No Happily Ever After by Phil Sloman

When horror touches your soul in such a profound way, you just know that you are in the hands of a master storyteller.  

No Happily Ever After by Phil Sloman

A Horror Book Review by Jim Mcleod

There are many Horror authors out there who are quietly plugging away, producing great thought-provoking horror that has the power to unnerve you, but they never seem to get the traction that they deserve; Phil Sloman is one such author. I have had the pleasure of reading everything that Phil has published over the years, and his latest collection of seven horror stories, No Happily Ever After, is perhaps Phil’s most consistent and terrifying set of stories that he has published. No Happily Ever After‘s power to unnerve comes not from the horror angle of overt, in-your-face terror but from Phil’s exceptional ability to find the horror in the everyday things that we often take for granted and the horror in the unknown and unsaid. Simple things that should be fun, like an Ice Cream van, take on a sinister sense of dread, or a child playing with her toys in the local woods becomes a tale of absolute dread. Sloman fully understands the mechanic of how to write a story that eats away at your most basic fears without ever having to resort to over-the-top horror.   

No Happily Ever After opens with The Teddy Bears Picnic, where our child narrator takes us through her day of playing with her stuffed toys in the local woods. All nice and innocent; however, Sloman slowly but surely takes you into the dark heart of the truth about the narrator, where the sense of dread builds gradually but relentlessly. Things are never fully explained, family secrets remain as secrets, and even the ending of this powerful story is left open-ended. When you finish this story, you will have an unhealthy fear of trellises. They say you should open a collection with a strong story that sets the tone for your collection, and The Teddy Bears Picnic does not disappoint, a highlight of this fantastic book.  

Not content with making the countryside and families a terrifying concept, Sloman decides to make Ice Cream Trucks the new thing we should all be afraid of.  

Rupert is looking for a job and ends up working for a mysterious boss, driving his Ice Cream Van, but of course, this will not be a fun-filled ride filled with soft whips and sprinkles. And we wouldn’t expect anything less from such a talented writer. Sloman does a great job conveying Rupert’s deaeration when looking for a job. At the same time, many of us would baulk at the alarm bells that should be ringing in our ears, at the “terms and conditions” that the boss places on him; we also accept that he is so desperate for money that he will do anything to get a job. Sloman builds on the sense of unease during the story’s first half and ramps it up to a thrilling and brutal finale.  

AI is a buzzword right now, and Samantha, Stop, takes our fears of this new technology and runs with it. But is the AI the true monster of the story? Well, you will have to read this powerful story to find out.  

The Girl With Three Eyes takes a supernatural look at the horrible concept of school mass shootings. Convinced that one of her classmates is not all that she seems, our narrator decides to take things into her own hands, and a school cafeteria quickly becomes a scene of total carnage and tragedy. Like most of the stories in this collection, Sloman gives the reader no easy answers and plays the truth cards as close to his chest as is humanly possible; by this point in the collection, some readers might wish for a more definitive resolution to one of the stories. However, Sloman’s deeply sympathetic narrative envelops the reader in this potent tale. 

In Not Simon, we find our narrator in love with a new amour, Simon. But Simon is not what he seems. This “new gothic” story would not be out of place in those classic horror anthology horror movies of yore. A tragic love story that will leave the reader chilled to the bone.  

Cats, eh, what are they like, little furballs of fun one minute, then raging fur-covered killers the next. In Gifts, a young family who have recently moved to the country find that their house cat has suddenly found an affinity for hunting. Doing what cats do, they like to leave the trophies of their kills for their owners. But when the kills become bigger and bigger, we realise that something is not quite right. The change in narrative tone from disquieting to full-on horror is handled with a craftsman-like sense of purpose and a genuinely upsetting and malevolent ending. This is a killer of the story.  

No Happily Ever After concludes with the most emotionally powerful story of the collection. This sensitive and heartbreaking look at how an old couple handles some unknown ending of the world is a masterpiece of quiet, touching horror. When horror touches your soul in such a profound way, you just know that you are in the hands of a master storyteller.  

As I said at the start of this review Phil Sloman is one of our most undervalued horror authors, and this collection of seven lyrically and emotionally charged horror stories should be on everyone’s reading list.  

No Happily Ever After by Phil Sloman

No Happily Ever After by Phil Sloman

British Fantasy Society nominated author Phil Sloman really gets under the skin of his characters in a way that is delivered with a deft touch and a slice of dark humour. His second collection, No Happily Ever After, brings us seven dark tales of the human condition. The childhood innocence of a woodland walk, a haunting by a dead lover, mysterious gifts on a family doorstep, humanity at the end of times, and more. Everyone has a story to be told, but will anyone get to live happily ever after?

“A terrific collection that’s concerned with very modern horrors.” Priya Sharma, multiple Shirley Jackson and British Fantasy Society Award winner.

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  • Jim Mcleod

    Jim "The Don" Mcleod has been reading horror for over 35 years, and reviewing horror for over 16 years. When he is not spending his time promoting the horror genre, he is either annoying his family or mucking about with his two dogs Casper and Molly.

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