Review by Togo
Throughout history, there's probably no subject more debated than what comes after death. From the Nirvana and Naraka of Buddhism, to the Elysium and Tartarus of Greek Mythology, passing through the Aztec's Mictlan, and everything in between; multiples texts, religions, and philosophers have all tried to come up with an answer to this question. Chief among these texts is Dante's The Divine Comedy, which tells the poet's journey through the three realms of Christian afterlife (Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory) while accompanied by two spiritual guides: Virgil, a master poet, and Beatrice, his one true love. Dante's work is so influential that it basically ended up becoming the basis of all modern depictions of these realms, and no part of The Divine Comedy is more well known than the first one: Inferno, the chronicle of Dante's journey through Hell, and the inspiration for this book.
Infurno is an erotic horror anthology by Thurston Howl Publications, and the first part of The Divine Clawmedy series (oh, the puns!). This anthology tells the story of Kyle and Terry, a gay couple living in Detroit, who end up traveling through the several circles of Hell while accompanied by Atha, a doe and their guide on this realm. Just like its source material, the couple meet several people on their journey and learn what it is they did to deserve being there. However, unlike its source material, they do so by reliving the events which led to their demise and damnation. Unsurprisingly, each of these is one story, each by a different author, and it is these stories which make up the bulk of the anthology.
Be warned that, given the themes and subjects of the stories within (bad people going to bad places for doing bad things), this anthology features depictions of such sensitive topics as rape, violence, torture, gore, murder, suicide, self-harm, racism, physical and emotional abuse, among many others.
The anthology has a strong start with "Blur" by Weasel, representing Limbo. As expected from the only "innocent" circle of Hell, the protagonist of this tragic story, Ely, a white lab mouse on the run after a life of prostitution, is moreso a victim of circumstances than of his own foil. Weasel's depiction of regret makes it easy to sympathize with our main character, and also heightens the sense of dread as the story goes on until its eventual outcome.
The next story, "A New Toy" by Tarl Hoch, shows a more traditional type of horror. Anderson, porn store owner and the protagonist of this story, is a fox who decides to try a new sex toy he bought from a mysterious otter. Described in a way that would make Lovecraft proud, I got a quick smile which promptly faded after finding out how said toy was used. While Hoch manages to hit some good notes on the horror scale, I feel that this story faces a tough competition from other stories further down in the anthology, even when specifically talking about sex and the role it plays in the story, and, maybe it's just me, but there were some parts I had to reread several times to get a clear picture of what was going on.
The third circle brings two stories: "Down Among the Damned" by R.S. Pyne, and "Go Nuts for Donuts" by Jensyn Grayves. "Down Among the Damned" stars Ray, a restaurant critic who proudly and boldly embodies everything related to Gluttony, and that means more than just a taste for food. Pyne excelled at making Ray a truly unlikable character and cementing his place in Hell, being the first story to mix both pre- and post-damnation scenes, though the lack of horror and over-reliance on flashbacks could not mesh well with some readers.
As for "Go Nuts for Donuts", I have mixed feelings about it. Grayves' story of Mike, a raccoon working at a donuts store who falls for one of his coworkers, is well written on my opinion with a relatable character and situations, but it's also the first story to show one of my issues with the anthology. For starters, Mike feels more like a representative of Sloth than Gluttony, but, more importantly, the raccoon did not really strike me as someone deserving to be condemned to Hell either by his actions or his attitude. Moreover, the story did not fit the erotic bill, with no sex scenes at all, and I'm not really sure if it would count as horror outside of its ending, which does work more with the genre. Perhaps, this is one story that could have fared better until the next installment of the Clawmedy.
For the fourth circle we have "The Eyes of Aquana" by Faolan, and "The Cold" by Cedric Bacon. Representing Greed, Faolan's story is that of a master thief trying to steal the eponymous eyes along with his protégé. An entertaining story with a protagonist that does earn his spot in Hell, yet one I feel has the same problem as the previous one of not really feeling like a horror story and, while it does have several sex scenes, I don't think they're enough to make it erotica either. Not a bad story by any means, but maybe one that would feel more at home in a different anthology or even as a stand-alone (I mean it, I'd certainly read a complete novel based just on this world and characters).
"The Cold" returns us back to the horror with a simple setup: two dogs, one sack of gold, and a storm forcing them all to be together. Slightly reminding me of Alvin Schwartz's "The Wendigo," Bacon's portrayal of Masterson's decent into madness is a believable pleasure to read, and, while the story can be a little predictable at times, it does manage to hide enough twists to keep the reader on their toes.
