Sunday, April 6, 2014

CarniePunk: A Review

Carnie Punk
Written by: Various Authors
Hardcover: 433 pages
Publisher: Gallery Books
Language: English
July 2013
Genre: Urban Fantasy/Anthology

A star-studded urban fantasy anthology featuring bestselling authors Rachel Caine, Rob Thurman, Seanan McGuire, Jennifer Estep, and Kevin Hearne, whose stories explore the creepy, mysterious, and, yes, sometimes magical world of traveling carnivals.

The traveling carnival is a leftover of a bygone era, a curiosity lurking on the outskirts of town. It is a place of contradictions—the bright lights mask the peeling paint; a carnie in greasy overalls slinks away from the direction of the Barker’s seductive call. It is a place of illusion—is that woman’s beard real? How can she live locked in that watery box?

And while many are tricked by sleight of hand, there are hints of something truly magical going on. One must remain alert and learn quickly the unwritten rules of this dark show. To beat the carnival, one had better have either a whole lot of luck or a whole lot of guns—or maybe some magic of one’s own.

Featuring stories grotesque and comical, outrageous and action-packed, Carniepunk is the first anthology to channel the energy and attitude of urban fantasy into the bizarre world of creaking machinery, twisted myths, and vivid new magic


As I have said before I love anthologies. I also love carnivals. There is something about the tents, the games, the hints of the dangerous and the unknown, cotton candy, corn dogs, and ferris wheels. I love going to the carnival and I love reading about it as well (Night Circus was a favorite). Same goes with watching it with shows like Carnival (cancelled far too early) and they just recently announced that next season’s American Horror Story will take place at the carnival. Whoo hoo.

So as I was going through my to be read pile I found CarniePunk waiting to be read. It had a great set of authors and thought I would make it my next little pretty to consume during my down times. I love the cover, dark and gritty promising that the stories within are going to be a few shades of dark (no light and fluffy here). I won’t go over all of the stories, but will point out some of the best and the worst for me.

Things I loved: Like most anthologies it has its strengths and its weaknesses. Some of the weaknesses are the stories that are little novellas of larger series and there is not enough time to truly flesh out these perhaps well-known characters to someone other than me and get onto your story and have it fulfill your needs for both plot and depth of character. While I truly love the extra little tales we get of some of our favorite characters, you have to have a knack for writing short stories and make them accessible to all, not just your own readers. You have to make me want to read more and that I get a sense of your series as a whole and the characters. The best anthologies for me are ones that are truly filled with short stories. Even if they do feature characters I know they can be a standalone and I don’t need a big novel to follow. The first story in the anthology did that for me.

“Painted Love” by Rob Thurman: I enjoy Rob a lot. She has great prose and I love her stories. This was no exception and the absolute perfect story to set the tone of the overall anthology. It preys on your fears of the carnival, the leering carnie who might actually be a sociopath in this case and those he preys on. Doodle follows him wherever he goes never interfering until the young man decides to go after a young girl and her older sister. Really loved this one, twists and all, want it to be made into a short film, and it made me fall for Rob all over again and thinking I need to pick up her new series. Seriously poodles and tentacles. Loved it.

“The Demon Barker of Wheat Street” by Kevin Hearne reminds me a bit of Harry Dresden, but there was enough there that I want to read the series. Granted it’s a bit formulaic with danger, bad guy, win…but I liked the writing style. Set in the Iron Druid series, Atticus heads to the carnival for some R&R, but of course nothing goes as planned and a simple Freak Show becomes so much more.

“The Sweeter the Juice” by Mark Henry gets a mention as it features a transgendered woman as the protagonist and begs the question what is a girl to do when all the SRS docs have been nom’d on during the Zombie Apocalypse? The story has everything from zombie babies to addiction and while completely eccentric and unique was interesting to read.

“The Werewife” by Jaye Wells just made me smile as twisted as it was. Annie is demanding, Brad has no spine. It doesn’t help things that the last time they went to the carnival Annie became a werewolf, so now Brad spends his time covering up the neighborhood pets in the backyard after Annie turns. While the villain may have been a little too one dimensional in her arrogance, I still kinda liked it.

“The Cold Girl” by Rachel Caine was another stand out story. "It took me two days to die. On the first night I met Madame Laida, and on the second night, I met the Cold Girl." Love that opening. Kiley is madly in love with her boyfriend, Jamie, but he’s been keeping some very dark secrets from her...secrets that can kill a girl at a carnival. It doesn’t help that the Cold Girl has chosen Kiley as well. Vampires are not sweet in this story. But then neither are survivors of abuse when they fight back.

“A Duet with Darkness” By Alison Pang while not the strongest story was a nice little touch in the anthology. Violinist Melanie St. James is synesthetic and has more power than she knows. Pride at a carnival with a very special instrument can produce very interesting and unexpected results. This is a neat little story and I like the small snippet of world building that I was allowed to peek at. It put the series on my radar so that has to say something.

“Daughter of the Midway, the Mermaid, and the Open, Lonely Sea” by Seanan McGuire is gorgeous. It’s not just about growing up, or secrets, or mother/daughter relationships. It’s a story of magic and for once the carnies weren’t the bad guys. Unrelated to the Toby series, this stands alone and has that sense of the carnival, full of magic. I loved Ada, her uncle, and her mother. So good.

Overall a good anthology, towards the last bit of the middle and the end it got very repetitive and the lead characters blended into one. The prose started to take a dip as well and while Seanan’s story was top notch and a way to close the whole anthology, by then I was getting a bit tired of the snarky heroine vs carnies because there is far more to a carnival if you are just willing to look and imagine.

Buy or Borrow: Buy. A fairly solid anthology with some great stories.

Part of: Standalone

Also Recommended: Other anthologies you may enjoy are Strange Brew edited by PN Elrod, Mean Streets edited by Jim Butcher, and Powers of Detection edited by Dana Stabenow

3.5 out of 4 happy bibliosnark bookmarks 

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