A review of Richard Gavin's At Fear's Altar

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Richard Gavin's At Fear's Altar was published by Hippocampus Press in October 2012.

Richard Gavin is the author of three previous short story collections, Charnel Wine (2004), Omens (2007), and The Darkly Splendid Realm (2009). He lives in Ontario, Canada, with his beloved wife and their brood.

Click here to visit the author's official website.

Here's a description of At Fear's Altar:

Canadian author Richard Gavin has established himself as a leading contemporary writer of weird fiction. His richly nuanced prose style, his imaginative range, and his shrewdness in the portrayal of character and domestic conflict make his tales far more than mere shudder-coining. In this fourth collection of short stories and novelettes, Gavin again casts a wide imaginative net, from haunted Canadian woodlands to the carnivorous mesas of the American frontier, from Lovecraft's New England to the spirit traditions of Japan. Of the dozen stories included in this book, eight are previously unpublished - a rich new feast of terror for devotees of a writer who works in the tradition of Poe, Machen, Blackwood, and Ligotti.


Richard Gavin's At Fear's Altar is an excellent collection of horror and dark fantasy stories. It's a brilliantly wonderful and disturbing collection for horror readers who want to read quality.

At Fear's Altar contains the following masterfully written stories:

  • Prologue: A Gate of Nerves
  • Chapel in the Reeds
  • The Abject
  • Faint Baying from Afar
  • The Unbound
  • A Pallid Devil, Bearing Cypress
  • King Him
  • The Plain
  • Only Enuma Elish
  • The Word-Made Flesh
  • Annexation
  • Darksome Leaves
  • The Eldritch Faith

Classic horror, modern horror, weird fiction and cosmic horror are the key words which define the stories in this collection. I haven't read anything this good since I read Laird Barron's The Croning and Donald Michael Platt's A Gathering of Vultures. I have to mention that I was very impressed by this collection, because in my opinion this collection is slightly better than the previous collection, The Darkly Splendid Realm, which was an amazing achievement. I enjoyed each story (to be honest, I would've liked to read more stories).

At Fear's Altar is a delightful and shocking collection of dark and disturbing wonders to readers who love dark stories and weird fiction. Richard Gavin's writing combines classic and traditional horror with modern themes in a fascinating way. Richard Gavin's stories feel fresh, but they're loyal to the traditional stories, which form the basis of the everlasting popularity of weird fiction.

The prologue (A Gate of Nerves) creates a chilling atmosphere, because the protagonists have a weird gathering. The purpose of this gathering is to invoke an entity. I loved the way the author wrote about the gathering and what happened at the end of the story.

Faint Baying from Afar and The Unbound are stunningly good tributes to H. P. Lovecraft (Faint Baying from Afar is subtitled 'An Epistolary Trail after H. P. Lovecraft's "The Hound"' and The Unbound is subtitled 'A Meditation upon H. P. Lovecraft's "The Unnamable"'). I was surprised by how well and lovingly the author has written these stories. Both stories are fascinating in their weirdness. I think that if H. P. Lovecraft were alive, he'd like to call these stories his own stories.

It's a bit difficult for me to choose my favourite story, but if I had to choose only one story it would without a doubt be The Abject. It's a brilliantly written horror story, which is in equal parts cosmic horror and modern horror. In this story a group of people gather to watch a lunar eclipse and one of them tells a story about a mountain, which can be seen in the ocean (the story of the mountain will appeal to everybody who loves cosmic stories). The author writes fantastically about the characters and their lives. He even writes about things related to sexuality.

I think I'll have to mention that I loved Chapel in the Reeds, because it isn't often that authors write this fluently about old men, their lives and fears. Chapel in the Reeds is a splendid and well written story about an old man who slowly loses his sanity due to his age. The loss of his sanity is described in vivid and disturbing details, which make the story psychologically challenging and terrifying. I think that everybody who reads this story will agree with me when I say that it's one of the most terrifying stories in this collection.

Richard Gavin's stories remind me quite a lot of the stories written by the old masters of horror (H. P. Lovecraft, Edgar Allan Poe, Arthur Machen and Algernon Blackwood). His writing is nuanced and he writes terrifyingly about the fates of his characters. He has an ability to add slowly building feelings of dread - these feelings of dread build towards a climax which is shocking and ingenious. In other words, he spices his stories carefully with hints of dark happenings and then masterfully builds tension towards the end.

It's actually amazing how good a writer Richard Gavin is. I've noticed that several authors, who are fans of classic weird fiction and old horror stories, tend write much better and more psychologically challenging horror stories than authors who have aren't familiar with classic horror. This, in my opinion, is a mark of a good and talented horror author - this mark distinguishes a quality horror author from other authors (there are, of course, a few exceptions to this "rule").

By the way, if somebody thinks that I'm a spokesperson for weird fiction and quality horror, I can say that I love good and well written weird fiction and quality horror very much and I always will love both, so that's one of the reasons why I praise them. Stories, which can be catogorized as weird fiction, are often genuinely fascinating and beautifully written stories, so it's difficult not to praise them.

The author explores human feelings, loneliness, aging, love and painful  in this collection in a remarkable way. I think that this collection is a testament to the fact that speculative fiction can address several difficult themes much better and sometimes more thoroughly and touchingly than mainstream books. When difficult themes, psychological fear and fear of supernatural things meet each other, the result is truly stunning and it has an everlasting effect on the reader.

I already mentioned cosmic horror a couple of paragrahs ago, so now I'll write more about it. One of the trademarks of cosmic horror is that the cosmos is indifferent towards humanity. Richard Gavin uses this trademark to his advantage, because he combines human feelings and the indifference of the cosmos in a fresh way.

It's great that Richard Gavin writes about different locations in his stories. He writes as fluently about Canadian wilderness as about Lovecraft's New England. His stories are versatile and range all the way from weird fiction to modern horror and from dark fantasy to classic horror, so it's good that he has chosen to write about different locations, because the use of these locations demonstrates that weird and terrifying things can happen anywhere and at any time.

Although Richard Gavin uses plenty of traditional weird fiction and horror elements in his stories, his stories are original. He has a unique voice of his own and his stories feel fresh and visceral.

Just like Laird Barron, Richard Gavin is an author who deserves all the praise he gets. I'm sure that everybody, who is familiar with weird fiction and classic horror, will agree with me on this. Newcomers, who aren't familiar with weird fiction, will also love these stories, because they're quality stories with plenty of dark fantasy elements and visceral happenings. I'll also mention that I think that readers who have read stories by classic horror authors and modern masters (Laird Barron, Clive Barker, Livia Llewellyn, W. H. Pugmire etc) will be impressed by these stories.

I loved At Fear's Altar and I'm sure other readers will love it too, because Richard Gavin is one of the new masters of weird fiction and his stories are perfect entertainment for horror readers. At Fear's Altar is one of the best new horror short story collections, so make sure that you'll read it as soon as possible.

Highly recommended to fans of dark fantasy and quality horror!