own personal fantasy made real? Except that Nick isn’t exactly sure whether Michel is real or not. And when the arrival of a new boy in school promises romance, Nick sees a side of Michel he never could have imagined. This Michel is cruel, jealous . . . and he’ll do anything to keep Nick for himself.
Tags: M/M Pairing, Gay Characters, Young Adult, Vampire, School
Mel: The first stories I read by Roan were some of her other short stories and they were so convincing that I tried her Middle of Somewhere series, so I’m not at all surprised that her contribution to this anthology is another winner for me. I love the first person narration, the pacing is exceptionally great, and I was creeped out by this scary tale, like, jeeez, I still have goosebumps and shivers just writing this.
What stands out for me here, and what makes this story even more horrible is the layer of subconsciousness that weaves through it, addressing the question whether only ‘real’ horrors are scary or whether realness actually matters.
Company tells a story of loneliness and how we cope with it. I think it can be read quite literally—YAY CREEPY VAMPIRE—but also metaphorically—OH GOD, I THINK THIS IS EVEN WORSE. However, there are some wonderfully romantic scenes here as well, which were so lovely and made me happy—for the time being. 5 stars
Michele: Although we’re friendly on social media and her books have been on my radar for a while, this was my first Roan Parrish story, and wow, this was definitely a helluva introduction to her work.
It’s no wonder Roan is praised for her exceptional writing style, I was ensnared by her words immediately, being more lyrical, introspective and allegorical than I’m generally used to seeing in mm romance. The first person narration really made Nick’s loneliness, then relief after finding Michel tangible, as well as his increasing desperation and fear, and as Nick continually questioned reality, the reader does too. Ultimately the truth behind his madness is left unstated, but as the central conceit of the story is whether things need to be ‘real’ to be ‘true’, it doesn’t matter. I was just as spellbound by this tale as Nick was for his companion, saviour and eventual torturer, and just as helpless to resist. Amazing. 4.5 stars
Love Me True by Kris Ripper
Palmer’s life is as good as it gets. Well, okay, so he hates his mind-numbing office job. But he’s found a hot, smart, incredibly kinky guy. The sex is explosive. The power play is off the hook. And if he gets his way, Jon will soon be his husband.
When Palmer asks, Jon says yes. For the first time ever, Palmer thinks things might be really good. Sure, bad things happen in the world—to other people. But this is all he needs: Jon at the end of the day, in their bed, arms around him.
How could he have possibly been so stupid?
Tags: M/M Pairing, Bisexual Characters, Contemporary, BDSM, Murder
Mel: I love Kris Ripper’s easy-going writing style. It sucks me right in and it’s always fun to follow zir narration and story telling. It’s often combined with scorching hot stuff and that makes it even better. That’s the case in this short story as well, but the horror aspect of Love Me True didn’t quite work for me. Well, the content is, to be fair, quite horrible, but it didn’t feel like it to me while reading. I was rather mostly turned on and the minimal dread I was feeling came mostly from having read the blurb. Overall, the idea of never really knowing whom you love remained too much on the surface for me. 2.5 stars
Michele: It’s funny, Kris Ripper’s colloquial style is one that I’m usually quite indifferent to but ze seems to have perfected it, the immediacy and intimacy of zir writing is always so engaging and enjoyable, even when the story isn’t my particular cup of tea. It also helps that ze writes incredible BDSM, so naturally I’m going to be a bit swayed by that. 😉
I knew almost immediately what the ‘horror’ in this story was going to be, which coloured my reading of the dialogue and first person narration, but it was more interesting to me for that, and appreciated the subtle hints that are present throughout pointing to the terrible truth revealed at the end. Like Mel I don’t think it works particularly well as a horror story, but I suppose that’s rather the point, we don’t realise we’re living a nightmare until we wake up. Ultimately I thought Love Me True was more sad than anything else, and I was left feeling more morose than scared by this tale. 3 stars
The Price of Meat by KJ Charles
Johanna Oakley will do anything to save her beloved Arabella from the cruelty of Mr Fogg’s madhouse—but ‘anything’ turns out to be more than she bargained for when she finds herself working for a man suspected of worse than murder. As Johanna is plunged from the horror of Sawney Reynard’s barber shop into the foul, lawless labyrinth at the heart of London, can she or anyone get out alive?
