Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Poison Eaters and Other Stories by Holly Black

Genre: YA fantasy (short story collection)
Pages: 256 (hardcover) 224 (Kindle)
Published: February 2010 by Big Mouth House
Recommended for: Holly Black and urban faerie tales fans

(from Goodreads):  In her debut collection, New York Times best-selling author Holly Black returns to the world of Tithe in two darkly exquisite new tales. Then Black takes readers on a tour of a faerie market and introduces a girl poisonous to the touch and another who challenges the devil to a competitive eating match. These stories have been published in anthologies such as 21 Proms, The Faery Reel, and The Restless Dead, and have been reprinted in many “Best of” anthologies. The Poison Eaters is Holly Black’s much-anticipated first collection of stories, and her ability to stare into the void—and to find humanity and humor there—will speak to young adult and adult readers alike. 

My Take: 

The Poison Eaters is really quite a fantastic collection of stories.  Together they show off every aspect of Holly Black's writing-- the eerie, the wildly imaginative, the funny and utterly original, the lyrical and the sometimes downright disturbing.  That said, a lot of these stories were very familiar to me.  I'm a huge Holly Black fan, and I think I'd read all but four of these stories before, since they were published in other collections featuring many different authors.  But I read most of them at least a year ago, so I'd forgotten all but the very basis of the stories.  The stories are threaded through with eerie illustrations by Theo Black, Holly's husband, and which complement their subjects perfectly.

The stand-out story in this collection is definitely the title-piece: "The Poison Eaters".  It's the story of three sisters who are poisonous to the touch, written in fairy tale-style prose with dreamy, eerie vagueness.  "The Coldest Girl in Coldtown: is a vampire tale-- like no other you've ever read.  It's also the longest story in the book by far-- more like a short novella.  Next up is "A Reversal of Fortune"-- which features an eating contest with the devil in the tradition of 'The Devil Went Down to Georgia'. (How many of you non-Southerners know that song, I'm curious?)  Some of the stories-- namely 'The Boy Who Cried Wolf" and "Virgin" were the creepy kind that don't really stick with you (written just for that big shock at the ending).  Another of my favorites was "The Night Market".  Though Holly Black practically started the modern faerie tale trend in YA, she often goes out of the box with a faerie-like creature you don't hear so much about-- here enkantos, elves of Filipino lore who appear as young men and cause the girl they fall in love with to sicken and waste away as their love grows.  That one is truly unique.  

"Paper Cuts Scissors" is the story of a library science student who discovers she can enter the worlds of her favorite books on the library shelves and that they can come out as well.  Every book-lover's dream, right?  And I loved all the Harry Potter references here.  "Going Ironside" is a sort of epilogue to Holly Black's book Ironside (which is the sequel to the better-known Tithe).  I enjoyed it, but people who haven't read Ironside may want to skip this one-- nothing will make sense if you don't know the characters. I also loved "The Dog King" and "A Coat of Stars", but for entirely different reasons. One is set in a fantasy land with an epic-ly creepy werewolf twist, and the other in modern day, a lyrical retelling of an old fairy tale.  All in all, I recommend this anthology 100%-- to anyone who didn't roll their eyes while reading this review. ;)  

It's hard to rate any anthology, given that every collection has its genius and not-so-genius, but here it goes: 

Cover: 5/5 
Premise: 5/5
Characters: 4/5 
Plot: 5/5 
Overall: 5/5


Melissa (i swim for oceans) said...

I've never heard of this before, but I certainly like that premise! Great review, Kat! :)

A. Knight said...

Sounds really good... I'm going to have to make it so that I track this one down... I'm a faerie fan, but not so much Holly Black though...

Asher K.

Nic @ Irresistible Reads said...

Great review. I haven't read any books by Holly Black yet. Maybe this is a good starting point :)

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