I 100% BOUGHT THIS ANTHOLOGY FOR WINGS IN THE MORNING AND I AM 100% UNASHAMED
So, the Anthology: it’s actually pretty freaking excellent. It’s primary strength, IMO, is that a gothic horror cover, it contains a brave mixture of pretty much every genre under the sun — romance, fantasy, sci-fi, pure horror, contemporary — combined with writing styles that vary from the sharp, to the lush, to the whip smart, to the hilarious, to the DARK AF — and this mix works. Although there are certainly a couple of stories here which are a clear climb-down in quality from their bed fellows, overall, this is undeniably strong stuff. It wasn’t what I was expecting; and it was better than what I was expecting too. Hats off to the editors.
Okay, so now lets go through the stories one by one.
- Moriabe’s Children by Paulo Bacigalupi
KRAKEN. KRAAAAAAKKKKEEEEEEEN. Two things which I adore: people who find out they are somehow related to magical creatures from the sea + anything folk-mythy to do with the sea. Basically just THE SEA. The grey, roiling, beautiful, terrifying SEA. Put these three TOGETHER AND AAAAAAAARRRRRGH.
Normally everyone goes for mermaids, but kraken?? KRAKEN???? yeuuuuuuuuuss. Points for originality.
This was poetic, chilling, DARK AND I LOVE DARK, and although the setting could have been a bit bland — generic north European pre-industrial port town — the elegant writing and atmosphere make this a real gem. And can we also talk about howwwww beautiful the word ‘Moriabe’ is? Unnh. So evocative. So edible. Tempted to name my first child Moriabe.
2. Old Souls by Cassandra Clare
A contemporary with a touch of urban fantasy/magical realism, in which a sad lonely vampire turns up draining peoples’ memories at an old people’s home. Cool idea, but not very… well. Exciting. This is fine. This is okay. There is nothing wrong with this story. It’s just that this story, when it’s in the middle of an anthology which wields the horrific power of Alice Sola Kim, the gut-wrenching honesty of Nalo Hopkinson and the heart-warming wit of Patrick Ness, it’s stories like this that start to look, well, bland. Clare, you let the side down.
Please go back to LOTR fanfic because you were actually excellent at that and IMO it’s all gone downhill since then
3. Ten Rules for Being an Intergalactic Smuggler by Holly Black
And now BOOM theme change! The only space-Sci Fi story in the collection! Irreverant humour! Someone stole the Firefly, dicked around inside for a few hours with Darth Maul crossed with a giant tarantula, and this came out! And it’s fab!
It’s certainly not brilliant like some of the later stories in the collection — by comparison, it’s fairly light and insubstantial — but it is short, snappy, and fun. And fun is also extremely important.
4. Quick Hill by M. T. Anderson
Now, I have to be honest that I’m not really sure what to think of this. This story has the possibly the most left-field and inventive idea in the whole anthology — that a boy be forced to marry a hill to save his town — that it definitely deserves points for that alone. Linguistically it is also executed extremely well, with a lyrical, meandering prose, and a very, very strong sense of place. It honestly felt like I was reading some old school USA historical novel, a la Laura Ingalls Wilder or to Kill A Mockingbird. (AND if neither of those comparisons make sense to you, that is because I have just revealed my crushing ignorance of classic US literature set in rurally-type places).
However, it is slow. Veeeeery slow. I must confess myself getting a little bored at one point wondering if anything was actually going to like, happen and stuff. Also – TALKING GOAT! That doesn’t really get explained or get to have its own awesome story line. Sad times. If you’re after a slow build historical story with a light dusting of folk-esque fantasy, this is good for you. If you wanted guns and vampires and goats going on a space rampage versus zombie wildebeest, turn back now. So, ultimately, I understand with the NYT Book Review called Quick Hill a ‘Tour de force’, but I also understand why other people found it a drag.
5. The Diabolist by Nathan Ballingrud
Now, if I had to be that bitch who pin pointed ONE story as the weakest in the whole anthology….
Well, let’s just say it would have to have a fight with The Woods Hide In Plain Sight and maybe Kitty Capulet for the honour of winning (losing?). Once again, like Clare’s story, this is just a little bland. There’s one particular element which is really excellent — the way Dr. Benn’s memories pour out like a fountain of ash. It’s honestly so beautiful, and I wish the whole story had been about that. The demon being trapped in a tank is also a great concept. Yet instead, we get Allison, who is mopey, dreary, I’m thinking, can she just go away so we can learn more about these cool Mills of Hell? and then after twenty pages of mope Allison randomly becomes a murDERER which then in a shock twist leads to the demon narrator killing eVERYONE IN A MILLION MILE RADIUS EVER and basically it all escalated very quickly.
On paper, these ideas sound great, I just wish the atmosphere hadn’t been one of such tiresome drear until the point where I think Ballingrud got bored and decided to kill LITERALLY EVERYONE.
