I make no secret of the fact that I try and act as the champion for homegrown horror here in the UK and so, when I came across the work of fellow Scotsman John McCuaig in the awesome horror anthology Holiday of the Dead, I had to choose which of his works to progress on to next...
I plumped for Children of the Plague since I've developed a bit of a taste for short stories at the moment and with the promise of tales including zombies, werewolves, vampires and assorted post-apocalyptica, I was sold.
McCuaig's entry in Holiday of the Dead was The Last Trip Together about a father and his two children who, while on a trip in a caravan, suddenly find themselves set upon by the undead. In keeping with that short story and marrying up the title of the book here, McCuaig's stories are largely concerned with the plight of youngsters or have them as the protagonists/ main focus of the tales therein.
Children of the Plague offers up twelve thematically similar short stories in that they all, in some way, have the common thread of either children or the undead running through them, some with both, naturally!
McCuaig kicks off proceedings with the titular Children of the Plague: a story set in a postapocalyptic future where the remnants of mankind are protected from the undead horde by a massive barrier; but are they truly alive, or just waiting to die?
In The Demons of Glencoe, the author takes the bloody real life events of the Massacre of Glencoe in 1692 and puts a distinct horror spin on the tale while utilising historical fact to prop up proceedings.
A school trip doesn't quite go according to plan in The Second Battle of Hastings, leading to a quick promotion for a security guard and a steep learning curve for one group of pupils.
The Mines of Mars is an exercise in dark sci-fi that explores the cold, calculated horror that a corporate giant is capable of.
The above stories were very much for me the highlights of the book and there is no denying that the author has a talent for conjuring up some novel horror tales that I have never encountered before. However, this is not a book without flaws. Unfortunately, I felt that two of the entries here (The Dance of the Dead and Her Majesties [sic] Government Special Notice No. 7) were just filler and were in fact whimsical and not in keeping with the tone of the book. Given that there are only twelve stories in this title and overall, Children of the Plague is a short, easy read, two such entries felt distinctly out of place.
Additionally and on a technical note, this book really requires to be proof-read. I purchased this title for my Kindle and although I have found typos to be commonplace in e-books, they were rife throughout Children of the Plague and at points rendered the book a chore to read due to this and bad grammar.
On the whole, I would say that Children of the Plague was an entertaining, punchy compendium of short stories that will appeal broadly to horror fans and maybe more specifically, to young-adult genre enthusiasts; and having only paid 77p ($1.20) for this on my Kindle, I think that the errors contained therein can be off-set against such a bargain basement price when factoring in the enjoyment derived from the more robust entries in McCuaig's book.