Monday, July 22, 2013

Review: Carniepunk anthology

Carniepunk by Rob Thurman, Delilah S. Dawson, Kevin Hearne, Mark Henry, Jaye Wells, Rachel Caine, Allison Pang, Hillary Jacques, Jennifer Estep, Kelly Meding, Nicole Peeler, Jackie Kessler, Kelly Gay, and Seanan McGuire
Publisher: Gallery Books
Genre: Urban Fantasy Carniepunk Cover
Release Date: July 23, 2013
ISBN: 9781476714158
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N
Delilah S. Dawson Reading Order

“Painted Love” by Rob Thurman
Marvelous surprises await you in “Painted Love.” Told from the point of view of a supernatural hitchhiker, “Painted Love” takes readers on an exploration of love and evil. Rob Thurman gave Doodle such an interesting, unique voice that I was drawn into the story from the start and couldn’t stop reading until I learned what was going on. I’m afraid I can’t say much about this story without spoiling it, but suffice it to say that you’re in for a fascinating journey. “Painted Love” stayed with me long after I finished reading it and I’m looking forward to reading more of Rob Thurman’s work.

“The Three Lives of Lydia” by Delilah S. Dawson
I admit, I picked up the Carniepunk anthology for this story. I love Delilah S. Dawson’s Blud series and thus was eager to delve into the world of the Bludmen once more. Ms. Dawson does not disappoint. “The Three Lives of Lydia” explores the terrible beauty of Sang and of Criminy’s Clockwork Caravan as seen through the eyes of Lydia, a human from our world who wakes up in Sang. I loved the vibrancy of the carnival, the darker undertones of the world, and seeing Sang — not to mention curious Bludman Charlie Dregs — through Lydia’s eyes. The twists and turns the story took were interesting, leaving me to ponder the implications of what Ms. Dawson revealed.

If you haven’t read the Blud series, “The Three Lives of Lydia” is a good introduction to the world of Sang. Chronologically, it takes place before the first book, Wicked As They Come, so fans of the series will undoubtedly be thrilled to see the caravan and its members (including Blud heroes Criminy and Casper) before Tish’s arrival. I hope to be seeing more of Charlie now that I’ve read this story, and all in all “The Three Lives of Lydia” sated my need for a Blud fix.

“The Demon Barker of Wheat Street” by Kevin Hearne
What should be a rather ordinary wheat festival turns into a life or death battle against demons and ghouls in “The Demon Barker of Wheat Street.” Follow the Iron Druid, Atticus, his apprentice Granuaile, and Atticus’s Irish wolfhound Oberon to Granuaile’s hometown, where the trio must rescue themselves and others from some hellish (literally) carnies. I delighted in the mix of action, humor, and garish visuals in “The Demon Barker of Wheat Street.” Kevin Hearne has a deft hand with all three and I loved that I could be laughing at Oberon’s commentary one minute, and then be wrinkling my nose at a gruesome ghoul the next.

“The Demon Barker of Wheat Street” is part of Mr. Hearne’s Iron Druid Chronicles, but as I have not read the series (yet), I can safely say that readers unfamiliar with the Iron Druid books will easily be able to follow along. Fans of the series will surely be pleased with this short glimpse into Atticus, Granuaile, and Oberon’s lives.

Aside from the fact that I haven’t been able to get Sondheim out of my head since I first read the title of this story, there’s nothing I didn’t love about “The Demon Barker of Wheat Street.” I’ve wanted to read Mr. Hearne’s work for a while, but now I’m definitely in a hurry to start the Iron Druid Chronicles!

“The Cold Girl” by Rachel Caine
Rachel Caine delivers heart-pounding suspense as a teenage girl’s world comes crashing down around her. There are multiple kinds of monsters in “The Cold Girl,” the worst of whom are human. At first, I wasn’t sure I’d like “The Cold Girl,” but Kiley’s dying journey was enthralling in its sadness and had me turning the pages as Ms. Caine brought Kiley’s terror to life. Though I won’t spoil the story, I will say that readers better get ready for a haunting tale that will keep you guessing until the very end. I really enjoy Ms. Caine’s writing and the outcome of “The Cold Girl” left me a well-satisfied reader.

“Freak House” by Kelly Meding
When half-djinn Shiloh Harrison’s father is kidnapped by a magic abuser, it’s up to her and two new allies to free him and other Paras from their freak show prison. “Freak House” provides a captivating introduction to Kelly Meding’s Strays series. I absolutely loved this story. Ms. Meding gives Shiloh the right amount of intelligence, bravery, and magic to make her intriguing without going overboard (as sometimes happens in urban fantasy) and making our intrepid heroine difficult to relate to. I instantly adored Shiloh and I hope to learn much more about her and her two compatriots, former Army Ranger Julius and forced werewolf Will, in future Strays stories.

The world-building in “Freak House” was expertly done, providing all the information readers need without straying into what I call “info dump” territory. Kelly Meding is a marvelous storyteller and I cannot wait to read more about the world of Strays. Though I haven’t read Ms. Meding’s work before, after reading “Freak House” the four books of hers I have are going to the top of my to-be-read pile.

Carniepunk is an excellent urban fantasy sampler featuring some of the best authors in the genre today. Each author has a distinctive voice, but on the whole Carniepunk feels like a cohesive anthology.

To save this from becoming too lengthy a review, I highlighted my five favorite tales of carnie magic in the anthology. That doesn’t mean that the other nine stories aren’t worth talking about. As one might expect from an anthology featuring fourteen stories, Carniepunk can be a bit of a grab bag, depending on your tastes. Mark Henry’s “The Sweeter the Juice” was the one story that was more horror than urban fantasy. His tale of drugs, transsexuals, and zombie babies in post-zombie apocalypse New York simply wasn’t my cup of tea, though I must give Mr. Henry high marks for his talent as a writer (there are some truly haunting visuals in “The Sweeter the Juice”). Jaye Wells’s “The Werewife,” Hillary Jacques’s “Recession of the Divine,” and Seanin McGuire’s “Daughter of the Midway, the Mermaid, and the Open, Lonely Sea” were also interesting, well-written stories that simply didn’t speak to me personally.

A good number of the Carniepunk tales are set in established universes. That being said, I could follow along and enjoy every story, regardless of whether or not I’ve read the series it stemmed from. However, Allison Pang’s “A Duet with Darkness,” Jennifer Estep’s “Parlor Tricks,” Nicole Peeler’s “Inside Man,” Jackie Kessler’s “A Chance in Hell,” and Kelly Gay’s “Hell’s Menagerie” are all stories I think I’d enjoy more were I invested in their literary worlds. I do look forward to going back to these particular stories after I’ve read at least the first book in each series (the Abby Sinclair, Elemental Assassin, Jane True, Hell on Earth, and Charlie Madigan series, respectively).

Carniepunk is filled with fantastical and frightening delights. Whether you are a fan of one or more of the authors in this anthology already or are simply looking to try something new, Carniepunk is for you. One note of caution: you’ll never look at a circus tent the same way again.