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Book Review - Half Life by Sarah Gray

Sarah Gray returns with another remarkable trilogy of YA/Adult short stories, each drenched in their own unique brand of macabre. Unlike her previous work, her second book leans further into fantasy, her signature horror style is still present but executed in a much more nuanced fashion. Death, as always, is a looming presence throughout each tale, and in one case more literally than figuratively.

First we have the titular Half Life, which is fundamentally about a life half lived. An honest and fascinating character study about a morally ambiguous soul corrupted by death. What results is an unsettling story filled with powerful themes of regret and loss culminating in a nail biting conclusion.

The Heart of the Heartless World is the second story collected, one that differs from the rest thanks to its beguiling presentation. Henry Scott’s fictional account of a scandinavian expedition is told through a wonderfully designed tract, reminiscent of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. It’s romanticised setting beautifully communicates to the reader a world filled with majesty, terror and ethereal beings. Alodie Fielding provides the uncanny illustrations featured in the pamphlet and throughout the rest of the book. Her drawings effortlessly add heaps of atmosphere to Sarah’s prose, it would be impossible to imagine the stories without them. An almost symbiotic collaboration between illustrator and artist that is as fruitful as it is fascinating.

Lastly we have Killing Rachel, a more affable entry into Sarah’s catalogue of stories. A jovial concept set around the blunders perpetrated by the whimsical god of anxiety. Dragged along is the mortal Rachel, a sufferer of - you guessed it - anxiety. The author’s approach to the subject matter is altruistic. Not only does the story aim to cure it’s character’s woes but also points the focus outward toward the reader. Behind the dread is a benevolence so touching it adds mountains of depth to these deceptively normal paranormal tales.

These tales aren’t for the faint of heart and although on the surface they may seem simple horror stories, when you scratch a little bit deeper, we realise they hold warnings and lessons for our own daily lives.

Review by Nicholas Turner

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