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She Walks in Shadows Paperback – September 19, 2015
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SWiS out of Innsmouth Free Press is an all-woman Lovecraftian anthology of original stories and art, and it is a lovely addition to any library. I read it over Halloween, dragging myself out of a particularly nasty reading slump, and was delightfully terrified by several of the stories. (I never before thought I would be terrified of corn, ya'll. Corn.)
Let's get the warnings and shopper-caveats out of the way first.
1. As with any anthology, some of the stories are great and some of them are not as shiny. I read all of the stories for my review, but would caution most folks to go in with a mentality that if a particular story isn't working for you, skip it. Come back to it later if you must, or not at all if you prefer. It's fine. Don't force yourself to read something you don't enjoy; there's no book report after.
2. If you're coming straight from a Lovecraft "short story" reading binge, these new stories will feel VERY short indeed; it's interesting how the standard length for the genre has changed over time. In some cases, the shorter length seems detrimental to the story; there's not room to indulgently spread out in the same way HPL could and did in order to really build suspense and weave terror into the mundane. In other cases, the story itself doesn't suffer from its brevity but the reader may—"BUT WHAT HAPPENS NEXT!" was regularly shouted at my kindle. Again, this is standard for anthologies, but something to be aware of; I wish and hope that some of these authors can be commissioned again for fuller stories in this genre.
3. Speaking of HPL, these stories aren't just forays into the "weird tales" genre; most of them are straight-up Lovecraftian in that they reference ~actual~ HPL characters. If you aren't familiar with the lore, I believe you can still keep up (I did, even though there are a few HPL stories I've yet to read); if you ARE familiar with the lore, there is always the risk that tie-in mentions may feel a bit... twee? This is going to be super subjective to the reader, but I wanted to mention it. (And I do question the editorial decision to place both of the Asenath stories NEXT to each other; that was weird and jarring and one of those moments where you're reminded that all this is make-believe, which is detrimental to the atmosphere, in my opinion.)
4. On a more delicate topic: Trigger warnings. I don't really know how to warn for a book without treading into spoiler territory, but I don't think it's too far out of line to state that this is a VERY DARK horror anthology. Children (both born and unborn), pets, women, and old ladies fare particularly badly in many of the stories, and sometimes in graphic ways. Several of the stories deal with domestic abuse. As a survivor myself, I found the stories to be vibrantly terrifying and I enjoyed them, but do be aware of your triggers and practice self-care wherever you can. (Also, to fellow survivors: please remember that you are brave and amazing and wonderful. <3)
Now for good things!
5. I won't review each of the stories individually, but quite a few of them rocked my world and left me wanting to cower under the covers. Violet Is The Color of Your Energy was horrifying in that special queasy-pit-in-your-stomach kind of way. De Deabus Minoribus Exterioris Theomagicae is ~amazing~ and I really need Jilly Dreadful to be commissioned to write all the things. Lavinia's Wood was a great pitch of creepy Lovecraftian evil. Chosen made me weep, as did Bitter Perfume and Eight Seconds, although I really wanted the latter two to be longer. The Eye of Juno was wonderful. And Provenance needs to be a full length novel and a movie and everything, because it was just so so good and wonderfully captures that Lovecraftian feeling of living out a mundane existence under a shadow of inescapable horror.
6. Wow, these stories are incredibly diverse, by the way! There are a lot of stories here about women of color, which is a very welcome addition to the Lovecraftian canon; another story includes a character who is either a gorgeous trans boy or a very dashing butch lesbian—either way, all the love to nu-Asenath in The Thing on The Cheerleading Squad. Older women are included here, as are women with various disabilities (including a woman who uses a wheelchair!). All of these characters are beautifully well-rounded and it's really wonderful to see an anthology which includes a wide variety of men and women, rather than sticking to the cis white men Lovecraft favored.
Caveat to #6: I am a white cis woman and there are going to be things that fly under my radar or which I find questionable yet am not qualified to comment on. One of the early stories uses the N-word in reference to the HPL cat; yes, the cat is a reference that readers will recognize, but I don't know that the actual word needed to be used. One of the stories is set within the framework of a plantation and which I am not qualified to review; another is about a white explorer who marries a much younger native guide. One of the stories talks about blonde hair and blue eyes as markers of a specific type of supernatural ancestry. In short, there are places where the authors are engaging with the world lore that we have courtesy of HPL, his rampant racism included, but I'm not always sure when that engagement is successful or not. I don't think this is a mark against the anthology but (again!) it's something to be aware of going into your purchase and it's something to be aware of regarding my own review.
Bottom-line: Should you buy this anthology? I'm glad I did! I definitely recommend it for the kindle price if you (a) like the weird tales genre, (b) don't mind Lovecraftian characters being name-dropped in your stories, and (c) won't be triggered by the deliciously horrific content herein. Also, supporting lady-authors and artists (especially diverse ones!) and independent press is always a good idea in my book.
~ Ana Mardoll
--- TABLE OF CONTENTS ---
Ammutseba Rising | Ann K. Schwader
Turn On the Light | Penelope Love
Bring the Moon to Me | Amelia Gorman
Violet is the Color of Your Energy | Nadia Bulkin
De Deabus Minoribus Exterioris Theomagicae | Jilly Dreadful
Lavinia's Wood | Angela Slatter
The Adventurer's Wife | Premee Mohamed
Lockbox | E. Catherine Tobler
Hairwork | Gemma Files
The Thing on The Cheerleading Squad | Molly Tanzer
Body to Body to Body | Selena Chambers
Magna Mater | Arinn Dembo
Chosen | Lyndsey Holder
Bitter Perfume | Laura Blackwell
Eight Seconds | Pandora Hope
The Eye of Juno | Eugenie Mora
Cthulhu of the Dead Sea | Inkeri Kontro
Notes Found in a Decommissioned Asylum, December 1961 | Sharon Mock
The Cypress God | Rodopi Sisamis
When She Quickens | Mary Turzillo
Queen of a New America | Wendy N. Wagner
The Opera Singer | Priya Sridhar
Shub-Niggurath's Witnesses | Valerie Valdes
Provenance | Benjanun Sriduangkaew
The Head of T'la-yub | Nelly Geraldine García-Rosas (translated by Silvia Moreno-Garcia)