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7 Dark Fantasy Short Story Collections Straight From Your Wildest Nightmares

Fantasy is not always rainbows and unicorns.  

dark fantasy short stories tlu feb 2024
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  • Photo Credit: Rosie Sun / Unsplash

 What is dark fantasy? According to Wikipedia, it is a “subgenre of fantasy literary, artistic, and cinematic works that incorporate disturbing and frightening themes,” often combining elements of fantasy and horror, “possessing a dark and gloomy tone or an atmosphere of horror and dread.” Figures ranging from Charles L. Grant to Karl Edward Wagner have been credited with coining the term, though they have frequently been describing very different things in doing so. 

For many of us, dark fantasy is like a lot of other subgenres—perhaps best defined the way Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart once famously defined obscenity: “I know it when I see it.”

From fairy tale retellings to modern urban fantasy, from the grit of our contemporary world to the gilt of an imagined past, dark fantasy comes in many shapes and sizes, but it always sends delicious shivers up and down our spines, and makes us keep the lights on. 

Whether your taste in dark fantasy runs to sword-and-sorcery with horror elements, or to urban fantasy with a slightly harder edge, to modern horror that simply makes more overt use of fantastical elements, or something else entirely, these 7 collections of dark fantasy stories by some of today’s leading authors are guaranteed to keep you turning the pages long into the night—just maybe because you’re afraid to go to sleep. 

A Cathedral of Myth and Bone

A Cathedral of Myth and Bone

By Kat Howard

Kat Howard’s debut novel, Roses and Rot, was called “a Brothers Grimm tale for the contemporary reader” (School Library Journal), and the same could certainly be said of this World Fantasy Award-nominated book of her collected short works, including the novella “Once, Future,” which retells the story of King Arthur on a contemporary college campus—and through the eyes of its female characters. Whether you’re a fan of Howard’s novels or are coming to her work for the first time, there’s no better place to see why Neil Gaiman hailed her as a “remarkable writer” than in this stirring collection of short stories that shows her work at its best. 

and her smile will untether the universe for dark fantasy tlu feb 2024

And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe

By Gwendolyn Kiste

In a relatively short time, Gwendolyn Kiste has established herself as one of the most important writers of contemporary dark fiction. A three-time Bram Stoker Award winner, she has made a name for herself with books like The Rust Maidens and Reluctant Immortals, alongside numerous short stories.

And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe is the first collection of her short fiction, and in it, readers are treated to the kinds of unforgettable tales that only Kiste can tell, as a murdered movie star reaches out from beyond the grave, two sisters keep a strange secret hidden in a Victorian bathtub, and much more. 

Still So Strange

Still So Strange

By Amanda Downum

“It’s Clive Barker crossed with Tanith Lee set to a Siouxsie and the Banshees beat, and I loved every second of it.” That’s how Shirley Jackson Award-winning author Gemma Files described Amanda Downum’s World Fantasy Award-nominated debut short story collection.

Few contemporary authors are as synonymous with dark fantasy as Downum, whose novels include The Bone Palace, The Poison Court, and Dreams of Shreds and Tatters. Her short stories show the same sense of the fantastic, peopled by characters and monsters (who are sometimes hard to tell apart) who are nonetheless all-too-human in their longings and loves. 

this strange way of dying for dark fantasy tlu feb 2024

This Strange Way of Dying

By Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Known for her virtuosic ability to slide between genres, Silvia Moreno-Garcia has become practically a household name thanks to the success of novels like Mexican Gothic. Her earlier short stories show a similar aptitude for slip steam writing, as she casually switches gears from fantasy to science fiction to gothic horrors, sometimes all in the same story.

This Strange Way of Dying “mixes Mexican folklore with urban life and throws in a dash of pulp flavour” (The Vancouver Province), featuring fifteen of Moreno-Garcia’s best stories, including “Flash Frame,” which provided partial inspiration for her recent novel, Silver Nitrate. 

the poison eaters for dark fantasy tlu feb 2024

The Poison Eaters and Other Stories

By Holly Black

From the Spiderwick Chronicles to her own standalone series such as Tithe, The Cruel Prince, The White Cat, and others, Holly Black has found her place as “a modern fantasy master” (Kirkus Reviews).

The Poison Eaters & Other Stories is her first collection of short pieces, ranging from vampires to fairies to an unlikely eating competition and far beyond. A New York Times bestselling author, for those who love Black’s novels or those who want to see what all the fuss is about, this is a perfect portal into one of modern fantasy’s most beloved authors, whose works have been hailed as “dark, edgy, beautifully written, and compulsively readable” (Booklist). 

the bone key for dark fantasy tlu feb 2024

The Bone Key

By Sarah Monette

“The dead and the monstrous will not leave Kyle Murchison Booth alone.” So says the back cover of Sarah Monette’s collection of one-of-a-kind ghost stories, all featuring prickly and unforgettable museum curator Kyle Murchison Booth, a man with an unusual knack for getting into unlikely supernatural jams.

With stories that harken back to the great ghost story writers of the turn of the century, but with a decidedly modern storytelling sensibility, Monettewho also writes fantasy and dark fantasy as Katherine Addison, author of Melusine and The Goblin Emperor—spins yarns that are “cerebral, ethereal and stylishly understated” (Publishers Weekly). 

she said destroy for dark fantasy tlu feb 2024

She Said Destroy

By Nadia Bulkin

Featuring three stories that were nominated for the Shirley Jackson Award and four that were included in Year’s Best anthologies, Nadia Bulkin’s unabashedly political and fiercely poignant debut collection “takes roads less traveled, uncovering the things that squirm in the dark while daring readers to look away” (Publishers Weekly).

With an introduction by Paul Tremblay and featuring such unforgettable stories as “Intertropical Convergence Zone,” “Seven Minutes in Heaven,” and “Absolute Zero,” Bulkin serves up tales in which “terror comes from the underlying truth that these stories are firmly rooted in the circumstances of our current society” (Library Journal). 

Featured photo: Rosie Sun / Unsplash