Hex Life Edited by Christopher Golden and Rachel Autumn Deering
I would like to thank Sarah from Titan for an advance copy of this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review
Publisher – Titan
Published - Out Now
Price – £17.99
These are tales of witches, wickedness, evil and cunning. Stories of disruption and subversion by today’s women you should fear…These witches might be monstrous, or they might be heroes, depending on their own definitions. Even the kind hostess with the candy cottage thought of herself as the hero of her own story. After all, a woman’s gotta eat…
I often note that wizards in fantasy can often be seen as useful and helpful. Be they Gandalf, Merlin or even Yoda they’re always the helpful guide to our young male hero while for a long time the witch is seen instead as a contrasting figure of evil and fear – Morgana Le Fay; The Witch of the West and all our various magical wicked step-mothers plus of course real history is littered with how often witches are seen as to be an enemy that must be eliminated (even if they are simply someone just very good with herbal medicine). Over the last few years the figure of the witch has been increasingly reviewed and their place in religion and mythology re-appraised. They are now someone with magical abilities that can be used for good or evil. In this excellent collection of short stories Christopher Golden and Rachel Autumn Deering have assembled an incredibly talented group of authors to give us a series of stories that aptly for Halloween will make you see all sides of the witch – be they with tricks or treats…
An Invitation to a Burning by Kat Howard – The title sets your expectations, but this story has a few surprises in store. A story of power; women working together and finding where they stand in their community. A very strong opening tale
Widow’s Walk by Angela Slatter – in a small US town four widows live together and someone steals their milk. Loved this story for how very deftly a whole world gets built and the secret side of our ‘widows’ lifestyles is slowly revealed.
Black Magic Momma: An Otherworld Story by Kelley Armstrong – One of the best features of the whole collection here are the changes in each story’s style and pace and this time we move to more an urban fantasy setting with our narrator living on the magic black market with her young daughter in tow. Action packed; taut scenes and the odd double cross it opens up an entire world of magic with an engaging story of a mother trying to let her daughter live while also both of them staying alive. Great fun.
The Night Nurse by Sarah Langan - one of the more disquieting stories in the collection. Esme is pregnant with an unexpected third child; a busy husband and her life is trying to keep it all in balance. And then a nurse offers to help. On the one hand a story great at capturing the darker side of child rearing when we see someone who is not getting supported and then a creeping realisation that something evil may be brewing. I loved the growing sense of dread this story created. An ending you will debate if this was prevented or not…
The Memories of Trees by Mary SanGiovanni – One of my favourites in the collection as it takes us unusually into the future. The world has ended, and only a few simple villages exist in a post technology world. And that descent into a new dark age has brought back intolerance towards those people (especially women) who don’t comply with the norm. As well as the unique setting I loved how the story reflects we always repeat our mistakes and the conclusion when magic and nature meet intolerance is epic, bloody and very satisfying.
Home: A Morganville Vampires Story by Rachel Caine – a strange Texan town where vampires and humans mix gets a witch opening a coffee shop. A strange tale with the unusual setting but at the same time a fascinating plot about revenge and love. The power of the witch here against equally powerful foes here is executed really well. A great way to raise stakes in a story quickly.
The Deer Wife by Jennifer McMahon – Another of my favourites. A woman has started a new romantic relationship with the witch of the woods by her own town. A fascinatingly balanced tale of love and a family breaking up. Can our witch be trusted or are actually the humans worse? Romantic and eerie with a great heart in mouth moment too.
The Dancer by Kristin Dearborn – A man is asked to investigate a young teen’s magical ability. A seemingly basic tale of a teenager discovering new powers descends into something darker and nastier. Up the reader to decide who is really guilty. Very well layered and by the end very uncomfortable.
Bless Your Heart by Hillary Monahan – Excellently seemingly innocent tale of Parental rivalries that unfolds into a discussion on homophobia, bullying and intolerance. Add in a witch’s fury the results are both tasty to read but almost certain to put you off their food.
The Debt by Ania Ahlborn – a teenager and her father got to Poland to nurse their wounds after losing their mother. A walk in the woods though sets off terrors the girl has always thought were fairy tales. One of the most unsettling stories in the collection as we finally realise what has been taking place.
Toil and Trouble: A Dark Hunter Hellchaser Story by Sherrilyn Kenyon and Madaug Kenyon – Three sisters we may know from a certain play; their wider role in the use of prophecy and a rebellious novice all combine into a story about loyalty. But who is getting played? It’s a fascinating world that is set up here and I get the feeling much more is going on if you are a more regular reader of this set of tales.
Last Stop on Route Nine by Tananarive Due – Another of my favourites with an aunt and her nephew are returning from a funeral. Two black people travelling in a part of the country with a long history of racism and cruelty. Sometimes not all ghosts are welcoming. I loved how this story brought up current issues such as Black Lives matter and the resurgence of love for the Confederacy and then also showed how this linked to a long-standing history of racism in the US. AT the same time delivering some very eerie and uncomfortable scenes as our travellers get lost in the fog on an abandoned road.
Where Relics Go to Dream and Die by Rachel Autumn Deering - a man and his haunted candle share a final day together, but magic may mean he has one last adventure in store. A weird strange tale that feels both a unrequited romance and the other an unsettling feeling that someone has been used.
This Skin by Amber Benson – a gruesome murder has been committed and our narrator is biding her time to confess. I love the growing set up and the final line is a beautifully skilled reveal to make you do a double take.
Haint Me Too by Chesya Burke – The story is set in early 20th century America on a plantation where a black family work for a rich white family. There is racism and cruelty and the young daughter wants to find a way to protect her family. Really well told tale of growing up; finding your own power and standing up for your loved ones.
The Nekrolog by Helen Marshall - I loved this well-structured tale as it’s a trio of linked family stories that go back and forth in time also crossing the globe in the process. Family bonds, politics and magical powers are woven brilliantly into a really unusual tale of discovering yourself.
Gold Among the Black by Alma Katsu – this is a simple but really well told tale of a young servant and her mysterious large dog she has bonded with. Well told and another tale where defying convention may in the end be the better option.
How to Become a Witch Queen by Theodora Goss – The collection is finished with a very strong final tale of what happens after a particular fairy-tale’s happy ending. Are all charming princes to be trusted and what happens when a pretty princess turns into a middle-aged queen? I loved the mart and yet felt so true revision of the main story and the way someone discovers sometimes to get you of the situation the only person who can rescue you is yourself and the friends you always knew had your back.
What I always want in an anthology is a surprise and the way the tales are structured from the future to the distant past; tales of good or evil mean that you’re never sure where each story will go until it’s ended. This collection is the perfect way to demonstrate that our concept of the witch now is much more nuanced multi-faceted. An anthology full of new authors and in some cases new worlds to explore that I think any reader will find themselves magically spellbound to finish as soon as they’ve started it.