6. This Whole Demoning Thing by Patrick Ness
I’ve only ever read Ness’ Knife trilogy, which is a genre-defying masterpiece, so this story was a bit of an ‘out of nowhere’ moment for me in terms of theme…and I utterly loved it. Its a story about kids who are actually demons. And plot twist – it’s a funny, hearwarming, coming of age story. It is witty, touching, comforting, makes you root for all the characters so hard is generally just VERY EFFING ADORABLE.
The only down side is the slightly unnecessarily casting of Holly as basically a Big Evil Jealous Bitch who Hates the Lovely MC Because Boys… which was kinda lazy and sexist. BUT –after the dreariness of the last two stories, it put a big fat smile on my face. IMO is a very strong competitor for best in the anthology.
7. Wings in the Morning by Sarah Rees Brennan
*extended shrieking* *shrieks from on top of multiple rooftops flailing story around above head* *licks story and eats it* *cries because story is now gone* *is confused* *what was i saying*
Okay so like I said, I shamelessly bought this anthology because The Turn of the Story left me slavering for more, enraged that there was no more, and under seVERE MENTAL DISTRESS until I could get my hands on a ROMANTIC RESOLUTION!!!
If you enjoyed ToTS (which it’s impossible not to, tbh) this story is an incredibly satisfying, hilarious end/ mini-sequel to the full novel. In the two months between reading ToTS and this, I had basically convinced myself out of pure fear that I had been making up the Luke and Elliot thing this entire time, and that it was never going to happen, and all my dreams would be crushed. So when it actually did i was like YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA and basically cheered for about seven days. So much euphoric fan girl validation! I waited 2 months for that kiss, dammit! TWO WHOLE FRICKING MONTHS!
However, if you haven’t read ToTS, this story was probably a big ‘What the fuck?’ Because it’s overlong, constantly tipping to a back story you probably don’t know about, and is probably just very pompous in its complete lack of overall explanation for everything that’s going on. But, ya know, you could solve that…. by reading the Turn of the Story, which, in all seriousness, was possibly the best book I read in 2016.
8. Left Foot, Right by Nalo Hopkinson
THIS STORY IS FANTASTIC. Oh lord it absolutely ripped the breath out of me because of how heartbreaking it is. It’s also set in the Caribbean, which is a refreshing change from the Euro-centric bases of the other stories, so I had to catch up on the lingo fast. And it also hit me out of nowhere with one of my all time most terrifying ever folklore creatures ever — a douen. I almost ran away.
What is beautiful about this story — apart from the lovely, lyrical writing — was that it was about healing. And not just for Jenna, the MC, but also for me and my life-long terror over douen. Jenna is dealing with a tragedy of the most horrific and confusing kind, and the douen actually enables her to heal. I almost cried. This one can definitely fight Ness for the best story award, and I’m tempted to say that it would win.
9. The Mercurials by G. Carl Purcell
Ooooh now this one is dark, and I like it. It’s got a wild west, post-apocalyptic feeling, and the sense of atmosphere is very strong. Unfortunately, there’s so many amazing ideas here — the semi-Christian priest-leaders, the mysterious mercury like aliens (like Anne McAffery crossed with the Animorphs tbh), the theme of noise as protection, and the fact that for some reason they have reinstated ritual community murder in small town USA — that it really needs a full novel to explore all these concepts and do them justice. Consequentially, it ends feeling a little unfinished — like a beginning of a story, not a resolution, and also unexplained. Why do the old learned have to die? And why exactly are they called the learned anyway, since they don’t seem to do much learning, or control any sort of knowledge??!
Sadly, it doesn’t look like Purcell actually does SFF writing outside of this one little story. He totally should though.
10. Kitty Capulet and the Invention of Underwater Photography by Dylan Horrocks
Ehhhh. I wanted to like this one. It’s definitely not bad. But again, like Clare’s story, it’s just a little too… meh. It’s trying very hard to appeal to the audience I suspect is most likely to read this anthology (young, liberally minded white girls with annoying dads, stupidly large cameras and tumblr addictions) to the point that it tries too hard.
Environmentalism is morally superior!! the story tells you, in a heavy handed, black and white way that completely detracts from an essentially obvious point. In case you didn’t get the message that Killing Nature Is Massively Evil after all the characters cackling loudly ‘Lol, I can’t believe the stupid locals don’t want a massive ugly pointless road, bwaahahah concrete! Whooo cut down the beautiful trees and poison the water because nature sucks!’, all the Bad Anti-Environment People to get flooded in an actual massive flood, to almost-death. Just, you know, in case you didn’t pick up the message.
Don’t be a racist hipster!!! this story also tells you many times, somehow managing to be condescending, preachy, yet also problematic itself, all at once. Fetishisation of maori tattoos and appearance? Check. Performative allyship-activism, plus expensive camera? Check. Ignorant white person learns wisdom from the Noble Yet Mysterious Native Leader? Check. Rich white girl ignorance all over the shop? Check. This one sentence in particular made me cringe:
“I pulled the wet hair back from my face, wishing I had gorgeous brown skin like his.”
