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Fifty years into one of the most prolific writing careers in American history, Stephen King continues to shine with unrivaled brightness. The man responsible for generations of night terrors and new authors is back with another thrilling jaunt into the unknown. This latest entry in the Kingverse, You Like It Darker, is a master course on short fiction that illustrates the author’s passion for the craft remains as vibrant today as it was five decades ago.

His zest for the strange, having long since lapped his literary heroes, rides a zenith unmatched by colleagues to this day. King’s half-century reign as the master of horror continues with this chilling and downright beautiful collection.

This is not King’s first rodeo and for most of us who picked up the newest book on Release Day, we have taken his hand before. He has asked us to walk with him through the dark and we’ve obliged because, well, we like it darker.

Twelve tales of magic, ghosties, ghoulies, heartache and hope come alive in the five-hundred pages that await. It is all here, in razor-sharp form. King has been a storyteller for much longer than he has even been a horror writer, and the tapestry he weaves here—between reality and the surreal—is arguably his strongest body of short fiction yet.

There are some genuine diamonds to unearth here. “Rattlesnakes” is the Cujo sequel you never knew you needed. Nor is it the one you’d expect. It’s damn near the perfect King ghost story, with the supernatural meeting grief and paranoia halfway. Think Duma Key meets Bag of Bones if they strolled through Pet Sematary.

Constant Readers have not seen Vic Trenton since he lost his boy to a sweltering car and a rabid dog but there has been a lifetime since then, for both reader and character. King has an uncanny talent to catch us up with characters as if we bumped into them on a walk in the park. He also does what only he seems to do so brilliantly, turning a mostly unimpressive inanimate object into an avatar of terror yet again.

“The Answer Man” might be one of King’s greatest works of fiction. It’s an uplifting tale of dreams coming true and love conquering all—until the floor falls out from under both protagonist and reader. Nobody can twist the knife into a new chamber of your heart quite like Mr. King can. I couldn’t help but beam (no pun intended) upon learning where The Answer Man comes from. The final page of the story is equal parts devastating and sanguine. I recommend keeping Kleenex nearby.

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“Danny Coughlin’s Bad Dream” reads like an unreleased excerpt from Doctor Sleep or The Outsider but still feels brand new. This story of a man with one horrible psychic vision reels the reader in from the very start. Jumping from the perspective of the afflicted man to the investigators ramps up the procedural aspect of the story without diluting the story’s surreal mysticism. Danny’s quest for justice while attempting to maintain his innocence and sanity is a white-knuckle ride from beginning to end.

“The Dreamers” just missed the honor roll for me. It’s a Lovecraftian homage that introduces us to a Vietnam veteran who has seen his share of horrors but could never be prepared for what awaits when he answers an ad for a new job. The outright mention of Lovecraft and one of his strongest works pulled me out of the story a bit, even for only a paragraph or so. There are a lot of really enticing opportunities to flesh this one out, but in true Eldritch horror form, we are left with more questions than answers when it comes to the unspeakable horrors that may await us below the floors of sleep.

“Two Talented Bastids” seems to reside in the same brain-space as Dreamcatcher, a story of two older men’s friendship that collides with an otherworldly phenomenon that changes their lives forever. The literary prose are strong in this one but the surreal aspects of the story come off rather flat, a very rare shortcoming on King’s part that is easy to excuse when the rest of the collection is so robust.

Several of the stories have seen the light of day previously, in one iteration or another. “Willie the Weirdo” scratches an uncomfortable itch for me—it’s not really a feel-good story, but how can you not sympathize with the titular weirdo? Extra points for the Hereditary-like ending.

“The Fifth Step” is a nasty little yarn that made me gasp aloud. “The Turbulence Expert” and “Red Screen” would make for nice Creepshow episodes, with no overt gruesome horror but plenty of weird vibes. “On Slide Inn Road” felt like a strong enough addition to King’s “weird travels” canon but it didn’t move this reader’s needle much. “Finn” and “Laurie” read like the magazine tales they were originally introduced as, rather forgettable stories that don’t make or break the book.

There are plenty of Easter eggs throughout the stories. We get visits to familiar destinations and name drops that might make you smile. There are whispers of the shine, and you can’t help but get the feeling there’s a low man in a yellow coat potentially waiting around the corner. There are thinnies. Of course, all things serve the beam.

We trust King because he has taken us on these walks before. He’s promised to lead us back into the sunlight by the end of each of his collections, but there is always that fear that maybe this is the time he forgets his promise. Worst yet, what if he gets lost trying to bring us back?

Then there is the really scary thought: What if we aren’t as scared of the dark as we have been in the past? Rest assured; there are plenty of things still lurking in the shadows and King is still more than happy to lead the way.