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After an excellent forward by Walidah Imarisha, Kinitra Brooks' introduction explains the anthology's title and purpose. If you are unaware, this is both a celebration of black female horror writers as well as a major showcase for their work, which for the majority of the book is top notch.
Then we go into a lengthy mix of short fiction and poetry, but let's look at the fiction first:
Opening story 'Tree of the Forest Seven Bells Turns the World Round Midnight' by Sheree Renee Thomas finds confused stud Wilder discovering why his girlfriend Thistle is such a zealot environmental activist. This has the feel of a classic EC comic albeit with wonderfully creepy prose and a slick double message.
In Cheyenne Sherrad's 'Scales,' sisters must choose to live among humans or go back to the sea from where their ancestors came from. One of several stories here that use mythical creatures as a metaphor for race, and Sherrad's offering is a tightly wound and latently emotional winner.
In 'Letty' by Regina N. Bradley, a dying girl meets her own personal grim reaper, who turns out to be a former slave. The story of the slave's attempted escape from her nasty masters is as heartbreaking as it is grim.
Tracey Baptiste's 'Ma Laja' follows a murderous woman who I at first thought was a vampire but by the end, it becomes clear she's a werewolf. Baptiste's slang dialogue gives it an authentic feel.
Jane is a 140+ year old vampire in 'Born Again' by RaShell R. Smith-Spears. She befriends a younger vamp named Jackie and together they overcome Jackie's abusive husband. A solid take on vampirism full of history and sacrifice.
'How to Speak to the Bogeyman' by Carol McDonnell: An exorcist tries to help a young man who has been jailed after years of raping and murdering, and only the exorcist knows it's due to a powerful demonic entity. Creepy although it ends kind of quickly.
In 'The Monster' by Crystal Connor, a black female war veteran is forced to team up with three male white supremacists to battle a horde of shapeshifting creatures. A great set up that ends abruptly, I would've loved to have seen more.
'Taste the Taint: A Cursed Story' by Kai Leakes: Climbing the corporate ladder costs Kendrick more than his soul in this familiar but satisfying look at friendship and betrayal.
Tish Jackson's 'Cheaters' features a woman who is able to kill unfaithful boyfriends with her mind. Talks with her therapist may even be leading her down a darker path...
'Kim' by Nicole D. Sconiers takes place in 1982 in a small mill town, as Crystal and her teenaged crew practice to be the world's first female rap artists. But when a strange white girl named Kim appears out of nowhere, she begins to turn Crystal's crew against her, and they start changing in strange ways. With the help of an older neighbor, Crystal learns who (or what) "Kim" really is, and a battle ensues for the fate of her friends. One of my favorites and a real standout.
In 'Summer Skin,' Zin E. Rocklyn introduces us to a girl with an ugly, oozing skin condition that she manages to control with the help of her aunts. Original, creepy, and quietly metaphorical.
'Taking the Good' by Dana Mcknight: Two lesbian thieves meet a seductive woman at a bar. The woman turns out to be a tentacled monster who offers one of the lesbians a chance to follow her. I'm not sure of the hidden meaning (if any) but Mcknight held my interest.
'Mona Livelong: Paranormal Detective II' by Valjeanne Jeffers is an excerpt from her forthcoming novel. Mona is hired by a witch who has had her powers stolen. I'm not big on the urban fantasy genre but this is a fun preview fans should enjoy.
'The Ever After' by L. Marie Wood is a study of several lives just before the moment of death. A dark heartbreaker that begins like a sci-fi action story but quickly becomes so much more. Another standout.
In 'Perfect Connection' by Deana Zhollis, a woman and her familiar spirit meet their male counterparts in a world where "Splitters" are a threat to the human/spirit familiar union. An interesting fantasy although it read like the intro to a longer story.
'Foundling' by Tenea D. Johnson features a woman named Petal who is able to rescue people via teleportation. After being transferred for losing a young life during a tele-rescue, she's soon sent to a woman's prison where she learns her own company framed her for sex trafficking. Like a few other stories here, this one ends as it seems to just be starting, but it's quite an enjoyable sci-fi romp.
'Rise' by Nicole Givens Kurtz: Trixie and her brother Fox travel across the desert wasteland on their way to live in a perfect city. But their mutant powers are exploited in this great entry dealing with racial acceptance.
'Of Sound Mind and Body' by K. Ceres Wright: Slick spy thriller featuring a female agent who, with the help of a secret government experiment, can change her outward appearance. Would make a slick novel.
'Asunder' by Lori Titus: a young college woman uses the help of a spiritualist to right her cheating boyfriend. A dark tale of voodoo, heritage, and the downside of not heeding parental advice. Good stuff.
'The Tale of Eve of De-Nile' by Joy Copeland is another voodoo-ish entry about a woman who can't afford to have a third abortion. But after visiting the isolated home of a herbalist, Eve's unwanted pregnancy takes a terrifying turn. Creepy with some genuinely bone-chilling images.
'Sweetgrass Blood' by Eden Royce: A woman of African descent goes against tradition and begins to write stories for new generations to be used in modern media. But she ends up becoming a story herself. One of my favorites here and a great symbol of the entire anthology.