Urrrrrrrgh. Was that even necessary? It very, very much was not. Kitty (and Horrocks), someone needs to give you a crash course on not being a shitey ally/ general crappy white person. Or you could like, google stuff.
11. Son of Abyss by Nik Houser
Now this is perhaps the only story in the anthology (perhaps along with Mothers, Lock Up Your Daughters) that I would classify as pure horror. Because it is utterly, utterly horrifying. AND I LOVED IT
A big strength is the unsettling world building, in which literally everyone is a demon, living on an alternate earth in which mundane life is crossed with blood magic, institutionalisation of abuse, everyone seeming to basically never shower which is really stressful and other general vileness. But that’s not what’s horrifying. I’m talking about the real horror in this story — the fact that Bon, the MC’s best friend, is possibly the most terrifyingly evil character to make an appearance in this entire anthology. And no, not evil like evil cackling mastermind. Evil like real-life, callous, uncaring, sociopathic, murderous bully evil.
I was genuinely appalled. But in the best possible way. An excellent story, and a clear winner of the Biggest Monster in the Monster Anthology Award. It is apparently being expanded into a full novel too — sign me up boys.
12. A Small Wild Magic by Kathleen Jennings
Jenning’s comic in the Stempunk! anthology was an act of pure genius, and this too is a real lovely gem. The spiky illustrations bring the crow-girl to life, who is awkward, prickly, sometimes grotesque, and always magical. Like Ness’ story, this is a little heartwarming button shoved in between the death and misery, giving you a comforting breather before you plunge back in.
13. The New Boyfriend by Kathleen Jennings
I don’t know what to say about this, because conceptually, it’s very strong — order on demand YA-love interest style boyfriend-robots? I absolutely see this being a real thing 20 years from now. However, the story is a bit dull, and mainly involves the MC Immy sneaking around, and occasionally stroking a robot’s hair. It also seems to be trying to mash together two ideas which don’t work — an exploration of this creepy sci-fi concept, and a ghost story/romance, which I feel was awkwardly shoe horned in to make this story fit the criteria of the anthology. The ending I expected – a brutal coming of age wake up call in which Immy realises that falling in love with a robot is deeply unhealthy and is going to eff her up, consumer culture is bad yada yada — is sidelined for a plot twist about two Victorian-esque ghost lovers, which sort of comes out of nowhere.
What I would like to see is this Boyfriend thing explored in greater depth, in a sci-fi/contemporary novel. Get rid of the ghosts.
14. The Woods Hide in Plain Sight by Joshua Lewis
Okay, this was a little dreary, which stopped it from being fun to read. You couldn’t get into the ‘romance’, because Ricard was obviously a creepy paedo vamp, and Em was like Allison in The Diabolist — mopey, annoying, and thinks she’s cooler than her friends because she went to uni.
This was also stupid. Why was it stupid? Because the ending is too easy. TOO EASY. They just capture the vampire, just like that? All the suggestions that Marcus might have been bitten at the last minute are ignored? And then on top of that — after we come to accept that no, there really isn’t a plot twist to this at all — you don’t even SHOW ME THE VAMPIRE GETTING BURNED?
I want my money back.
15. Mothers, Lock Up Your Daughters Because They Are Terrifying by Alice Sola Kim
and the longest title in the anthology award goes to —
and the HOLY SHIT YOU SAVED THE BEST TILL LAST award also goes to–
THIS UTTERLY FREAKING WILDLY CREEPY ROLLER COASTER RIDE OF AMAZEBALLS
This story is genuinely horrifying, because like Son of Abyss and Moriabe’s Children it touches on a real, true life horror. In this case, the displacement and confusion of being an adopted child in a family who are ethnically and nationality-wise different from you, and the impact this can have on a child’s identity development. Specifically, this really opened up my eyes to the individual problems you might face as a Korean adoptee in the USA.
I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that this story gave me genuine chills, because Mom –or whatever ‘Mom’ was — was scary As. Frick. The characterisation is sharp, so you really end up caring for Ronnie, Mini and Caroline, and the family problems they are struggling through with their parents. The surprise ending also left me gutted. As though I had been cheated and stolen, and it was HORRIBLE. But in a good way (except not good, because I was horrified, but you see what I mean). Aaaaaah Ronnie. What an awful, awful situation to be in — to fall for your adopted sibling. Now I have to ask, are there any YA contemporaries that address this issue? I definitely want to read more about this .
Let’s just say that if you thought inter-racial adoption was a great and unproblematic idea before, this terrifying story will help change your mind. Obviously, any loving adoption is a great adoption, and Kim isn’t saying that if you inter-racially adopt, your child will definitely become possessed by an evil demon masquerading as its birth mother. But also, making unselfish decisions to chose an adoption method which will be the least stressful for a child’s long term development and happiness is a Very Important Thing.
I hearby crown this story the best in the anthology, and thus, I lay down my tired typy fingers. For the anthology overall, I present four shiny stars.
I would love to hear everyone’s individual thoughts on these stories, or if you wildly disagree with me on anything. 🙂 See ya soon!