Thursday, August 16, 2012

Wolf Girls

Series: Stand -Alone
Genre: Anthology
Author: Various (edited by Hannah Kate)
Publisher: Hic Dragones

I get a lot of requests to review my fellow indies. I don't accept anywhere near as many as I'd like to, especially since I'm now trying to balence a regular job and my own writing career with my blog. But when Hannah Kate asked me to review her small press' new anthology, I couldn't say no. Hannah's blog is one of the most underrated on the net (at least when it's not drowning in CFPs), and her academic background gives her a needed dose of perspective on the stories we all rant and rave about. As an anthologist, she proves just as adept, as do the collection of lesser-knowns and up-and-comers assembled to write for her.
The stories on offer:

A Good Mate is Hard to Find (Nu Yang): A she-wolf living in the big city picks a serial killer to join her in lycanthropic bliss. Visceral, but a little rushed. There's no sense of character for the love interest, beyond tired serial-killer cliches, and the last-scene twist is perplexing. Solid writing keeps it together, but this story could have benefited greatly from a few more pages.

Familiar (Mary Borsellino): Centuries-old were takes in a new convert and teaches her the facts of life. Feels like the first chapter of a longer work, and as such has a threadbare plot. Old wolf finds new wolf, New wolf angsts, then gets over it at some time between the last two scenes so we can get on to the story. Only this is just an excerpt, so the story ends there. A disappointment, but the writing is good and the voice unique.

The Deserter (Lyn Lockwood): Romeo and Juliet meets Cowboys and Indians. Indian werewolves, anyways. One of the weaker stories, it does almost nothing with a premise that has some promise. Everything is recounted in a matter-of-fact tone, and nothing feels emotionally real. Plus, the old "Native Americans are werewolves" thing is a grating mix of cliche and stereotype.

The Pull (Mihaela Nicolescu): Dark romance between a wolf-girl and a terminally ill man. Well-paced and poignant, certainly worth reading. But it's emo as hell, with lots of brooding despair and the love interest's death as our heroine's hands being played as a happy ending. No thanks.

Cruel Acts (L Lark): Dreamlike story about strange characters in a Siberian boarding house. Not a lot of plot, focusing instead on atmosphere, but very good at creating atmosphere. Moody, evocative, and rancid with filthy details (in a good way).

The Cameron Girls (Jeanette Greaves): Racism and lycanthropy among the working class. Succinct, punchy story about understanding your children, or failing to do so. Like "Familiar", this feels like a prologue. It kinda is. According to Greaves, she has a lot of stories set in this world kicking around her head. I hope she share more of them with us someday.

A Woman of Wolves Born (Kim Bannerman): Historical fiction in which an abandoned she-wolf joins the Crusades. Framed as a folktale, it has compelling writing but can't seem to figure out what it's about. It jumps around to several points in our heroine's life, glossing over points (such as meeting a pack of fellow weres in the army) that deserved more extrapolation. A good read, but it feels like it's dropped the ball.

Lucinda (Lynsey May): Brief little gut-punch of a story about a sleazebag who seduces a she-wolf. Very impactful for its short length, although it lacks depth.

Sender: She-Wolf (Hannah Kate): Morality play about why you shouldn't watch nasty porn, especially not at work. A good story that feels out of place in a number of ways. For starters, a warning about the dangers of internet porn is well past it's freshness date in 2012. More bizarrely, Kate violates the rules of her own anthology. "Sender: She-Wolf" has nothing to do with werewolves except as a very thin metaphor; our villain is a nasty piece of malware instead. Shenanigans! Don't get me wrong, I liked this story. The characters are at once vivid and totally unsympathetic, and the plot keeps you in suspense. But it feels like it's in the wrong book. Kate should have stuck with the Stephen King direction she was heading in instead of petering out into a heavy-handed cautionary tale.

Run Wolf (J.K. Coi): A "Dangerous Game" story where a she-wolf is forced to fight her fellow weres by an unseen psychopath. Well-done, but unfortunately there's precious little about this genre that hasn't been done before, making the story as a whole feel cliche.

Cut and Paste (Rosie Garland): Two lesbian paranormals stalk some food. Good characterizations and a moving ending, but otherwise a rather thin plot that banks on suspense to carry itself. Suspense doesn't quite get the job done -- I was tapping my foot in places -- but the story was enjoyable overall.

Nina Lupe-De-Loup (R.A. Martens): Comical tale about a family of sideshow freaks and a man who gets the wrong idea about them. Cute, but awfully mean-spirited towards its male lead, a true believer with many screws loose. For the story to work, the eponymous Nina, and in fact most of the characters, has to be conveniently oblivious to the extent of his delusion until the last scene. Below average.

Sweet Tilly (Beth Daley): A suspenseful story of postpartum depression. Our heroine being a hospital cleaner who's memories of her own infant daughter are awakened by the sight of a baby girl in the maternity ward. The plot that ensues is very dark, downright ghoulish by the end. Writing skill and the author not pulling punches makes this the most memorable story in the collection, but it's way too much for me. In fact, I wish I could forget it. It's well crafted, though.

Lunacy (Marie Cruz): Eerie horror tale about a woman who develops symptoms after an altercation with a psychiatric patient. Great atmosphere and a bizarre twist ending shore up a plot that is otherwise very standard

Fur (Helen Cross): After a pair of dark tales, we swing to something lighter. A woman's husband tells the tragic tale of his wife's lycanthropic infection and her subsequent development of... body hair. Yes, that's it. And that's the joke, that this man is so shallow that such a thing is enough to utterly destroy his marriage, leaving him ranting on the internet about how awful lycanthropy is. I laughed.

The Librarian (Andrew Quinton): Recovering man-eater decides to put her dark desires to good-ish use via some vigilante justice. A fun story with a sympathetic heroine and solid pacing. Not a rosey tale, but it's a ray of light relative to some of the more cynical or horrific stuff in the book.

Exiled (Sarah Peacock): A teen runaway's lycanthropic awakening. Solidly written, but a bit cliche, and a huge wad of unnecessary expo-speak right in the middle brings it down. Decent enough, despite lacking a certain oomph.

In all, it's a good collection. Some editing issues, though. The conventional wisdom with anthologies is to start strong and finish strong. Kate finishes strong, alright, but front-loads the book with the lesser stories, making the first half of the book a slog. The second half is worth the effort, but many readers might not last that long. Were it me, I would have put the last story first. Not only is it generally stronger, it would leave the book starting with a lycanthropic awakening and ending with someone finding a purpose for her she-wolf-ness,.

Be that as it may, Wolf Girls is still a worthwhile read, with most of the contributors hitting their marks and some showing great promise indeed.

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