Diabolica Britannica: A Dark Isles Horror Compendium by Various

Diabolica Britannica is a charity anthology that is raising funds for Covid 19 research, such a worthwhile project, not only will you be helping raise funds for this cause you will also be getting a collection with some astonishing talent, with stories that will ensnare you, terrify you and also destroy you – such is the caliber of writing on show from some established greats (Tim Lebbon & Adam Nevill) and also a whole host of talented emerging writers in the horror genre.
I didn’t know what I was expecting when I started my journey into this anthology, I recognised many of the writers and have read most of them previously, but there were a few new writers that I’d not read before. But as is always the case with anthologies and why I love them so much is that I get to discover new writers alongside the seasoned professionals!
Diabolica Britannica is an anthology to be proud of, with many of the stories hitting home like an axe to the head.
So, I’m going to touch briefly on each of the stories within the collection, it’ll be brief as I don’t want to spoil the enjoyment of this for anyone that is going to pick this up or who might be part way through reading, so here we go!
The anthology starts with Carreg Samson by Catherine McCarthy and what a way to open this tome of horror. What we have here is a tragic love story, as an ancient landmark has it’s soul deeply disturbed by the growing atrocities of the world. It’s a grief filled story with mythology and folklore thrown into the mix too, a delicately crafted dark story that had me enraptured from the very beginning such is the engaging voice of Carreg Samson – in my head I imagined the voice of Vincent Price speaking to me. This is such a strong piece and brought about the comparisons to some of the great work around mythology by Neil Gaiman, but McCarthy makes it her own and I’ll be searching out more of her work in the future – this story alone is worth the price of the anthology, in my humble opinion.
Tourist Traps by Christopher Henderson took us on a sightseeing journey around London (I’ve been on one of these before, going around the old murder scenes of Jack the Ripper – it was a hoot!) and what I loved about Henderson’s story was how well rendered it was with regards to the sense of place and the souls wandering around the streets of London; it was believable and the voice of the protagonist was quite unique and aided in pulling the reader in – but for me I feel the story gave itself away a little too early and I found myself waiting for the final line to be delivered!
The Secret of Westport Fell by Beverley Lee was a Gothic romp of a story, it had me thinking of great Shirley Jackson and Sarah Perry (particularly Melmoth) there was a general feeling of unease as I turned each page – there are so many great lines in this horrific story and a couple of them were ‘It wore its neglect despondently, as though the state had always been inevitable.‘ & ‘If Matilda had been a horse they would have shot her long ago.’ I just love those two quotes. The Secret of Westport Fell is dark, it’s edgy and it’s bloody brilliant!
The Conductor by Arthur M Harper – following Beverley Lee’s story would be a difficult task for anyone, but Harper smashes it with The Conductor a story that is the most uncanny / weird offering of the whole collection. We see past sin coming back to haunt our protagonist, a lonely traveler, as he awaits his train as a creepy conductor stalks him on the deserted platform. When he gets on the train, in the confined space of the carriage the creepy conductor continues the assault. The conductor was a thing of pure nightmares, with Harper’s fabulous descriptions bringing him to life in the most horrific of ways. The tension in the whole piece is insane, it had me flicking through the pages as fast as I could, how I imagine pages of a book would flick when a train barrels past as your reading on a platforms edge. A nightmarish vision perfectly captured by Harper and a gem in the collection.
Footsteps by Janine Pipe was the first story I’ve read by her and it wont be the last I can tell you that for free! The story focuses on two female protagonists Felicity and Becky as they head into the forest to camp, Becky is quite a paranoid woman and this comes across delightfully in the prose. They are there researching some old local legends and folklore, so what could go wrong I hear you ask? The story is dark and disturbing and has a pace about it which drives the reader through and has them begging for more by the story’s end. It’s grim and disgusting and terror filled and I bloody loved it – the ending and the unsaid is such a powerful thing.
The Flow by Tim Lebbon (previously published in Terror Of Wales – Gray Friar Press) this is a wonderfully crafted tale, and had me thinking of Poe’s the Tell Tale Heart – but this often referred to comparison was given new life under Lebbon’s pen. It was dark, mysterious and had a dread that was sewn into the very fabric of the story that would not let up. It’s Tim Lebbon so we know it’s going to be good, I just didn’t know how good.