"A Cat in Hell's Chance" by James Hudson and "Je Reviendrai" by Kirisis are the representatives of the fifth circle: Anger. In Hudson's story, we follow Jim, a tabby cat whose life has been constantly haunted by a mouse named Terry. Starting strong with a no-holds-barred in medias res, the story quickly loses its pacing as Jim recounts his many episodes with Terry that led to that moment. On the plus side, Jim's inner monologue and the scenes set in the present can be quite entertaining.
On the other hand we have "Je Reviendrai", a Gothic horror story centering on Georgia, a noblewoman concerned with possessions and her public appearances. On its core, Kirisis' story is good and suspenseful with one of those protagonists that you love to hate by design, yet it is held back by the excessive use of flowery language (which does make sense in context given the narrator, time period, and genre). Moreover, while Georgia does show Anger from time to time, I feel like this story would feel more at home in another circle, Greed or Pride quickly coming to mind.
"Metal Hellth" by Ferric starts what I'd consider to be the better half of the book. The sole representative of Heresy, "Metal Hellth" deals with Justin, a lead singer from a metal band who ends up performing one last performance before a strange group of spectators. Brutal at times yet whimsical at others, Ferric's tone is a huge contrast with the rest of the anthology, though a welcome addition, indeed. This story quickly became my favorite the first time I was going through the anthology, though little did I know that that spot would get quickly taken away by...
..."In the Name of Science" by Allison Thai, first story of the seventh circle and the crown jewel of this anthology. Representing Violence Against Others, this story chronicles the live experiments done by Sorae, her father, and the team on war prisoners. Thai's cold and clinical tone, coupled with detailed descriptions of gore and the occasional images, really bring this story to life and hit the gross-out and horror with each passing experiment, each one more deranged than the previous one. If you had to pick any one story to read out of this anthology, make sure to make it this one; I'm sure you won't regret it.
However, "A Soul Removed" by Stephen Coghlan is more than worthy enough to stand side by side in the same circle as the previous story. Representing Violence Against The Self, "A Soul Removed" details the life of Seers, a god-fearing bull terrier who starts taking religious doctrines too literally for his own good. Unlike "In the Name of Science", which focused more on the gore and revulsion, Coghlan's story focuses more on dread. More specifically, the anxiousness coming from knowing full well what the protagonist is going to do next and the helplessness that it brings you as a reader. Just like the story before it, "A Soul Removed" excels at what it does, making this my favorite circle in the anthology.
Representing the eight circle (Fraud), we have "Waiting" by T.J. Minde. This story's about Xander and Page, a gay couple who... actually, there's not much I can say of the plot without spoiling it. It is said that the purpose of art is to evoke emotions, and, under that definition, Minde's really an artist given all the frustration and fury I ended up feeling while reading it. Without going into details, I'd say that the punishment the protagonist got, fitting as it might be, was not enough for what he did; and this story was the first since "Blur" to leave me with a sour taste after reading it (in the good way, so to speak).
Finally, for the last circle, we have "Those Delicate Fingers" by Hypetaph and "The Night Betrayed" by Jaden Drackus. In "Those Delicate Fingers" we follow Maverick, a werewolf looking for a way to end his curse. Technically the only non-furry story in the anthology, Hypetaph's depiction of regret and visceral descriptions are initially really welcomed. However, the over-reliance on those strengths coupled with a lack of world/character building hurt what could have easily turned into another favorite.
Last, but definitely not least, "The Night Betrayed" follows a couple of assassins tasked with getting rid of one very specific target by an Emperor. Curiously enough, the only story where the narrator (or narrators) is not the one being punished; Shadow and Ra'jarr's plan is quite interesting and intriguing, though a slow pacing can make it feel longer than it really is. While it does include a little gore, I think that this story just like "The Eyes of Aquana" might feel more at home in a fantasy anthology than in this one.
Reviewing an anthology with different authors can be difficult, but, as a whole, the anthology, along with its framing story by Thurston Howl and the accompanying art by Drkchaos, fulfills its purpose in an acceptable manner; however, seeing it by its parts, you can see a few cracks appearing here and there. Stories that don't fit or would serve better somewhere else, the difference in quality and style between stories, and the overall cohesiveness of the anthology leave it with high highs and low lows; though that's to be expected when having to deal with so many authors for a single piece of work.
If you're looking for a wholesome, feel-good series, this is definitely not the book for you. However, if you're looking for horror, stories of debauchery and comeuppance, or are a fan of the original work, this anthology might be for you. With 10+ authors you're bound to find more than a few stories that make it worth the price, and it'll be a good warm-up for the next part: Purrgatorio (the puns...).