Seasons of Insanity – G. Ainsworth and F. W. Haubold – 7.5/10

In “Seasons of Insanity” Gill Ainsworth and Frank Haubold collaborate to give the reader an enjoyable – and unsettling – tour of the darkest depths of the human psyche across a year, with each story being assigned to a different month. The two authors work well together, with Haubold providing unsettling ambiguity and Ainsworth showing her ability to viscerally get under the skin – this means that there’s something here to appeal to fans of all kinds of horror. Accordingly, the tone of the stories moves between the unsettling and the downright disturbing in a way that ensures that the reader is kept on edge.

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A real strength of the collection is the humanity of the characters. Nothing is driven by something that is truly alien and monstrous – any dark motives have understandable drives. The reader becomes aware that under different circumstances – in grief, sickness, when trapped in dark memories –  they could so easily become them.

The collection as a whole is solid to say the least, but as with any anthology, there are particular stories that stand out from an impressive crowd. In “Fighting the Flab” and “Cuddly Toys”, Gill Ainsworth best shows her ability to make a reader squirm (in my case, physically). “Fighting the Flab” is a harrowing account of obsession with weight loss, and is one of the most affecting horror pieces I’ve read in a long time. Likewise, “Cuddly Toys” is deeply unsettling, as a child’s search for the source of the love in their toys leads to a tragically logical conclusion – tragic in its outcome and in its motivations. Ultimately, both are stories about love – the desire to love the self, and the desire to be loved by others.

Other standouts from Ainsworth’s stories are “Bugs”, an engaging take on conspiracy theories with a clever and unexpected twist ending, and “End of the Line”, in which she demonstrates great skill with emotion, carefully balancing grief, regret and hope as she tells the tale of a chance encounter between a woman and her son who could have been.

Haubold also adeptly utilises grief as a source of horror in “The Miracle Tree” and “Seven”; this latter tale is a great twist on Halloween-themed serial killers that treads familiar territory in a fresh and invigorating way.  Another standout among his works is the Lovecraftian serial-killer story of “He Who Picks the Bones.” However, his finest work in the anthology, for me, is “Welcome to the Machine”, a story which takes place almost entirely within a medical scanner. It’s a neat take on the tropes of epidemics and the zombie apocalypse, and is a perfect choice to round off the anthology.

Overall, “Seasons of Insanity” has something for every horror fan, and is a highly recommended read.

This review was written in exchange for a free copy of the ebook.