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Sycorax's Daughters Paperback – March 10, 2017
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That’s too bad, because there is a lot to like in here. My tastes run more towards fiction than poetry, but I read everything cover to cover and built up a string of author names I’ll be seeking.
Anyway, without further ado, here’s each piece in the book, in order of publication, briefly reviewed. Spoiler-free, I promise!
TREE OF THE FOREST SEVEN BELLS TURNS THE WORLD ROUND MIDNIGHT: Lovely prose, but I have to say it didn’t really scare or unnerve me. It’s OK.
THE LONELY, SALTY SEA: Again, a decent but not overwhelming poem. Lover’s suicide verse with no surprises.
SCALES: A good story, but more moody and evocative than scary. I personally wanted the conflicts to be sharpened. I felt like the author was being too kind to her characters. But those characters were well observed.
LETTY: A definite standout. Disturbing, compelling, a great blend of history and imagery. I do wish, a little bit, that the two protagonists’ narratives had been a little better blended. It felt like a piece of something bigger. But it’s definitely worth a read.
A REAL FRIEND: A poem about death by drowning. Didn’t leave a very deep impression.
MA LAJA: This was a fun one, deploying some arresting in media res action from the monster’s point of view. Walks a fine line with its dialect, but generally stays on the side of evocative without straying into confusing.
RED SCORPION: I didn’t care for this poem. It seemed to only have one level.
BORN AGAIN: If you like lesbian vampire stories, go straight to this one. It plays directly to the genre and has the courage of its convictions. If you think you’re too good for lesbian vampire stories, this story is probably too good for you.
THIRSTY FOR LOVE: A really fun prose poem about vampires. I dug it.
HOW TO TALK TO THE BOOGEYMAN: This one frustrated me. It had a demolishingly strong start, then skipped into fast forward mode and lost me. Then it got good again! But the ending wasn’t as strong as the opener, which left me feeling very slightly let down.
SWEET JESUS IN THE CORNER: A short, melancholy elegy.
THE MONSTER: Another strong starter. Loved the phrase “opulence of poverty.” Moreover, the detailed descriptions often serve double-duty—establishing mood AND character, or describing the setting AND nudging the plot forward. That keeps things moving along at a good clip without feeling like the text has been stripped down too much. Has a nice twist and ends at just the right point.
LAST OF THE RED-HOT LOVERS: Some bracing images in this poem, but the author seemed to confuse “I” and “you” within the text. That was… confusing.
TASTE THE TAINT: This really felt like the author was judging the protagonist harshly. It’s well written, with some tight sentences, but there’s no ambiguity.
WHISPERS AND LIES: A pretty good poem. It’s direct.
CHEATERS: Great voice, good gore, moves straight at where it’s going and doesn’t linger. I strongly endorse this tightly crafted tale of erotic pyrokinesis.
KIM: Nice opener, strong images, creepy antagonist and exciting end. What more do you want?
MORE’S THE PITY: Evocative little poem that never uses the word “werewolf.”
SUMMER SKIN: A scary first person “I’m the monster” narrative, but everything’s told through implication. Even though it’s gory (and the gore is strong stuff, I approve!) it’s a story with a lot of subtlety to it. It’s so easy to go wrong with unanswered questions, but this isn’t the kind of story that leaves you frustrated and annoyed. It’s the kind that leaves you tingling with wonder and dread.
GOTRASKHALANA: A BLUES: This poem is a series of cryptic images.
TAKING THE GOOD: A nice blend of horror and melancholy, supported by well-observed details.
POLYDACTYLY: Here’s a poem I really liked. What I like best in poetry is when I have simultaneous feelings of novelty and familiarity—like this surprise is what I expected all along. It’s not easy to pull off, but POLYDACTYLY does.
MONA LIVELONG: I’d call this more ‘dark fantasy’ than horror. It’s got some images that make you stop and think for a moment, but it never felt really finished to me. It was like a teaser for a longer novel.
THE MALADY OF NEED: This one’s creepy, bleak, evocative and desperate. Pulls you in fast, sweeps you along, and spits you out at the end.
THE EVER AFTER: Vivid and surreal, but the end was a letdown. It wasn’t a bad ending, it just wasn’t as good as the setup.
PERFECT CONNECTION: Good worldbuilding, but the prose could have used some more work. It honestly felt like the author wanted to write a paranormal romance.
FOUNDLING: Hard-boiled fiction about cyberpunk teleportation crimes that haven’t been invented yet. Takes a novel premise and runs with it in directions that aren’t the most obvious, but which are perfectly thought out. I really liked this one.
RISE: What are these mutants going to do in this postapocalypse? Muddle through, I guess. It’s OK, but not great. I find myself wishing the setting had been revealed in passing, not laid straight out.
OF SOUND MIND AND BODY: I’d call this “identity-noir.” It’s a gritty narrative about a spy whose self-changing bio-disguise has some serious, serious drawbacks. Good stuff!
ASUNDER: Ugh, the grammar error in the first paragraph made me flinch, because it mars an otherwise brisk and efficient job of setting construction. It’s a story with no easy way out, and it doesn’t shy away from that.
TERROR AND THE DARK: A self-reflective biography poem. Pretty good.
EVE OF DE-NILE: I can only describe this story as ‘awesome.’ My personal favorite in the anthology. Pitch-perfect tone, rich characters, and an exquisitely timed sting in the tail. It’s like drinking two beers and hearing a story from your funniest friend, only at the end you’re left, shocked, with your jaw dropped.
SWEETGRASS BLOOD: A short, surreal haunting where you can’t be sure who the ghost is. Really liked the first line.
THE ARMOIRE: In this appealing story, a no-nonsense woman connects with a ghostly seducer and she just isn’t having any of it.
A LITTLE NOT MUSIC: Disappointing. It started out strong and vivid, but at the end it needed more than just wordplay.
DYER DIED IN SILENCE: Historical poetry about a famed infanticidal maniac named Amelia Dyer.
THE MANKANA-KUL: Funky… interesting… almost great. It never really explains the titular monster, and leaving that ambiguous works. But something’s missing in this story. I can’t explain what.
TOWARDS A PEACOCK POEM: It’s OK. To me though, it’s right on that line where ambiguous starts to become distressingly opaque.
MAMA: Vivid and heartfelt, but it has some repetitive phrases.
TO GIVE HER WHATEVER SHE WOULD ASK: Yeah, good ol’ Trinidadian body horror. Good stuff.
EMPTY HOUSE: Short, cool, and a good finish.
SYCORAX’S DAUGHTERS UNVEILED: A summation by one of the editors. It’s fine. Didn’t really move me one way or the other.
All in all, I’m glad I took a flyer on this. The quality’s uneven, but I’ve got a new list of authors to watch out for. Specifically: Regina N. Bradley; Crystal Connor; Tish Jackson; Zin E. Rocklyn; Dana Mcknight; Kiina Ibura Salaam; Tenea D. Johnson; K. Ceres Wright; Joy Copeland and Eden Royce.
My favorite story in this book was "Letty" by Regina N. Bradley, a frame story with a horrifying slave narrative, supernatural elements, and about as much truth as fiction can handle. Other standouts for me were "The Monster" by Crystal Connor and "Kim" by Nicole D. Sconiers, but there are a number of really wonderful stories here. Lots of magic, monsters, and mayhem. Highly recommended.
Most recent customer reviews
"If there is any connection between the wide-ranging tales told here in prose and poetry, it is that all the authors have found the same freedom to express...Read more