While browsing through the stacks during my weekly hunt for new reads at my local library, I happened upon a collection of short stories entitled Monstrous Affections. I’ll admit what first caught my eye was the cover art. I know, ‘don’t judge a book…yada yada’, but hey, I’m an artist, so I’ m always looking at the art. Anyway, the beast crouching amidst menacing, hand-drawn florals was dark, but also odd enough to draw me in.
Turning the book over, I was interested to see that it contained tales by some authors who were known, and some who were unknown to me. Cassandra Clare, Patrick Ness, and Holly Black were among them. Of course, I was sold upon seeing Ms. Black had a story in the collection. Because of course I have to keep up with my mission to read everything she’s ever written. That, and her work usually appears among other solid writing.
I’m happy to say, Monstrous Affections did not disappoint. It turned out to be a darkly enjoyable read. Most of its stories were well written and even thought provoking, something I don’t often associated with the horror genre. This is because the stories themselves were not simply about monsters, but dealt with “ the intersections of fear and love–where the monsters within meet, and sometimes blur into, the monsters without…” (back cover). And because these were short stories, they were perfect for indulging in while I drank my morning peppermint tea, or wound down for the night.
I’d like to highlight just a few stories I particularly enjoyed.
The first is The Rules for Being an Intergalactic Smuggler by Holly Black. In this story Ms. Black trades in her usual urban forest setting for the lawless abyss of space in a world reminiscent of Firefly and Cowboy Bebop. Upon fleeing her boring home-life, the heroin finds herself aboard a smuggling ship. Her initial excitement is put to the test, as she finds herself facing events that quickly spiral out of control. I won’t say too much, but it does involve organ smuggling, air pirates, and deadly aliens. Of course, being written by Holly Black, I can promise that everything is not as it first appears.
Next, I enjoyed Sarah Rees Brennan’s story Wings in The Morning. Set in a camp that borders our world and faerie, it addresses the issue of self identity. Upon learning the upsetting truth about his parentage, former golden boy Luke’s world quickly begins to unravel. He is forced to balance the judgment of others while coming to terms with his own feeling of shame. All while dealing with his seemingly out of reach crush, and trying to avert war between the tribes of faerie.
I enjoyed this story, because, instead of turning into a 'tale of teenage angst,’ it is told with humor and an overall lighthearted touch. I found myself cheering for Luke as he stumbled through the ups and downs of his relationships, struggled with his self-perception, and eventually owned his identity.
Finally, the story that stood out the most for me was Moriabe’s Children by Paolo Bacigalupi. Its haunting imagery of monstrous kraken and the sea, coupled with its poignant tale of loneliness and loss stayed with me long after the last sentence had been read.
The story follows a young girl named Alanie who can hear the voices from the kraken that swim in Serenity bay. These same kraken killed her father, leading to her mother’s remarriage. As Alanie starts a new life with her step-father and step-brother, it becomes clear that there exist many things that are monstrous, though not all have teeth and tentacle.
As the story unfolds, Alanie’s struggles are accompanied by the continued presence of the kraken which serve as both tormentor and guide. The intriguing allegory of this relationship pushes the story along to it’s dark ending. I found this tale very compelling so there may be paintings of kraken in my future.
So, now that I’ve shared a little bit about Monstrous Affections I hope that you consider giving this beastly anthology a try. If you do, let me know what you think, and which story was your favorite. There are many more monstrous tales that I didn’t even touch on here.
Monstrous Affections was published by Candlewick Press and edited by Kelly Link and J. Grant.