In 'The Armoire' by Patricia E. Canterbury, a California newspaper reporter purchases a haunted piece of furniture at an antique fair and her home becomes a brief place for the spirit who lived within it. A routine ghost story with a message of motherly love.
'A Little Not Music' by LH Moore: In 1939, a college student earns tuition dancing at a jazz club. She, along with two house mates, become the target of an evil specter. Held my interest but could've used some kind of twist.
'The Manaka-kil' by L Penelope: a strange creature makes a young black girl and a young Asian boy its apprentices. They're the only minority children in an exclusive sea side, white community, and their lives are changed in incredible ways. A wonderful horror fantasy and one of the best of the bunch.
'Mama' by A.D. Koboah: Fantastic, emotional tale of a woman taken to the new world on a slave ship and how she uses witchcraft to help her daughter and granddaughter. Powerful and very well written, Koboah gives this the same feel and scope as a full length novel.
'To Give Her Whatsoever She Would Ask' by R.J. Joseph: An older woman grows weary of not having her prayers answered to have a baby. But something besides her Christian God answers her prayer in this classic-styled horror romp.
About the Poetry: I was taken aback by several pieces here, in particular verse from Andrea "Vocab" Sanderson, Tiffany Austin, Carole McDonnell, A.J. Locke, and Tanesha Nicole Tyler's 'Polydactyly' actually gave me goosebumps. Excellent!
The first afterword features editor Linda D. Addison summing the anthology up in her classic poetic style, then Susan's M. Morris caps things off with some final thoughts that will surely inspire (not only) black female authors but anyone passionate about writing.
SYCORAX'S DAUGHTERS is a massive undertaking delivered with style and substance. Many of the stories here would work well in any speculative anthology, not just one showcasing black female authors, and that's the beauty of this project: These stories and poems suck you in and take you to their own worlds, making the reader forget, at times, that this is a themed anthology. There's some serious talent on display here, and here's hoping to see more from those involved.
Another day at the office, another run in the rat race, the white-collar grind ...
... until you and your co-workers are rounded up by invading alien fish/lizard monsters armed with shock wands, herded into a conference room, and held there until they march you off one by one to some unknown but probably unpleasant fate.
Suddenly, it's all about survival. Lloyd, a few days past his forty-fourth birthday, may not be the fittest or fastest or strongest, but he's smart, he's read a lot of sci-fi, and he's got a plan. Not the noblest plan, since it only involves saving himself, but it's still a plan.
And it's a plan that can be adjusted to accommodate a partner, if that partner is buxom blonde Megan who says she'll do anything-yes-she-means-anything. If Lloyd feels a little bit sleazy about taking advantage, well, it's a dream come true in the middle of an insane bloodbath nightmare.
They soon find out it isn't just their office building under attack, and the threat to humanity ranges far wider than fish/lizard monsters ... but saving the day might mean having to put those sex plans on hold.
A fast-paced and fun wild B-movie ride, an overt middle-aged-nerd wish fulfillment heroic action hot chick fantasy that knows and owns exactly what it is, unabashedly cheesy and quite enjoyable!
This collection of ten short and not-so-sweet stories runs a creepy emotional gamut of dark varieties, from the flinchworthy flash-fic of "Tiny Little Vampires" to the anxiety-building tragic ("Treat Night").
"Little Dead Girl" starts things off with a chilling bang and is probably my favorite of the bunch, as a man in a foreign country is tormented by an inexplicable haunting.
I also particularly liked "The Night Visitor," about a guy who sneaks into peoples' houses just to look around, maybe play a harmless trick or two, nothing bad; until the night he gets caught in the act.
The final story, "Roadkill," closes it off with a horror-comics style grisly adventure of a couple of freelance ambulance drivers who pick up a patient that sure seems dead at first ...
Many of these tales come with that final ominous reveal that reminds me of urban legends, a wicked little twist right there at the end to further drive it home. Nice quick reads, fairly fun.
It's usually Chicago that gets the attention in Prohibition-era tales, so seeing a book set in -- and under -- Detroit makes for an interesting change of pace. Not only is it home to the burgeoning auto industry, not only does it have its share of crime bosses and illicit speakeasies, it sits atop an immense salt deposit riddled with miles of mineshafts and tunnels.
Those tunnels are also home to something else, something eager to prey on the hapless miners who've ventured too far below the surface. Needless to say, their disappearances don't go unnoticed. Jasper O'Malley, of the Attican Detective Agency, is hired to investigate.
Soon, accompanied by a gutsy gal and a femme fatale, Jasper is on his way back to the salt mines (but literally!). With old enemies, new ones, and inhuman monsters all trying to kill him, he's in a race against time not only to solve the case but save the day ... the city ... maybe the world ... no pressure.
My only stumbling block with this book was with issues of historical accuracy, mostly in terms of language use but some with just general various anachronistic-feeling things and details. A lot of the phrasing seemed to have too much of a modern/contemporary feel, and I found myself pausing mid-read several times to ponder whether such-and-such was common during that era or when so-and-so was invented, and stuff like that. Jarred me out of the story.
