Reviewed in the United States on May 18, 2018
There is definitely something for everyone in here, I'd recommend mostly to horror and fantasy readers, not so much science fiction. Some of the stories absolutely blew me away, and others underwhelmed me, but on the whole my average rating is a 4 star. Definitely worth the read.
A is for Appalachia -- 5 stars The writing is hard and flinty but still surprising in its elastic ability to give the reader the same strange sensations Vic experiences as he tracks down a wayward kid in his drug operation, and finds that his lieutenant has become a slobbering mess, all the while acknowledging his building intuition: something is coming. I really liked the flashback to Vic's near death at the hands of his step-brothers, and seeing at the end how that story wove into the main narrative.
B is for Brothers - 2 stars -- A pair of brothers is destined to live out the jealous history of their father and Uncle. This one was a little short on plot for me, the voice not as old-fashioned as I'd like for what seems to be a historical fiction setting, and a little predictable. Enjoyable, but not one of my favorites.
C is for Carotid-- 3 stars Murphy, an everyman likable character finds his young neighbor Yvonne hirt behind their apartment building and goes looking for the man who hurt her. I liked the clues as to Murphy's real identity, and wondering how that identity was going to play into the story. I read it a bit quickly since I wasn't really emotionally invested, but still a good read.
D is for Demon Doll -- 5 stars This story lives up to the anthology title. Un unlikely ghost hunting pair is called to the house of a young family to find the ghost that's been haunting them. The story reals you in with its laid back and funny voice, but the pure evil the ghost hunters find is worth the wait. Funny, surprising, great read.
E is for Eavesdropper -- 5 stars This story is transfixing from the beginning as it describes an age-old battle between elemental monsters, a battle in which our narrator is caught when she's hired to track down a monster so heinous she knows only the first letter of its name: E. The writing is as stunning as the world this author creates. Riveted.
F is for Fame -- 5 stars Another mesmeric story about a hotel proprietress in Aven who mixes magic into paint to help her artist guests achieve fame, which in this time and place is acceptance to the Paris Salon. Where lingers the scent of fame, obsession is not far behind, and it's never a good thing when you mix magic and obsession. Beautiful.
G is for God - 5 stars Manassa and her assistant Clarice are attempting to develop a species capable of space travel, using a controlled ecosystem and the ability to speed up time to study evolution. While Manassa struggles through her own crisis of faith, she doesn't realize that the species she's developing may be in the same boat. The ethical and religious questions raised in this elegant story are nuanced, and the characters real and complex. The story is generally dramatic and tense as Manassa tortures new realities out of the Krillid species against the deadline for her projects' evaluation, so I was surprised that the author was able to plumb the depths of deep philosophical questions at the same time.
H is for Hindsight - 2 stars The writing was so cluttered and the setting so confused that I spent seven pages trying to get into this one before giving up. Katus, a pirate, is being brought to terms and tested, but the plot is just as confused as the setting, an elaborate shell game. I think this story belies the old maxim "Show, don't tell." In such a detailed, futuristic and fantastic setting, at least some exposition is needed to keep the reader from getting a headache.
I is for-Idolator 3 stars-- An original premise, very fun to read. Bevin, Vayle, and Kelli are three kids from a fantastical town next to one of many underground castles filled with treasure and also with ghosts and terrible beasts. Bevin & co wait for treasure seekers to enter the underground castle, and when the treasure-seekers are inevitably slain, the threesome goes down to loot the bodies. Their routine changes when a sorceress from the latest group of treasure hunters isn't dead when the kids enter the castle, and they have to decide whether to save her or not. I could have done without the slaver of comments like "her high cheekbones and deep bosom," and the ending wasn't as good as I'd hoped it would be.
J is for Jammy - 1 star Never a huge fan of a story whose protagonist actually introduces himself to the reader. Breaks that fourth wall in an ungainly way, and the short story that follows is a poorly written mini soliloquy, with no plot.
K is for Kin - 2 stars The reveal is almost worth the tired premise, but not quite.
L is for Lingerie - 5 stars I could see this story appearing in Fantasy & Science Fiction Magazine, if it were a little longer or more complicated, but the writing immersive, the reveal is worth it, and the characters are delightful. i won't spoil it by saying anything other than that it's about three sisters run a tacky lingerie shop in a tourist town.
M is for Mirror -- 2 stars This is my anti-fairytale bias here, I couldn't get into it. Retold fairytale fans will appreciate.
N is for Names - 4 stars -- A really interesting take on a classic monster story. I don't want to spoil it further, suffice it to say I loved it.
O is for Opponent - 3 stars - Interesting witch story, doesn't really have enough time to develop, terminology gets a little annoying and the voice loses believability for me near the end. Still, a unique premise and a good read.
P is for Patience - 3 stars -- A riveting story about a man's hatred and revenge which spans decades, but with a hackneyed, disappointing ending.
Q is for Quixotic - 3 stars - A Malevolence Society, whose sole purpose, with no reason given in backstory or elsewhere, is to commit malevolent acts, isn't convincing, neither very evil or funny. I liked, however, one initiate's determined subversion of the society and her dramatic final act during the initiation ceremony.
R is for Rita - 2 stars - An unlikable narrator, but flat so she's not interesting enough to dislike very much. The plot is fairly simple and unsatisfying.
S is for Supervillian Sidekick 4 stars - A bit like the Q story, but done so much more elegantly, with comedy and surprise. A young man with a long family history of super villainy steps into a placement office, hoping to gain a placement as a small town supervillian so as not to disappoint his family, but his heart's not really in it. I chuckled several times, and loved the character of the placement officer as well, and the story's resolution.
T is for Toll - 2 stars The main character's grandfather dies, and he (or she?) is crushed by his/her sense of unpaid debt. He/she finds a way to pay it, but the story's pace drags and is predictable.
V is for Victory - 5 stars This short reversal of the old Hansel and Gretel fairytale packs as much creep factor into its very short length as it can. I'm a horror fan, so I'm biased, but I loved it.
W is for Witness - 5 stars A story crafted from interview transcripts, web clippings, and letters about a fatal fungal outbreak, and the price of speaking truth to power. Excellent.
X is for Xavier - 5 stars A stunning historical horror, absolutely incredible in its mesmerizing detail, with a main character you love to hate.
Y is for Yvonne - 1 star - Tasteless cliched serial killer story.
Z is for Zalthu - 4 stars Two girls think they're fighting over racism, and they are, but that's not all they're fighting over. They're also fighting for the power of an ancient evil that wants them to seed its hate around the world. Well written, and a nice commentary.