Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Posion Eaters: A Review

The Poison Eaters
Written by: Holly Black
Paperback: 212 pages
Publisher: Big Mouth House
Language: English
April 2010
Genre: Anthology/Urban Fantasy/Young Adult

Pick your poison: Vampires, devils, werewolves, faeries, or . . . ? Find them all here in Holly Black’s amazing first collection.

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. Some of these stories have been published in anthologies such as 21 Proms, The Faery Reel, and The Restless Dead, and many have been reprinted in many “Best of ” anthologies.

The Poison Eaters is Holly Black’s much-anticipated first collection, and her ability to stare into the void—and to find humanity and humor there—will speak to young adult and adult readers alike.


Those who know me know that I love Holly Black. She is an amazing author and when I saw this book at the library sale, I had to pick it up as it had been on my must read list for a while. This is a mixtape from Holly featuring poison eaters, coldtowns, werewolves, and features characters from the Modern Faerie Tales and the Curse Workers. Let’s talk a little bit more on Holly. She is most well-known for the Spiderwick Chronicles and the Modern Faerie Tales which began with Tithe. My friend Chelle bought me the Modern Faerie Tales and I fell in love with them not only because they dealt with the fey, but I knew the stomping grounds where they took place (The Popcorn Zoo was not far from where I lived and went to high school) and understood Wawas and A&P stores. I felt a connection there. It is also nice to know that Holly is a big giant nerd like me. She has contributed to role playing magazines, has secret rooms in her home with her husband (who does the drawings in this short story collection), is a marshmallow (yeah Veronica Mars), champions for diversity, and is an all-around awesome lady.

I love her because she has some interesting takes on the things I love such as vampires, ghosts, faeries, and more. Quite often her characters come from all walks of life and it is refreshing to have a protagonist that is not middle class. I relate to her characters even when I want to punch them in the face. They are strong, diverse, flawed, and intriguing. With her stories things are not always as they appear and there is always a sense of darkness both good and bad in each of her stories. The Poison Eaters is a great little intro to Holly Black if you have not read any of her stuff before.

Most writers start out writing short stories and novellas. It’s a great way to get things going. I love them because I get a beginning and an end (not a 13 book series with a cliffhanger). When I am stuck in line or waiting I can pick up an anthology and then put it down. They are perfect and a really good indicator if I would like an author’s other works. In fact you can tell a lot about a writer based on their short stories methinks. Of course with Holly Black’s collection, I realized I dug her even more.

"The Coldest Girl in Coldtown" is not Tana’s story if you have read Holly Black’s more recent novel of the same name, but we get another look at Cold Towns. In this story vampirism is chic. “You've probably seen lots of video feeds from inside Coldtown. I saw them too. Pictures of girls and boys grinding together in clubs or bleeding elegantly for their celebrity vampire masters. Here's what you never see. What I'm going to show you.” (p. 27) Matilda doesn’t want to be a vampire and is trying to beat the spreading cold by not staying blood free for eighty-eight days. But the thirst is so tempting so she tries to keep herself drunk which dulls the thirst…not just for herself, but for Julian. She heads to the nearest Cold Town on a rescue mission, but it turns into something quite different. Probably one of the strongest stories of the anthology, I like having another take on the Cold Towns.

“A Reversal of Fortune” is a Deal with the Devil story involving Nikki who is having a bummer of a summer. Bored at the trailer park where she lives and bored at her job at the mall despite the copious amounts of candy she gets to eat, she wants something more. But you should be careful what you wish for. When her beloved pitbull Boo gets run over by the hunk next door she makes a deal with an old man she met on the bus. She knows who he is and what the cost will be, but he doesn’t know how much she loves candy and so she chooses the challenge. A funny, gross, but sweet little story using a plot we’ve all heard before and yet it remains something just a little bit different.

“The Boy Who Cried Wolf” involves a young boy who reads about a local legend which says that a certain flower will change a man into a wolf. When his family stops for lunch he finds the flower. But what is real and what is fantasy. Does a flower really have that power? Or is it merely legend. He cannot help but be curious. We all knew where this one was headed, but I enjoyed the journey there. After all haven’t we all had that one story or legend where we thought might be true, but of course it can’t be right? Those things don’t happen. That thing cannot exist. Do we risk trying to figure it out?

“The Night Market” Set in the Philippines, a young girl tries to save her sister from the curse an elf living in a tamarind tree put on her. What she didn’t expect was for the elf to be so captivatingly beautiful. She knows she needs to convince him, but fails. So she heads to the Night Market to find a potion. Is the potion maker all that he seems? Will Tomasa get a cure strong enough to break the elf’s curse? Does she want to? I love this story because it incorporates superstitions and beliefs that are not widely known. I grew up on my mother and grandmother’s stories of the Tuatha, of pixies, and all things fey. We left honey and milk out. So of course anything fey just makes me smile.

“The Dog King” Probably my second favorite story of the collection features werewolves again but not as you would expect. There is a king with a pet wolf, taken as a pup and raised... and they both have a secret. When a beast starts attacking children, the King makes a dramatic proclamation, offering whoever slays the beast his throne. Are either of them prepared for the outcome? It’s creepy. It’s beautiful and while I don’t want to give too much away the perfect was quite fitting. Everything comes together so beautifully and while a short story I still had character depth with motivations and histories and secrets.