Which was a shame, because especially as it ramps up toward the explosive finale, things go from gangster-noir to full-on pulptastic Saturday matinee cliffhanger serial adventure. We're talking nonstop escalating headlong action, certain doom, and perilous escapes, with all the wisecracks, betrayals, before-I-kill-you villain monologues, delightful turns of phrase, and witty banter your heart could desire.
This is as of recently now one of my favorite short story collections to date. Thomas is a brilliantly talented author, who without error manages to engage the reader into the heart and soul of his characters, often taking them along for the wild ride through his unique imagination as these fourteen weird tales of hopeless horror, cosmic dread, and perverse despair unfold before our eyes. There are many powerful stories in this collection that will perhaps stay with you, like they did for me for some time to come, keeping you on the edge of your dream feet and peeking your head around the corner of the next dark alcoves of your mind.
Amongst my favorites in this collection were ‘Jar of Mist’, where a distant father seeks out answers to his daughter’s sudden death. At first, he believes it has something to do with her strange boyfriend that up and left her behind for a place called Sesqua Valley, but upon further inspection discovers the truth in a jar of mist at the mysterious antique shop located below her apartment. ‘The Prosthesis’, I found this story very entertaining and accurate as I personally know somebody in this line of work, and it made for a great and pleasurable reading experience as we see a more humorous side of the author here. ‘Ghosts in Amber’, is going towards the top as one of my favorite short stories of all-time list! The main character takes us on a trip down memory lane in his boring marriage when he stumbles upon some old memories, something odd leaking from the rooftop, and much more in the old factory across the street. ‘The Spectators’, otherworldly obsidian black creatures pay earth a little visit to check-in and tell you they are still out there watching. While most fear their initial arrival, as they just show up in the corner of a room in your house out of nowhere— the main character in this story embraces its presence, pours himself a glass of bourbon, and has nightly talks to the entity about some of the finer things in life until he goes back to wherever it is that he came from.
Highly recommended for fans of Weird, Horror, and Dark Fiction alike.
-Jon R. Meyers
THE DARK HALF OF THE YEAR edited by Ian Millstead and Pete Sutton (2016 Far Horizons e-Magazine / 194 pp / trade paperback & eBook)
This is not your usual book of holiday stories. The holiday theme woven throughout is both ominous and understated, touching on many obscure observances and lesser-known or semi-forgotten points of the calendar.
And yes, the focus is on darker aspects and elements, things we tend to lose sight of. These modern days, every holiday is more often than not only about shopping. It's all sales and cards and candy, instead of the old ways, the rituals, the keeping of evil at bay.
In these eighteen tales, though, you get the darkness and old rituals, the times of year when barriers thin between the worlds of the living and the dead. They're about repentance and remorse, fresh starts and second chances, secrets, traditions, love and obsession, vengeance, and more.
From whisper-quick flash fiction to longer works, and even a piece presented in graphic-novel form ... spanning eras from ancient to grim future ... in a variety of styles and genres ... a little something for everyone, to make your year that much more unsettling.
VAMPIRE LODGE by L.E. Edwards (2012 Little Devil Books / 170 pp / trade paperback & eBook)
Just goes to show you, no matter how well you think you know someone and how familiar you think you are with their work, they can always still surprise you. To wit: I learned about MONSTER LAKE years ago, got it, read it, reviewed it. But, it was only very recently (and on Twitter, no less!) that I found out about VAMPIRE LODGE.
Now, these are books for younger readers, recommended ages 10 and up. These are on par with GOOSEBUMPS and the like. But the thing is, the really stop-short-WTF thing about them is, L.E. Edwards is a pen name of the one and only Edward Lee.
It seems just so deliciously wrong. Ed Lee, Edward LEE of all people, writing for kids! Twice! So, naturally, I wasn’t about to let my omission stand. A quick order was placed, a book soon arrived, and here we go!
The story is that of Kevin, a thirteen-year-old into vampire movies and hassling his older sister. You know, a normal kid. Who is, along with his sister and their dad and his best friend and his best friend’s dad, are off for a week of fishing, hiking, kite-flying, and general relaxation at Aunt Carolyn’s remote rustic lodge.
The lodge is so remote and rustic, in fact, that it isn’t doing the best business these days. And it occurs to Kevin, upon arrival, that Aunt Carolyn is … well … weird … the way she’s so pale, wears tight black Morticia dresses, never seems to eat or be around during the day … and there’s all the wooden stakes around, not to mention the dark spooky paintings … and there’s these new guys she’s hired to work around the place, the guys who seem to spend a lot of time digging grave-sized holes in the woods …
Needless to say, Kevin has to go poking into the mystery. Needless to say, he gets more than he bargained for! Will anybody believe him, before it’s too late?
One of the many great things about this author is, he doesn’t write down to his readers. Even in his adult stuff, he’ll challenge you, make you work for it a bit, make you pay attention and learn. Vampire Lodge is no different in that regard, and this book will make a good addition to the gateway library of any budding young horror fan.