Just because it’s past Halloween doesn’t mean that spooky season is over, right? Today I’m talking about a collection of 18 witchy short stories that contains some real gems!
Book: Hex Life edited by Christopher Golden and Rachel Autumn Deering
Read before: No
Ownership: Review copy sent free of charge by Titan Books. All opinions my own.
It’s repetitive, I know, but I’m starting with my obligatory warning: short story anthologies are super hard to review, because you’re almost guaranteed to have a few stories that don’t work for you, and a few that do. For the most part, my opinions of the stories here fell out the way I was expecting! I liked the stories from the authors I knew I liked (Kat Howard, Amber Benson, Theodora Goss), and didn’t get on with the ones by authors whose work I don’t connect with generally, but there were a couple of stand-out stories that really blew me away unexpectedly.
All the stories here are themed around witches, and they run the gamut from fairytale (Theodora Goss’s “How To Become A Witch-Queen” plays with the story of Snow White in wonderful ways) to urban fantasy (“Black Magic Momma” by Kelley Armstrong is part of her Otherworld setting, and fits in perfectly with it), to sprinkles of magic in everyday life. The stories in this latter category, those that tweaked the mundane business of everyday life to have a witchy bent, were by and large my favourites, particularly “Widows’ Walk” by Angela Slatter, which gave me a Practical Magic vibe I loved (witches looking out for women!), “Bless Your Heart” by Hillary Monahan, which has a worried mother taking revenge on the bitchy head of the PTA through the medium of cursed baked goods (fun but also gross!), and “The Night Nurse” by Sarah Langan, which is a masterfully creepy story that I won’t spoil, but which focuses on a new mother and the night nurse she hires to help her get through the newborn stage. This last story in particular will stick with me for a while I think – it’s got a psychological horror element that really got under my skin, but was also completely believably set among the stresses of normal life. I also really enjoyed “The Deer Wife” by Jennifer McMahon, which I think is the only story to focus on a sapphic relationship, and which had some lovely language in its description of nature.
Overall, I think there’s likely to be something in here to suit most tastes, as long as you like witches! As I say, a few of the stories missed their marks for me – I particularly noted that apart from Kelley Armstrong’s, which stood alone well, I didn’t enjoy the stories that were part of a wider world, because I felt they needed too much knowledge of the existing worlds to get into fully, and I haven’t read either series. But there’s such a variety among the other stories that I didn’t feel short-changed by a few misses. A great addition to a witchy shelf. Four out of five cats!