Charity and horror fiction. Three words which do not normally go together but, honestly, should. All profits from At Hell's Gates go to The Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund. This gesture is something which naturally inclined me to like this book and its contents but I'll try to keep an unbiased perspective to the writing.
This is a collection of a dozen or more short-stories which chronicle the adventures of various heroes as they deal with increasingly bad situations. They're the heroes facing hell (hence the title) and, in many ways, this is a surprisingly uplifting book. The heroes rarely come to a bad end and, when they do, it is a genuine surprise.
At Hell's Gates is a book by such notable indie horror authors as Jacequline Druga (Contagion), Stephen Kozeniewski (Braineater Jones), Shana Festa (Time of Death), Stevie Kopas (The Breadwinner), and Paul Mannering (Tankbread).
Quite a few of the vignettes deal with the characters from these works and if you're familiar with any of them, you're probably going to get more out of the stories than someone who is not. At Hell's Gates is a mixture of good, okay, and stories I found myself indifferent to.
My favorite story is probably The Err Apparent by Tim Marquitz, which is a R-rated version of the Dresden Files with the Devil's nephew as its protagonist. Another standout is The Princess and the Flea by Paul Mannering. I wasn't familiar with either work beforehand but both were incredibly enjoyable and encouraged me to check out their universes.
Some of the stories are ones that weren't so great, however. None of them were bad, per say, but some of them felt like they were teasers for the book worlds they came from rather than complete stories themselves. The best of At Hell's Gates is when the tales decide to show something in its entirety. Journal of the Undead: The Beginning by S.G. Lee is an example of one of the complete stories which is stronger for it.
Even the stories which read like advertisements aren't bad, though. Ollie Ollie Oxen Free by Shana Festa, for example, is a hair-raising story of a survivor struggling to get away from the heart of a zombie outbreak. Nefarious, by Stevie Kopas, also expands upon one of the most interesting characters from the Breadwinner trilogy.
If there's a flaw with At Hell's Gates, it's the fact the vast majority of the stories are zombie ones. I think the anthology promoters would have done well to highlight this fact. Calling it At Hell's Gates: Zombies or something similar might have made things better, IMHO. Here, I expected a more diverse variety of stories and found, instead, a zombie anthology with a few outliers.
Not every story will blow you away but it has a pretty good average against professional anthologies I've read. There's also some real gems in it as well. Given it is less than half the price of a comparably sized independent book, I think it's well worth the price to check out. The fact the profits go to charity also means that I encourage horror fans to pick it up.
In conclusion, At Hell's Gates is a worthy edition to any horror fan's e-library.
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