The thing is, I don't know how to review Rio Youers' Dark Dreams, Pale Horses without coming off sounding like a fan, because that's what this book has made me. It is simply one of the best collections I've ever read, and a debut collection at that (Youers has published a few novels, but this is his first collection). It took maybe two pages before I realized I was reading something special, something that doesn't come along too often.
The last debut collection to have that type of effect on me was Joe Hill's 20th Century Ghosts, also from PS Publishing—which I think should be a testimony to Peter Crowther's ability to sniff out new talent. This is the type of collection—like Hill's, like Barker's Books of Blood, like Etchison's The Dark Country—that not only introduces a new talent, but is so important, so vital to the genre that its effects will be felt for years to come, and thank God, because Youers gives modern horror exactly what it needs: strong characters, new plots, new ideas, subtlety, tension, heartbreak. Story after story he takes the tropes we've all seen before—and all love—and twists them just enough to make them new, except for the times when he's creating completely new ones. He writes about real people, flawed people, in trying situations with the power and depth of Gary A. Braunbeck, but these stories are not Gary's. They're not anyone's other than Rio's, and that's part of Dark Dreams, Pale Horses's appeal. All too often you pick up a collection, anthology, or magazine, and you see a story that could have been written by a handful of authors. Maybe it's a great story, but it's missing something because it's so ubiquitous. Youers' aren't like that. They're his. Unmistakably. No one else writes like this. No one else could write like this.
The collection (after a wonderful introduction from Brian Keene) begins with "Pure," a vampire tale unlike anything you've ever read, and one that will break your heart if you let it. This story, my favorite in the collection, is one that will stay with you long after you've finished.
"This is the Summer of Love," follows. A story of young love and unspeakable tragedy.
Then "The Ghost of Lillian Bliss," about an Alzheimer's patient who remembers more than anyone else can possibly imagine.
"Chrysalis" is a story of loss and hope that stands up with the best short work of Dan Simmons, who so often (yet so differently) treads the same thematic territory.
"Alice Bleeding" puts a troubled marriage to the test after a meteor has destroyed nearly all life on earth. It's a story of survival and horror not quickly set aside or forgotten.
Finally, Dark Dreams, Pale Horses, ends with "Promised Land Blues," where a man lives out his dream—driving cross country, stopping in every city named in Elvis Presley's song, "Promised Land," in a '55 pink Cadillac, just like the King's—only to find out that there's more to the car than he ever could have imagined.
Each story is touched with a sense of language, a fluidity of prose that establishes Youers, firmly, as one of the genre's best writers. It's simple yet poetic. Never overstated, but fully realized and drenched in detail and emotion. The kind of writing you'd expect from Peter Straub (Yes, Youers is that good). If you're anything like me, after reading Dark Dreams, Pale Horses, you're going to find yourself seeking out everything from this author (novels like End Times and Mama Fish) and eagerly awaiting what I'm sure will be his many fantastic stories to come.
Dark Dreams, Pale Horses by Rio Youers
P.S. Publishing (Showcase #10)
978-1-848632-04-2 £ 11.99
978-1-848632-05-9 (signed edition) £ 24.99