Review: The Poison Eaters, by Holly Black

Holly Black is fairly known in the YA world for her urban fantasy novels about fairies as well as in the Middle-Grade world for her Spiderwick Chronicles (with illustrator Tony DiTerlizzi). The first novel I read by her was Tithe, part of her Modern Fairy Tales series and it was also the book that introduced my to YA fairy fiction. I also happen to love short stories, so when I saw the paperback edition of her short story collection at the bookstore, I just couldn't resist. I thought it was a collection of new stories, but soon realized it was an anthology of previously published stories. No matter, as it turned out I had only read three of the twelve stories included in other anthologies, so it all felt pretty new anyway. And it was such a fun read.

The Poison Eaters contains twelve short stories that introduce the reader to a wide range of characters, worlds, and/or fantastical creatures. All of them have a bit of a dark side to them, some more than others. All of them are written in Ms. Black beautiful prose. There are vampires, fairies, an eating-contest with the devil, girls that are both poison and poisoners, book characters coming to life, werewolves, unicorns and more. Each story follows a young protagonist facing a dark, quite often dangerous, always out of the ordinary situation. A lot of them also shows issues often affecting young people (and adults too) such as drugs and homelessness.

Often, the author brought a little twist to otherwise well-known creatures. I especially liked her take on vampirism in "The Coldest Girl in Coldtown" where it is treated more as an infection or a sickness, something usually seen in zombie stories. It probably shouldn't be surprising, come to think of it, as both zombies and vampires are undead. I also really liked "A Reversal of Fortune", about an eating contest with the Devil. It is a nice interpretation of the Trickster theme so often seen in old folktales and fairy tales. "The Night Market" is about fairies in the Philippines and the dangers of bargaining, and insulting, them. "The Coat of Stars", a beautiful story about a young man who must save his lover from the fairies, discover things about himself, and navigates a turbulent family life, was especially touching. Other favourites include "Paper Cuts Scissors" about characters from books coming alive at night through the power of a man, and the boy who wants to free his girlfriend who lock herself in a novel of her own. As well as "The Poison Eaters" about girls especially groomed to be weapons, where only one touch of their skin will bring one's death. Finally, for fans of Ms. Black's Modern Fairy Tales series, "The Land's of Hear Desires" revisit characters from the beloved trilogy, especially focusing on Roiben and Corny. My geeky side also laughed a little and was entirely delighted when a character in the story "In Vodka Veritas" said: "Want to go to Western Plaguelands tonight for a raid? I heard about a sunken temple in Caer Darrow with lots of purple drops", and understood exactly what he meant (I blame my boyfriend for introducing me to MMOs)

The only downside, in my opinion, of The Poison Eaters is that it is entirely too short. Even some of the stories left me wanting more more more. But I guess sometimes that is the point. Such stories are just meant to be a glimpse into a much larger, sinister, and hopeful world, left to our imagination to ponder on.
The Poison Eaters is a perfect little collection to introduce readers to Holly Black's work and her brand of urban fantasy.

1 comment:

  1. Ah! I didn't know this was a short story collection! The novel characters coming to life was especially intriguing to me. I definitely want to read this - it's nice to see that short story collections are making some kind of comeback :)