I rarely read short story collections. It’s not that I don’t enjoy short stories, as a genre-I do-it’s just that I sometimes struggle to get through an entire collection in any sort of timely manner. I know that, theoretically, that is the beauty of a collection: you don’t need to read it all in one sitting. Unfortunately for me, I am totally anal retentive about reading an entire book before moving on to another one, so I have no choice but to read these entire collections or my head will implode. This is why I don’t pick up anthologies such as this one all that often, and is also why I am very pleased to say that it is fucking amazing and I am so, so glad that I read it. Beyond just being an excellent collection of stories, I was really stoked on the diversity of viewpoints and authors represented: queer stories, stories by PoC authors, REALLY FUCKING METAL STORIES, well known authors, lesser known authors whose works I want to be buried in. Just. Loved. It.
Because this is a collection of short stories about all sorts of beasts and monsters by different authors, I thought I’d try doing a microreview of each story.
“Moriabe’s Children” by Paolo Bacigalupi
Alanie had never seen a kraken, but her people spoke of them often.
I was skeptical of this one because (and I know I am in the vast minority here) I’ve never been a fan of Bacigalupi’s writing. I’m happy to say I was surprised because this story is stunning. The lyrical language and variation of the same first sentence at the beginning of each section gave the story the feel of song. Achingly sad and beautiful.
“Old Souls” by Cassandra Clare
The entrance to the nursing home was both grand and unobtrusive, Leah thought, as if nobody wanted to be reminded that beyond the high white wall that hid the building from the road, past the elegant sign saying Silver Pines, behind the inoffensive clapboard front of the huge, rambling Victorian, were old people who were unlikely to ever leave the place alive.
Eh. Not bad, but not great either. Kind of a cheesy ending. No shocker there.
“Ten Rules for Being an Intergalactic Smuggler (The Successful Kind)” by Holly Black
1. There are no rules. That’s what your uncle tells you, after he finds you stowing away in his transport ship, the Celeris, which you used to call the Celery when you were growing up, back when you only dreamed of getting off the crappy planet your parents brought you to as a baby.
Awesome, but that’s unsurprising considering it’s Holly Black. Exciting, interesting format, and surprisingly touching. Also, I never thought I’d say this, but that alien was hellllllllla sexy.
“Quick Hill” by M.T. Anderson
That fall, the songs were all about saying goodbye.
Melancholy and heartbreakingly weird. <3 M.T. Anderson 4eva.
“The Diabolist” by Nathan Ballingrud
For many years, we knew our monster.
Wow. Just, wow. As in, I finished this story and said “wow” out loud to myself. Macabre, startling, and kind of Lovecraftian. I had never even heard of Nathan Ballingrud before, and now I want to read everything he’s ever written.
“This Whole Demoning Thing” by Patrick Ness
If she was honest with herself, Angela would have happily dropped the whole being-a-fire-breathing demon thing in favor of just playing keyboards and singing backup in her normal face, maybe under smoke and black lights or something, you know, so no one could object or look at her like she was a freak.
I love everything Patrick Ness touches, but you know what? I kind of wish this one was a novel, and not a short story. It was super fun and there were some moments of transcendentally beautiful writing, but I don’t think I fully connected with the world and the nature of demon aspects in the short page count.
“Wings in the Morning” by Sarah Rees Brennan
Luke’s mother put a comforting hand, heavy with gold and calluses, over Luke’s and said: “Sometimes when a mummy and a daddy love each other very much-“
OMG. OMG OMG OMG. THIS STORY. Non-monogamous relationships! Queer harpies! Gender role swapped elves! I had never read anything by Sarah Rees Brennan and holy shit, how did I not realize how amazing she is? This story is hilarious and tender and has wonderful characters and I want to marry it.
“Left Foot, Right” by Nalo Hopkinson
“All you have this in a size nine?” Jenna puts the shiny red patent shoe down on the counter.
“The Mercurials” by G. Carl Purcell
One night, after everyone in North Bangor, Michigan, had gone to sleep, and only one woman was left to sing the night-song shift, Blank Itzikoff snuck out of his bedroom window and walked through the black field toward the ruins of South Bangor.
THIS STORY IS SO METAL. I’m not even trying to be cute. It really is all about heavy metal and the end of the world. A darkly refreshing and brutal post-apocalyptic vision.
“Kitty Capulet and the Invention of Underwater Photography” by Dylan Horrocks
These are the photos I took on the plane.
Kind of heavy handed, not my favorite of the collection.
“Son of Abyss” by Nik Houser
It was Mom’s idea for me and Dad to build the blood altar in the garage.
Holy shit. I was not mentally or emotionally prepared for the turn this one took. It started out as a darkly fun romp through a world overrun by demons, but then it took a turn for the brutally disturbing. This is a pretty incredible story, but it was hard for me to read in the end. Still, worth it, just prepare yourself to feel like you’re going to throw up for the last few pages there.
“A Small Wild Magic” by Kathleen Jennings
Cute, short and sweet graphic short story. Pretty stoked that this format made it into the collection!
“The New Boyfriend” by Kelly Link
Ainslie doesn’t rip open presents. She’s always been careful with her things, even the things that don’t matter.
Hurray for Kelly Link! Even though this story is written from the perspective of a teenage girl, it is infused with some pretty bitter/jaded views of love. It actually made me cry a little bit. Great take on teenage girl strife and the quest for “real” love.
“The Woods Hide in Plain Sight” by Joshua Lewis
Behind the shopping center is the parking lot; and behind the parking lot is the drainage ditch; and behind the drainage ditch, before the back lawns of the housing development, are the woods.
Eh. Not my favorite of the collection.
“Mothers, Lock Up Your Daughters Because They Are Terrifying” by Alice Sola Kim
At Midnight we parked by Staples and tried some seriously dark fucking magic.
GAAAAH I LOVED THIS STORY SO MUCH. A creepy and brilliantly black magic infused look at Korean adoptees with mommy issues. Great characterization achieved in a very small page count. Loved it, and I think I have a crush on Alice Sola Kim now.
IN CONCLUSION: This is a PHENOMENAL collection of stories. A lot of them are quite frightening, so bear that in mind if you don’t like to be spooked and/or grossed out. Also, can we just talk about the GORGEOUS cover art by Yuko Shimuzu? I want her to come to my house and turn the walls into something grotesquely beautiful. Or maybe get her artwork tattooed on my thigh.
I was considering skipping a musical accompaniment since all of these stories are so different, but since there is there is reference to the stained glass windows of the Church actually being the album art from Slayer’s South of Heaven in “The Mercurials,” let’s just go with that WHOLE GOD DAMN ALBUM.
Where I got it: Advanced Reading Copy from Candelwick Press at the American Library Association’s annual conference.