Too much tertiary education... Former performer/wrestler, teacher, scientist; Published author & Father... Want to be a writer if I grow up...
Published September 8th 2019
The magic is in the words
This is yet another book of drabbles. But unlike Worlds and Monsters, we are not with Black Hare Press this time, but with a different publisher in Blood Song Books.
This is Curses And Cauldrons, edited by Zoey Xolton.
And this collection covers stories about witches and magic in all their varied guises.
First, let's get the negatives out the way. A few stories felt unfinished, there were a couple of functional errors (punctuation, homophones, etc.) and one story appeared twice. And… that was about it, actually. When I can put the negatives of an anthology into one sentence, that means this is a well put together book.
One thing did strike me – just how many of the stories I really enjoyed. I cleared this whole book off in half a day. I could not put it down. And it was not because a drabble is so easy to read, so it becomes sort of like eating potato chips (you can't eat just one); it was because the stories were, on the whole, well done. A few recurring themes appeared, but they were generally tackled in different ways, giving each one a fresh feel. The separation was also generally well done, so two stories with a similar basis did not appear next to one another. I also really liked the presentation of the stories, with the look of the headings, and with all author details at the back of the book.
But a word of warning – this book tends to celebrate the witches written about. If your religious beliefs do not allow you to go in that direction, you should be aware of that before you enter this book. Just a sort of friendly caution, that's all.
I was impressed with the range of folklore tales used as the basis for the tales. While the obligatory Hecate and Macbeth witches make many appearances, there were enough others to really give a decent variety. And some were simply the sorts of witches you'd find in fairy tales, often transplanted into today's world. Some stories were creepy, some were funny, some make you think, some were just plain strange. Again, variety. Again, good.
Now, I struggled to get myself to a reasonable number of stories to mention here in this review. I liked too many of them. Even being ruthless, there were too many. So, to keep this down to twenty, I ended up limiting myself to one per author in my list, and then had to be even more ruthless after that. There were just too many really good stories, but if I waffled on about all of them, you wouldn't have the fun of buying this book and making discoveries for yourself.
In that vein, here are my 20 favourites (one per author maximum) in the order they appear in the book. I would like to point out that a number of the writers here appeared in the other two drabble books I've reviewed, so there are some authors who are clearly creating a niche for themselves in this market.
'Redemption' by Victor Krulle. Basically, the moral of this tale is: don't punish a real witch. It has a sense of serenity about it which, considering the subject, is quite jarring really. In a good way.
'Woven' by Emma Kathryn. Using magic to get the better of a rival, but for something that is not world-shattering. It seems rather petty, really, but has that hint of maliciousness I found endearing.
'Prehistoric' by A.S. Charly. Taking magic and the summoning of powers back to the era before written history, and done very well, evoking a menacing mood.
'Winter's Kiss' by Stuart Conover. The two sides of the Snow Queen, so stark and nicely juxtaposed. The closing line makes this tale.
'A Woman Scorned' by Archit Joshi. The moral of this story is: never get between a witch and the man she loves… or never be the man she loves and cheat on her.
'Consumed' by Evan Baughfman. Revenge from beyond the burning at the stake. So simple, and so well done.
'An Unkindness Of Ravens' by Shawn M. Klimek. There's only so much witching power an amulet of protection can save you from…
'The Wurzburg Trials' by Kathleen Halecki. A completely original look at the witch trials. One of my very favourites in the book.
'Wings Of Death' by Zoey Xolton. Not living up to a bargain. Simple. But still rather creepily done. Nice.
'Losing My Religion' by Simon Dillon. Standard tale of revenge until that last line makes it into something far deeper. This works on many levels.
'Voodoo' by David Rae. The tale of a Voodoo doll curse from the point of those cursed, but done in such a different way. No pins, just… psychological.
'Fortune Teller' by S.Gepp. A fortune teller gets it right, just not in the way anyone sees coming. Darkly humorous.
'Beware The Swedish Demon' by Stephen Herczeg. This is my very favourite take in the book. It is genuinely funny, but maybe you have to think about it. The title and the words help, but I'm not going to give it away. I loved this tale.
'Fortune's Fool' by L.L. Starling. Another fortune teller who got it right, but in a more tragic manner.
'The Wiccan Cleaning Crew' by Susanne Thomas. Ever wonder what happens after the rituals are over? Well, wonder no more… and don't ask questions.
'The Unrepentant Witch' by Aaron Channel. Another of my very favourites. The twist at the ending makes this tale of a witch in the afterlife work so awesomely.
'Pound For Pound by Beth W. Patterson. When a witch finds a familiar there is some sort of a bond. But like this? Eerie…
'The Cauldron' by Nerisha Kemraj. One of the few tales told from the point of view of the one being bewitched, it is another creepy tale with an interesting twist ending.
'Death In The Desert' by Saffron Shakerley. And another of my very favourite stories. The Indigenous Australian tale of "pointing the bone" is spelt out here to be so much more than a simple action – it is a full incantation and, damn, if it isn't haunting.
'For Seekers Of The Lost' by Austin P. Sheehan. Not so much a story as a warning to those who would follow in the path of witchcraft. While it lacks a narrative flow, I still liked it because it was different and because it still had a sense of dread about it.
And there you have it – my 20 favourites. And it could easily have been double this or more. But I think it is better this way, because now you'll have to get the book yourself. Blood Song Books is the place to go, and I heartily recommend this collection of drabbles. Congratulations to Zoey Xolton, the editor, for her fine work.
I think I should point out that both Black Hare Press and Blood Song Books are Australian small publishers. There are not nearly enough Australian small publishers, giving voice to those who do not fit into the neat little boxes of the big publishers. Sure, there are many overseas, but these two in Australia have dared put together books of drabbles, and have succeeded at doing that. They deserve our support or else we will be left with the blandness of the big boys, and with nothing different and wonderful like this fine collection.