We Plough The Fields and Scatter by Stephanie Ellis again this was a first time reading of this author for me and I loved the depth of the folklore (and I have a penchant for Witch based folklore) that Ellis was writing about here, it helped ground the story in the lore and pulled the reader into a fully immersive world. The prose pulls you so deep that it was hard to breath as I found the horror suffocating with nowhere to turn for aid, it was atmospheric and creepy and the perfect blend of horror and lore. Again an author I will search out more in the future.
Linger by John F Leonard was a blast and I loved it, this line in particular won me over ‘Even after widespread vaccination, the memory of Outbreak lingered. He’d read somewhere that hand-shaking originated as a way of showing you weren’t armed. It became a bit redundant when your hand was the weapon.’ the familial mixes with the supernatural and uncanny in this story to make a tale full of evil intent that delves into the inherited house trope but blends a new sense of horror to this outdated and overused convention to great affect!
Song of the Moor by Alyson Faye – I really enjoyed the construction of the prose in this story, it was almost poetic – again folklore around sirens and witches or some form of that. It was right up my creepy street and Faye delivers a tale that is jammed packed with menace and dark undertones
Walked a Pale Horse on Celtic Frost by Keith Anthony Baird was the first thing I’ve read of his and it showed such control to deliver a stunning Gothic masterclass – his prose was poetic whilst enrapturing and had some sort of regality to it which had me thinking of the sinister offering of Lucie McKnight Hardy’s ‘The Water Shall Refuse Them‘. Baird does channel some of the Gothic masters of old and it read like a long lost story from Poe which is probably the biggest compliment I could give a piece like this, writing in this style Gothic style.
The Hole by SJ Budd – ‘Anyone looking at them would think they were one big happy family taking a stroll along the beach, not fragments of broken lives stitched hastily together.’ this is such a great story, I loved it and it was dripping with the weird and uncanny and for me it had everything I love about weird writing (and if you know me and my work, you know I love weird writing). The familial aspects of the story are written with a keen eye to detail and you can feel our main protagonists pain, whilst the way she is written also pulls you in and rooting for her throughout. The story had me comparing Budd’s work to the great Sarah Hall – such was the uniqueness and the strangeness of the story, I thought the story was going to go one way and Budd masterfully pulled the rug out of my feet and had me in awe of the direction she took it. SJ Budd is a writer I have read previously and this for me was the best piece I’ve read by her!
Scripted in Shadows by Morgan K Tanner – first thing I’ve read by Tanner and my goodness it wont be the last such was the horror masterclass on show, it was graphic, horrific, the ingeniousness of the whole story held me captive and it’s for me one of the standout stories of the collection. It’s comical but horrific and we get some deliciously macabre and barbaric scenes but I loved it, and the characterisations are what makes the story so believable. It’s bloody disgusting and right up my street – it also reminded me of my own book Tome which is coming out in October (so win win there). This is a brutal, visceral and violent read and another huge plus for me in discovering Tanner’s work!
The Coven by Sarah E England – is a meandering tale that pulls you into the unraveling story of our protagonist searching out her strange family history, going back to her roots to discover what monsters lurked in her parents cupboard. Its well written and the tension of small town life and lore was well done, a slow burn horror at its best.
Call The Name by Adam LG Nevill – Nevill is at home in writing this type of fiction and again disturbing us no end – his work on sense of place brings the horrors home and this again is a masterful offering from one of the best horror writers in the UK – our very own Stephen King and someone that has successfully taken the mantle from James Herbert in giving us nightmarish atrocities time and time again! I’d read this before but another re-read shows how down right brilliant his work is! A great way to end such an brilliant collection.
Diabolica Britannica is an anthology that in my opinion has something for everyone that loves reading horror. It’s a wonderfully constructed collection of the macabre whilst also delving into folkhorror which currently is a very enjoyable genre for me personally. There are tales that will scare you, enrapture you and freak you the hell out. If you are after discovering some new talent mixed with some household names, then look no further than this might fine offering, and by picking up a copy you’re getting a great collection whilst also helping to raise money to help fight the horror that is Covid 19 – it’s a win win situation!
Diabolica Britannica is published by Keith Anthony Baird and is available here. Diabolica Britannica is a charity anthology which is raising funds for covid 19 research, support if you can!


Adam L G Nevill, Tim Lebbon, Keith Anthony Baird, John F Leonard, Morgan K Tanner, Arthur M Harper, Christopher Henderson, Beverley Lee, Sarah E England, Catherine McCarthy, Stephanie Ellis, Janine Pipe, Sarah J Budd and Alyson Faye.


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