“Virgin” Jen, her friend Tanya and her boyfriend live on the streets. When Jen meets Zachary she thinks she finds a kindred spirit, one who doesn’t scoff at her love for stories like The Hobbit. Over cups of tea he tells Jen about his mother being shot in front of him by drug dealers and a white horse with a single horn coming to him and laying its head in his lap. Jen wants to believe in Zach's unicorn, but how much magic can you believe in when you live in the dirty, messed up world of foster care kids and runaways? It’s a heartbreaking story, but a great one as I understood Jen’s selfishness. Everyone wants to be special especially when you feel like you’ve been thrown away. Great, great story.

“In Vodka Veritas” Set at the Prep school where some of the Curse Workers trilogy takes place, our unnamed Hero and his best friend Danny are having hard times finding dates to the school dance. Instead of wallowing in self-pity, the boys decide to break in to Smythe hall. But of course right before their little break in Danny calls and says that he has found a date after all. No hard feelings right. Feeling betrayed and wallowing in that self-pity they swore they were not going to do our hero breaks in anyway after getting drunk on far too much vodka. What he didn’t expect to find was several hooded figures speaking Latin who want to bring Bacchanalia to the school dance as an act of ultimate revenge. Does he let them?

“The Coat of Stars” Years ago Rafael’s lost his first love to suicide. Now a successful costume designer he returns home to visit his family and is overwhelmed by memories of Lyle. Lyle was supposed to run away with him and was not the type to commit suicide. Drawn to the place where he and Lyle had spoken about faeries the night before they were to leave, Rafael finds a circle of dancing faeries with Lyle among them. Will Rafael be able to rescue his long-lost love from the clutches of the icy fairy queen? More than just a faerie tale, this story deals with family dynamics, with dysfunction, and learning more about yourself through a series of trials. Rafael is extremely likable and I wanted jim to have a happily ever after.

“Paper Cuts Scissors” Justin’s girlfriend always said that she knew how to fold things up and put it in books. At first it was a single playing card that was in a paperback edition of Robin Hood. The Ace of Spades. Little John found it. He’d become convinced it was a sign that they would be defeated by the Sheriff of Nottingham and hanged himself. The Merry Men were less merry after they found his body. Justin had looked at other editions of Robin Hood, but they were unchanged. Then Linda disappears inside a book. Desperate to get her back he goes to school for library science and gets a job organizing the massive library of the eccentric Mr. Sandlin. Rumors are his books come back to life and maybe, just maybe Linda will be in one of them. Very similar to Cornelia Funke's Inkheart series, I enjoyed it as much as I loathed Linda. Then again each of these stories have an ending that leaves me satisfied. And seriously I would love to insert myself in to all of the books I read. Yes please.

“Going Ironside” One neurotic Fey comes to our world to get herself a baby... She’s a fairy junkie who cannot wait for her next fix. Written as an internal monologue you can feel how much she needs her fix. For me this was the weakest of the stories, but I liked what Black tried to do here.

"The Land of Heart's Desire," Revisiting the world of Tithe, we find Corny and Roiben at the Moon and Cup café. Val is missing, but the café is jumping. We learn a bit more about both characters. Corny wants to bring more business to the Café and so he has let it slip that the Fae may frequent the café. Roiben doesn’t understand this desire or longing that non-enchanted humans have for faerie. Faerie has not always been kind, not only to humans, but Roiben as well. He remembers his nurse when he was a child, a woman who was taken from her own children and placed in charge of caring for faerie children. When she was lucid she hated her new charges, but when the enchantment was strong perhaps she loved them. Enchantment is a scary thing, for even the King of the Unseelie, was forced to endure countless humiliations all because he was enchanted. Roiben is far more curious about humans than he cares to let on, but curiosity always has a price. Cute, funny, and heartbreaking at the same time. I love Corny, Val, and Roiben. It was nice to see them again.

“The Poison Eaters” Three sisters have the power to kill with a kiss and a touch. Their father has kept them as weapons, using them as revenge against his enemies. Each girl has a locket with a picture of her future love inside. Perhaps their lonely existence is over. They will find love and get married. Except they all understand what this means, how can they know love if their touch will kill that love. The girls grow weary of their lives, of being the poison eaters. This is their story.

Overall Feeling: The stories have their ups and downs as do all short story collections and yet each is distinctly Holly Black methinks. I think that the stories are diverse enough that there is probably something here for everyone. There is heartbreak, magic, tricksters and fiends, and the reminder that nothing is ever as it seems. It’s a great way to get to know Holly Black if you have not read any of her works before and a worthy addition to my ever growing collection.

Buy or Borrow: Buy.

Part of: Standalone

Also Recommended: Blood Red Anthology is divine especially if you like the retelling of some of your favorite childhood fairy tales and some you may not have heard of. I would also recommend Sirens and other Daemon Lovers, the Best Horror of the Year Anthologies and More. For more urban fantasy fare in anthology form are The Unusual Suspects, the Blood Lite anthologies, Urban Fantasy Anthology and more. As I said there is usually something for everyone when it comes to Anthologies

4 out of 4 happy bibliosnark bookmarks 

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