Tags: F/F Pairing, Lesbian Characters, Historical, Asylum, Body Mutilation
Mel: Uhhhhh. While I love to be scared, I cannot with gore and, uff, this story is too much. I’m totally grossed out. Like, this is great horror. Really well written, too, but… DNF, no rating
Michele: Full disclosure: I was a first reader (and very kindly acknowledged in the preface, thank you KJ!) for this story so I already knew what to expect beforehand. I don’t enjoy being scared, but I’m usually okay with gore (as long as it’s not torture porn like Saw and its ilk, no thank you), so I’m sure it’s no surprise that my comments will be rather different from Mel’s!
I may not like being scared but I’m a fan of the macabre and all things Gothic, so a re-imagining of the original tale behind Sweeney Todd was right up my alley. I might be (hugely) biased as I adore all of KJ’s work, but there is some absolutely stellar writing here, with turns of phrase that alternately made me laugh and shudder from the creeping psychological fear. The opening chapter depicting a visit to an insane asylum was actually the most repulsive to me, as the tour guide, with his lascivious gaze for the ‘tender flesh in his care’ and the brutal daily life of the inmates, was too realistically evil.
Apart from a few detailed descriptions of the ‘failed experiments’ I honestly didn’t find this story to be all that gory, but then I also love a musical where the ‘protagonists’ sing about the various taste sensations different professions elicit once consumed, so perhaps I’m an outlier, hehe. The queered main characters characters were all great – I especially loved fierce, intensely competent Joanna, and the way her relationship with Arabella was portrayed so sweetly, in contrast to the gruesome main plot, and with charmingly humourous narration. The Price of Meat is an excellent penny dreadful tale, purposefully sensationalist and, if you can stomach it, a fabulous read. 4.5 stars
His Mouth Will Taste of Chernobyl by Steve Berman
Joining Zeta Psi isn’t Steve’s dream, it’s his dad’s. Nevertheless his dad’s gift of the mysterious Bailey flask gets Steve an in to the frat house, and maybe his best shot at being accepted on campus. But the flask’s silver sheen may only be lighting his way into the darkness at the heart of the frat—and the darkness he’s learning is within himself. Steve wants to choose who he is, but choices are dropping like flies as he learns the true mystery of the Bailey flask. How does he give back a gift that’s also a curse?
Tags: M/M Pairing, Gay Character, Paranormal, Fraternity, Magic
Content Warnings: Homophobia, Body Mutilation, Non-Consensual Sex (Off-Page), Abusive Relationships to Parent and Boyfriend (Off-Page)
Mel: So, fraternities and their pledging process are a horror all in themselves, if you ask me. Combined with the horror genre, this short story really is horrible.
This was my first story by the author and you may consider me positively surprised. The writing is solid, the characters and plot have depths despite the short story format. I also really like the mystical/magical element in here, and what I find spectacular is the subtle yet prominent theme of internalised homophobia and shame that develops into something even hopeful and better. 4 stars
Michele: Totally agree with all of Mel’s thoughts, fraternities and what they represent are innately horrific to me, so I had trouble getting through the first few pages which were upsetting on several levels for physical violence, homophobia and coercion. I was not expecting to like this story at all, but in many ways it turned out to be the most ‘positive’ story in the anthology – if you can make allowances for the terrible things that happen throughout, of course. But unlike for so many other characters depicted in these stories, there was a way to escape here, not just the magical torment but societal and self-imposed ones as well. Well, some of them, anyway.
Steve Berman is a new to me author and I was pleased by this solid, well done take on supernatural and all too human horrors, so I’ll be looking to read more by him in the future. 3.5 stars
Legion: A Love Story by Avon Gale
STAFF SERGEANT JASON ESSEX, YOU HAVE RECEIVED THE FOLLOWING ORDERS FROM THE UNITED STATES MARINE CORPS:
REPORT TO: CAIN INSTITUTE [ADDRESS REDACTED]
ACTIVE DUTY COMMITMENT: GUARD AN ENTITY CURRENTLY HELD IN AN ENCLOSURE AT THE CAIN INSTITUTE. RECORD DAILY MEASUREMENTS. KEEP ANY AND ALL PERSONS FROM ENTERING OR LEAVING THE FACILITY. ENSURE THE ENTITY REMAINS COMPLETELY INCARCERATED. OBSERVE THE ENTITY WITHOUT ENGAGING.
ADDITIONAL INSTRUCTIONS: THIS ASSIGNMENT WILL BE CARRIED OUT IN FULL ISOLATION. PLEASE BE ADVISED.
Tags: M/M Pairing, Gay Character, Paranormal, Demons, Experiment, Military
Content Warnings: Capture, Nightmares
Mel: Holy Fuck! Right from the start I was lured in by this creepy tale. Thinking about the premise alone sends ghosty shivers up my spine. Goose Bump Alert!
