Settled in the 9th century by seafaring Scandinavian explorers, Iceland sits alone just below the Arctic Circle amidst the frigid waters of the North Atlantic, its towering glacial volcanic coastlines having evolved from one of the poorest regions of Europe to one of the most technologically advanced, peaceful and environmentally friendly nations on Earth. Yet despite its modern reputation as a renewable energy wonder and beloved tourist destination, Iceland retains a crucial mystique. The average American’s knowledge of the island has less to do with its Viking-era sagas and eddas than with its quirky cultural curiosities – Björk, the Icelandic Phallological Museum, Follow the Kattarshians, svið (Google it at the risk of losing your appetite) – but to simply accept Iceland as a place of cute eccentricities is to ignore its shadowy heritage. Sitting on top of the world, Iceland is shrouded in both mythical and literal darkness; at the summer solstice the midnight sun never sets, but as the steady march toward winter advances the light dies, day by day, hour by hour, until there is no more than at night.
Best known for her pursuit Night vampire novel series for young adults (Night Blood, Night Farm and Hello night, with a fourth episode on the way), Icelandic horror author Villimey Mist relentlessly dives into that same blackened nightscape of her isolated island home with the release of St. Rooster Books from As the night devours us, a feverishly chilling fifteen-story compendium of some of the finest dishes of terror in recent literary memory.
“A Mother’s Job,” the volume’s introductory story, sets the tone for the tome when a woman seeking to protect her daughter during a zombie apocalypse performs the darkest of motherly tasks. Icelandic reverence for nature clashes with a group of disrespectful American travelers at ‘The Moss Covered Volcano’, just as a father’s deranged actions initiated in his daughter’s name imbue ‘Hope’ with harrowing, harrowing power. . A young woman troubled by dolls finds her fears unexpectedly vindicated while searching for a missing friend in “The Doll Museum,” while the frenetic action of “Split” serves as a thrilling escape into the treacherous world of spying.
The second half of the volume unfolds with “Skötumóðir,” an unusually effective written experiment in the “Found Footage” film subgenre that is just one of Mist’s many chronicles to explore Iceland’s rich folklore. Likewise, the country’s legendary Christmas menace, the Christmas Cat, viciously proves to a group of self-absorbed youths that “receiving is better than giving.” Unintended consequences line up against a young musician who enlists the help of a friend to bury the body of a drifter he accidentally killed in “Shed The Night’s Skin”, while the Japanese set “Kokkuri-san “uses Shinto beliefs to achieve the punishment sought by a bullied teenager. And a woman battling a demon must prepare the most gruesome of haute cuisine to save her children in “What the Chef Recommends” time.
There is an eclectic assemblage of myriad horror subtypes available within these pages; werewolves, demons, sea beasts, the undead, the mentally ill, and a gallery of monsters both human and non-human spread their malevolence in a myriad of ways. Still As the night devours us is not a simplistic compilation of creature characteristics. Mist’s ability extends far beyond that, far beyond even routine splatterpunk blood and guts; his skillful, kinetic prose is so effective in conveying the complex spectrum of human experience that each carefully chosen word draws the reader deeper into the darkened forest. His clear vision, dexterous wit, and gift for fully capturing a character’s inner state, motivations, desires, and insecurities, go to the heart of each story and act as a stable center for the situations presented. Awe-inspiring and sure use of Iceland’s unique mythology also elevates As the night devours us above the mire of mediocre pretenders to horror. Themes of revenge abound, as do observations of family ties and the importance of friendship, perilous disregard for the environment, betrayal of trust, and the earth-shattering terror of revelation. And while most collections, like many music albums, contain at least some filler material, there’s not a dud in Mist’s authorship arsenal; every story hits its target, though five stories deserve credit for their unabashed supremacy.
For pure thrills, “The Rescue” and “Nails” deliver on the diabolical promise of their premise; in the former, a police detective infiltrating a cult to facilitate a young girl’s escape uncovers the shocking truth about the nature of the commune’s horrific deity, while the latter’s portrayal of the shredded spirit of a young man presents some of the most hygienically disturbing scenes of mental disintegration ever written. Another type of depraved thought process, that of a serial killer who discovers that his latest victim is not what he appears to be, is detailed to chilling and realistic effect in “The Thrill Of The Hunt”, while the castaway Vikings who survive their longboat sinking struggle to survive each other as well as the legendary underwater monstrosity, ‘Taurmur’.
Many selections in As the night devours us would make excellent film adaptations, but more than any other, it’s the volume’s climactic entry, “The Banquet,” that wins the highest accolades as a story strong enough to build a Hollywood franchise. Originally published as a standalone charity novel, the tale centers on Maria, a traumatized sexual assault survivor who is invited by a mysterious organization that empowers women to exact revenge on their attackers. The relentless storyline benefits from some of the most excruciating torture scenes ever written in modern indie horror, but the explicitness here never exploits; indeed, Maria’s inner state is so devastated by her rape that the final confrontation is nothing less than pure spiritual catharsis. With its deep emotional resonance, wild gore and hints of a global underground conspiracy, “The Banquet” rivals films such as Last house on the left, I spit on your grave, hostel and Martyrs in its breadth of intensity.
Beautiful in its own way but not for the faint-hearted, As the night devours us is an all-too-rare example of what can really be accomplished with short fiction in general and genre fiction in particular. With his flair for creating realistic characters, his unwavering determination to push boundaries, and his willingness to explore, Villimey Mist’s triumphant work succeeds in shaking the very pillars of contemporary horror, and it is for this reason that I I feel compelled to grant As the night devours us the full 5 (out of 5) on my Fang Scale. A dark and dangerous talent arises. Prepare to be devoured.