Spooky season is upon us. It’s the perfect time to grab some warm cider and your favorite blanket and cuddle up somewhere with a scary story or two. Never Whistle At Night: An Indigenous Dark Fiction Anthology, edited by Shane Hawk and Theodore C. Van Alst Jr., is exactly that! This collection of short stories is all by indigenous authors and all feature indigenous main characters. Most feature at least some aspect of Native American mythology and superstition as well. So settle in and get ready to be scared.
[Note: While I am reviewing this novel independently and honestly, it should be noted that it has been provided to me by Random House for the purpose of this review.Warning: My review of Never Whistle at Night: An Indigenous Dark Fiction Anthology contains some spoilers!]
A collection of stories from voices long overlooked
Never Whistle At Night: An Indigenous Dark Fiction Anthology. That’s the title. And yes, the word indigenous is right there. Yet somehow I missed the subtitle and just saw “Never Whistle at Night”. Those words were enough for me to surmise that it was a collection of horror stories, and I was in at that point (I love horror). And yes, I skipped the foreword too. So I read Mathilda Zeller’s “Kushtuka” and thought “Oh cool, a Native American-based story, you don’t see that too often”. Then I read Rebecca Roanhorse’s “White Hills” and thought “Wow, two indigenous main characters in a row? That’s unusual.” By the time I read “Navajos Don’t Wear Elk Teeth” by Conley Lyons I realized something was up.
That was when I found the subtitle “An Indigenous Dark Fiction Anthology”. And to be honest I was psyched. I love horror stories. Since I was about six years old I have been reading every horror book, ghost story, and folktale collection I could find. I have devoured every old European superstition, could tell you about any number of American ghost stories, and even Asian folktales have fueled my imagination.
Native American horror is harder to come by. Maybe it’s because of the strong oral storytelling tradition, or maybe because their cultures have been looked down upon by the mainstream culture for so long, but indigenous-based stories just aren’t that common. Never Whistle At Night seeks to remedy that by offering twenty-six stories that feature indigenous characters told by indigenous authors. It was really interesting to see America from a different point of view. And scary too of course!
Never Whistle at Night brings a variety of horror and quality
Now just because Never Whistle At Night features all indigenous main characters doesn’t mean that the characters are living in teepees and hunting buffalo. Nor are they all facing ancient indigenous horrors. These are modern people living in modern times facing modern terrors. Sometimes these bogeymen are from Native legends, like in “Kushtuka” or “The Longest Street in the World.”
Other times the horror is from the modern world, like in “Collections” or “White Hills.” And sometimes the scariest thing of all is ourselves, like in “Quantum.” The fact that there was a variety of scares in Never Whistle At Night made the individual stories more frightening because you never knew what to expect from the tale when you started reading it. This kept the fear fresh and the stories exciting. It was a great choice on the editors’ part.
Now with all anthologies, some of these stories were excellent and some of them were a little less than great. Part of that might just have been my reaction to the stories, so I’m not going to call out any particular stories here, but there are just a few that are a little slow in their pacing, or a little too surreal for my taste.
However, there are others that are simply phenomenal. I always say that in an anthology you have to take the good with the bad. Not every story can be perfect. But as long as the good outnumbers the bad you’re doing well. And Never Whistle At Night does have more good stories than bad and more great stories than worse, so I’d say it’s still worth the read, even if they’re not all tens.
The perfect form for horror stories
Even with the aforementioned problem of mixed quality, anthologies are the best way to read horror stories. The perfect form for a horror story will always be the short story. It’s long enough to become invested and get a real good scare in (or a lingering fear and dread, depending on the story) but not so long that the fear wears off.
Humans aren’t designed for prolonged fear. Our bodies actually physically cannot sustain fear for very long. And our minds become fatigued from the strain and just sort of stop registering the fear. That’s why scary novels must be very carefully paced. And why horror movies are always the shortest films. Scary just works best in small, well-designed doses, making short stories the ideal scary story.
And who wants to have just one story? That’s why anthologies are great. You can read a story, get your scare. Then take a break and come back later when you’re ready to do it all over again. With Never Whistle At Night you can do this twenty-six times! That’s a lot of stories for one anthology so prepare for a nice, long spooky season!
Never Whistle At Night offers a great distraction this fall and beyond
So I keep saying how Never Whistle At Night is perfect for spooky season, mostly because it’s coming out at the start of said spooky season. But let’s be honest, it’s fun to be scared no matter what time of year it is. This anthology is packed full of stories to get you through this fall, but also well beyond that. And plenty of the stories are worth a second or third read.
It’s also nice to see a spotlight on a community and culture that so often gets overlooked or reduced to stereotypes in the mainstream media. Definitely add Never Whistle At Night: An Indigenous Dark Fiction Anthology to your reading list this fall.
My Rating: 7/10
Never Whistle At Night is available on September 19. Will you be reading this one? Let us know on social media @mycosmiccircus or in The Cosmic Circus Discord.