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Furnace Paperback – February 15, 2016
"Warlight" by Michael Ondaatje
A dramatic coming-of-age story set in the decade after World War II, "Warlight" is the mesmerizing new novel from the best-selling author of "The English Patient." Pre-order today
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From Publishers Weekly
Llewellyn's second short story collection (after Engines of Desire) showcases her assured writing with compelling and involving tales of horror, often concerning the particular horrors of being female. Llewellyn skillfully incorporates Lovecraft, science fantasy, and classic Greek and Celtic mythology into fresh new narratives. "In the Court of King Cupressaceae, 1982," original to the collection, displays her talent for folding the deeply weird into contemporary culture as college student Severin tests the boundaries of her connection to the world of the fey. Other standouts are "It Feels Better Biting Down," a stellar exploration of the relationship shared by uncanny twins that's full of lush language and an unnerving use of pronouns, and "The Last, Clean, Bright Summer," chronicling unhappy teens unwillingly accompanying their family to the seaside. Her descriptives can sometimes be repetitive when the stories are read close together, but Llewellyn's lush vocabulary and sense of place combine with her ability to imbue her characters with distinctive voices and make her a notable contributor to the field. (Feb.)\n
"In Engines of Desire, Livia Llewellyn's debut collection of short stories from 2011, reality was just another raw material to be stretched and reworked. Llewellyn's follow-up collection, Furnace, is a slightly slimmer volume, but it doesn't skimp when it comes to her distorted vision. Beautiful and hideous in the same breath, its 13 tales of erotic, surreal, existential horror pack a logic-shattering punch." --Jason Heller, NPR.org
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Furnace is no less incendiary, filled with cosmic horrors hiding in the clefts of the earth, in the clefts between aching women’s thighs, in forests lorded over by alien redwood trees, in carnivals older than any gods you’ve known. Running the gamut from the nightmarish to the erotic, often in the same story, as in the dark gem “Panopticon”—I want to hear more reports from Obsidia!—or the collection’s sole never-before-published offering, “In the Court of King Cupressacae, 1982,” Llewellyn’s horrors are often firmly entrenched in the body, much like vintage Clive Barker, where desire brushes against unknowable evils and blood is spilled. Mostly. The final story, “The Unattainable,” is about a woman breaking in her cowboy lover (from an erotica anthology co-edited by the esteemed Cecilia Tan) that, while not supernatural, is just as mournful, well-crafted, and triumphant in its subversive way as the stories that preceded it. This sharp voice is not to be missed.
Give me the short version: Peel your eyelids back and staple them to the top of your forehead. Ah, there now; it’s all happening and you can’t look away.
Do you want to read something really different? The whole beautiful universe turned inside out with all of the blood and sex and horror on display?
Ms Llewellyn’s style is exquisite and utterly fearless. Quests of longing and rites of passage find themselves transmogrified into more sinister paths, darkly glittering and drawing you helplessly in.
The collection is also generous in size and scope, the menagerie of tales defying the reader to define a favourite. If you are confronted by frank depictions of erotica and the raw, ever-flowering safe space of sexual fantasy I suggest you read Furnace anyway. Question yourself, everything you knew and especially the reality under your feet.
Fans of Catherynne M Valente or Laird Barron will particularly enjoy Llewellyn – a weird collision, or collusion of groups, true; but the common thread is lyricism grounded in the stony granite of reality. Savage fantasy juxtaposed against plain ordinary lives, characters who bring the action all too close to home.
My favourite bit: “Signs have long decayed into dust in this part of the city, and only ravens and dogs know the lay of the land. But the jewels of information gathered over the years are a crown, and for this single day you are Queen.”
All the stories in the collection are excellent, but some stood out. “Stabilimentum” concerned a young woman living in an expensive apartment only to find it infested with spiders. That story was told in such a way, you couldn’t help but fell legs crawling all over you. “It Feels Better Biting Down” is the story of two twins, a story of madness and transformation. Of Identity. In “Furnace” we find a town slowly dying from entropy, and a young girl trying to escape. The bizarre manifestations get worse but apathy is the worse plague. With “The Mysteries” a woman is summoned back to her ancestral home at the command of her ancient matriarch. Plans are put into motion to entertain the old woman in a fashion neither are liable to survive. “The Last, Clean, Bright Summer” is a sort of Cthulhian homage, told from the POV of a teenage girl who is a member of a cult she barely understands. Brutal and heartbreaking, it’s one of the most shocking in the collection.
Llewellyn’s work is ethereal, her words teasing out images and sensations. Her tales reach deeper, affecting you in a more gestalt manner. You can finish a piece by her and have conflicting emotions, pulled in different directions by the narrative and the theme. She is one of those authors producing literary horror fiction that is every bit worth the hype you read.
Especially in the first story in the collection there is explicit sex. In a dark way, I found some of this erotic, but the sex is orbiting around death and annihilation. Perhaps this is the ultimate objective in orgasm, but it can be disturbing as well.
Many of the other stories are not particularly erotic so I would not label this a "sex and death" collection. The stories are universally well written evoking place and character in an unforgettable way. But they are all dark. These are not stories to read to children at bedtime.