But creepy is not all there is to the story. It’s so funny I laughed out loud a lot, because of Jason’s voice, and because of the google searches he does, and the mails he writes and receives. It’s also quite unexpectedly sexy 😀 And mysterious and suffocating.
I loved reading this a lot. I kinda devoured it even. Well written, well developed, and the format is well chosen. Revealing the story through journals, mails, voice recordings etc. was a great choice. 5 stars
Michele: Oh my GOD. There’s really no other way to describe my reaction to this story, unless you want a series of gifs of people freaking out and flailing 😄
I know Avon Gale as a hockey guru, but she should definitely write more paranormal stories because she is fantastic at it. If you want to judge this anthology by whether or not it gives you nightmares, this would be the stand out tale because holy shit it so did. I also laughed out loud, which I wasn’t expecting at all, and was a welcome respite from the unceasing creepiness.
The epistolary format was extremely effective to highlight Jason’s isolation and humour (those Google searches! The reddit subforum!), and knowing there’s nothing anything the reader, or anyone else can do as these things have already happened added an extra layer of fear. My one complaint would be that the first part was intensely creepy – no spoilers but that moment *with the pointing* made me squeak and gasp very loudly – but as Jason begins to form a relationship with the creature, despite the wonderful reveal of his nature I stopped being frightened, although I probably should have been more so. I also would have liked to know more about the facility and what the scientists were doing there, but as Jason had no idea, neither did we. And that’s fine! I was just so intrigued I wanted more, which is never a bad thing.
Basically, read this story. And then quiver in fear with the rest of us. #theentityisactive 4.5 stars
Beauties by J.A. Rock
When Dr. Lester Usole attends an event at AI developer Carnificiality, he’s introduced to Beauties: artificial beings designed to provide tailored sexual experiences for their human owners. Lester isn’t interested in sex—but he is fascinated by Ira, a Beauty too violent to be sold.
Lester convinces Carnificiality to give Ira to him. Lester has always wanted the chance to work with an adult AI, and around Lester, Ira isn’t violent. He’s strangely innocent, uncannily perceptive, and his company does much to ease Lester’s loneliness. Except something’s not quite right: Ira roams at night, even when Lester’s sure he’s locked Ira’s door.
Soon Lester is certain of only one thing: Ira has a secret. Something that will link their pasts and change the course of their future—if Lester is willing to face what’s on the inside.
Tags: M/M Pairing, Science Fiction, Sex Slaves
Content Warnings: Rape, Non-Con, Titillation
Mel: Yeah, so… I only made it a few pages into this. Having survived (and liked!) the author’s The Grand Ballast, I thought I was prepared. I wasn’t. Or maybe I’ve changed. Or maybe I haven’t. Sex slaves—be they human or AI—seems like something I cannot read about, in general. The non-con is pouring off the pages (haha, the few I’ve read). Which is not to say that this is a bad story. It’s well written, as far as I can tell, and, well, I really have read too little to say anything of substance here, sorry. DNF, no rating
Michele: This was also really difficult for me to read, and nearly gave up several times. But I’m glad I persevered, because it was certainly an intriguing take on the ‘traditional’ sexbot trope. I recently proofread a full length novel with a similar premise of ‘educating/rehabilitating a non-compliant pleasure android’, and the two interpretations could not have been more different, as the novel being sold as a ‘true’ romance treated noncon as standard, rather than something to abhor and acceptable to fight against as in this story. Needless to say I preferred JA Rock’s version, even if it was still extremely uncomfortable to read. I actually felt the most revulsion towards this tale, which is an interesting meta commentary on what truly constitutes ‘horror’, I think.
Sexual slavery is never something I enjoy, but the focus on the importance of consent from the POV character kept me going, and as a transhumanist the issues regarding selfhood and the ‘realness’ of artificial lifeforms addressed within the story are fascinating to me, and I really liked having these questions asked by the ‘Beauty’ himself. Anyone following the current Westworld tv series will probably want to read this too. While I guessed the major plot ‘twist’ early on, the additional information in Ira’s backstory and resolution of Lester and Ira’s relationship was unexpected, but I suppose I shouldn’t have too surprised – this is a horror anthology, after all. 😉 I don’t really know how to rate this, so I’m averaging personal distaste of the subject matter with appreciation for a well executed story. 2.5 stars
You can find more about all of these incredibly talented authors, as well as ways to contact them, in our Spotlight on All in Fear! And don’t forget to check out Roan Parrish’s discussion about the intersection of horror and romance (spoiler: it involves Tilda Swinton!)
You can purchase All in Fear from:
We received advanced copies of this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review.