The Tangleroot Palace – Marjorie Liu

While I’d already well and truly fallen in love with Monstress, I hadn’t read anything else by this author. After being wowed by this collection, I will now be working to rectify this egregious mistake.

Sympathy for the Bones

Clora works with bone needles and thread. She doesn’t make mistakes. 

Fear of a hoodoo woman was natural. Fear was how it had to be. 

The Briar and the Rose

In this retelling of Sleeping Beauty, we meet the Duelist who, on Sundays, is called Briar. While six days a week are devoted to violence, the seventh contains love. 

The Duelist had learned, long ago, that oppression could be defeated only through study; like a sword, the mind must always be tended to if it was to aim true. 

The Light and the Fury

Superheroes, war and crystal skulls. 

“Can you be what they need?”
“No,” she said quietly. “But I can try.” 

The Last Dignity of Man

His mother named him Alexander Lutheran. Wasn’t it inevitable that he would aspire to become Lex Luthor? 

And he has lived up to that name, in more ways than one. 

Where the Heart Lives

This story takes place in the Dirk & Steele universe, well before the events of the first book in the series. Although I tend to stay as far away from romance novels as possible, I’m intrigued enough to want to dive into the first book. 

“We all have our homes,” she said quietly. “The ability to choose yours is not a gift to take for granted.” 

After the Blood

Amish vampires! A sequel to the novella, The Robber Bride, which I now need to read. 

Only so long a man could keep secrets while living under his family’s roof. 

Tangleroot Palace

When Sally’s father arranges for her to be married to the Black Knight of the Poisoned Cookies (not his real name), she decides to turn to the Tangleroot forest for help. It’s not like she’s got anything to lose.

Bonus points to the raven in the tree next door that believes in book-life symmetry, waiting to caw until the exact moment the raven in the story did. 

“Most people, when they have questions, ask other people. They do not go running headfirst into a place of night terrors and magic.” 

It is rare for me to love a short story collection more than I love the idea of it but this one exceeded my expectations.

The Light and the Fury was the only story I wasn’t immediately captivated by. The rest, I adored, but none more so than The Last Dignity of Man

Content warnings include mention of death by suicide, death of animals, miscarriage and sexual assault.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Titan Books for the opportunity to fall in love with this collection.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

New York Times bestseller and Hugo, British Fantasy, Romantic Times, and Eisner award-winning author of the graphic novel Monstress, Marjorie Liu leads you deep into the heart of the tangled woods. In her long-awaited debut collection of dark, lush, and spellbinding short fiction, you will find unexpected detours, dangerous magic, and even more dangerous women.

Briar, bodyguard for a body-stealing sorceress, discovers her love for Rose, whose true soul emerges only once a week. An apprentice witch seeks her freedom through betrayal, the bones of the innocent, and a meticulously plotted spell. In a world powered by crystal skulls, a warrior returns to save China from invasion by her jealous ex. A princess runs away from an arranged marriage, finding family in a strange troupe of travelling actors at the border of the kingdom’s deep, dark woods.

Concluding with a gorgeous full-length novella, Marjorie Liu’s first short fiction collection is an unflinching sojourn into her thorny tales of love, revenge, and new beginnings.

Dark Stars – John F.D. Taff (editor)

Horror is something like black taffy these days, enough elasticity to stretch across any room (even the word “room” feels a little confining while discussing the modern state of horror: Is it a room actually? Could be something else), and you’ll find that elasticity here in the pages of this book. 

The Attentionist by Caroline Kepnes

Reg and Maeve really want Tony to call. Naturally, he’ll have a friend so the sisters will be able to go on a double date. 

The phrase you learn in school is fight or flight. As if those are the only choices. As if we’re all so quick to throw a punch or make a run for it. Some of us are slow. We just need a minute to think. 

A Life in Nightmares by Ramsey Campbell

When past and present, reality and nightmares collide. 

“I don’t know why I should dream about the past” 

Papa Eye by Priya Sharma

When Ravi goes to the island, they see life and death in a whole new light. 

“We’ve been struggling with how to explain it. Now you can see for yourself.” 

