Poisonous girls whose kisses will kill. A fateful eating contest with the devil. Faeries who return to Ironside, searching for love. A junior prom turned bacchanalia. In twelve short stories, eerie and brimming with suspense and unexpected humor, Holly Black twists the fantastical creatures you thought you knew in ways you’ll never expect.
Discovery: I’ve had the pleasure of reading Zombies vs. Unicorns, Holly Black’s latest short story collection with Justine Larbalestier, and the darker pieces in this anthology appealed to me more.
+ Unpredictable plots. Short stories are by their very definition, fleeting. Where novels command a certain commitment of at least a few hours of reading, short stories can be devoured within minutes. That said, the writer needs to command a reader’s attention for however long it takes to read the story. Holly Black has a clear talent for this. I read the first story, “The Coldest Girl in Coldtown” in five minutes and had to put the book down to run an errand. I ended up carrying the book along with me the whole day, stealing whatever time I could to get through the succeeding stories because I just needed more. The macabre subject matter may turn some readers off but I gloried in the wisps of darkness that pulled me deeper into each story.
+ Mythology. Before I get too serious, I just want to thank Holly Black for choosing to write about Filipino myths in “The Night Market.” I had a talk with my mom the other day about how difficult it can be to write in the numerous legends and magical stories in the Filipino culture, because to Western sensibilities, it can seem almost circus-like in its presentation. The creatures and monsters that are often mentioned can seem silly and ridiculous, when compared to vampires, werewolves and ghosts.
When I started reading “The Night Market,” I was amazed by the quality of detail that Black included. Many beginning writers either include too much information or not enough when introducing a different culture, both of which turn readers off very quickly. Black pulled off a story that was informative, accurate and just plain creepy without alienating anyone. This holds true for all of the stories in Poison Eaters.
+ Uneven stories. While each and every story in this collection was well-written, I do think that some are weaker than others. “The Coldest Girl in Coldtown” comes to mind, as does “Virgin,” both stories about more mainstream myths. Black excels at coaxing out the hidden sides of unfamiliar beliefs and stories. The strongest pieces are the ones that shock you before you know you’re shocked, such as “The Dog King” and “A Reversal of Fortune.”
Recommendations: A truly brilliant collection of stories that you’ll dream about for many nights to come, The Poison Eaters will creep into your soul. No reader will ever be the same again.
Next review: Small Town Sinners, Melissa Walker