Volcano by Livia Llewellyn

A new job, a new colleague, a pervasive darkness. 

It still bothers me that I can’t remember last night. 

All the Things He Called Memories by Stephen Graham Jones 

When you’re quarantining with your partner, a research scientist, who wants to discuss your greatest fear. You know, besides the pandemic. 

“Because our minds are puzzle boxes,” Marcy said, obviously. “You can twist them this way, that way, and, if you’re really lucky, maybe once in a while you unlock one of them.” 

Trinity River’s Blues by Chesya Burke 

Jazz, a murder of crows and a woman who sees dead people. 

“This here … this is longing. Its power manifested. You don’t understand who you are and so you let your fears and insecurities control you.” 

The Familiar’s Assistant by Alma Katsu

Eric has spent weeks tracking him down. Now he’s standing at the vampire’s door. 

You can’t accept a monster in your life and think that you’re safe. That you’ll be able to control him. 

Swim in the Blood of a Curious Dream by John F.D. Taff 

Peter just wants to drive his son to their new home. The weather has other ideas. So does Peter’s dead wife. 

Because, as I’ve learned, separation doesn’t diminish the love a child has for their parent.
Nor does death. 

The Sanguintalist by Gemma Files

The blood speaks to Lala. 

Tell me now. Show me, if you can’t form the words. Let me see it.
Let me see it all. 

Mrs. Addison’s Nest by Josh Malerman

This all started in detention fifteen years ago. It ends now. 

REMEMBER WHERE YOU ARE 

Challawa by Usman T. Malik

Karisma returns to Pakistan with her husband. While she’s there, she plans to do some research. 

“Challawa. A mercurial creature that shimmers and is gone. A mirage that evaporates when you get close to it.” 

Enough For Hunger and Enough For Hate by John Langan

Michelle is trying to track down her brother’s killer. And his body. 

“There was nothing I wanted more than to spend every waking second with her.” 

Usually when I pick up an anthology, it’s because there’s one particular author’s story I need to read. This time around, that author was Stephen Graham Jones. 

With anthologies, I always find the stories are a bit of a mixed bag. I love this because there’s usually something for everyone. I also dread this because I know it’s just as likely I’ll encounter stories that I’m not so keen on.

My horror preference is the “would you like more blood with that?” variety. I actively seek out reads where I have the overwhelming urge to look over my shoulder and question whether it’s safe to turn out the lights, as well as my decision to eat before reading. I’m not as comfy with ambiguity so some reads here didn’t work as well for me. 

I enjoyed many of the stories but they didn’t elicit fear in me. The most horrified I felt was when I realised I’d finished more than one story with no way of explaining what it was about because I had no idea.

One of my favourite things about anthologies is the opportunity to find authors whose books have somehow flown under my radar. While I loved the story I came here for, I was also introduced to two authors whose books I definitely need to investigate in the near future: Priya Sharma and Usman T. Malik.

Content warnings include addiction, death by suicide, domestic abuse, miscarriage and sexual assault. Readers with emetophobia may have trouble with some scenes.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Titan Books for the opportunity to read this anthology. 

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Created as an homage to the 1980 classic horror anthology, Dark Forces, edited by Kirby McCauley, this collection contains 12 original novelettes showcasing today’s top horror talent. Dark Stars features all-new stories from award-winning authors and up-and-coming voices like Stephen Graham Jones, Priya Sharma, Usman T. Malik, Caroline Kepnes, and Alma Katsu, with seasoned author John F.D. Taff at the helm. An afterword from original Dark Forces contributor Ramsey Campbell is a poignant finale to this bone-chilling collection.

Within these pages you’ll find tales of dead men walking, an insidious secret summer fling, an island harbouring unspeakable power, and a dark hallway that beckons. You’ll encounter terrible monsters – both human and supernatural – and be forever changed. The stories in Dark Stars run the gamut from traditional to modern, from dark fantasy to neo-noir, from explorations of beloved horror tropes to the unknown – possibly unknowable – threats.

It’s all in here because it’s all out there, now, in horror.