Master creepologist Holly Black has collected some of her greatest short story hits (and a few new tunes) into a gleefully gruesome mix tape for your reading pleasure. Here you will meet Matilda, “The Coldest Girl in Cold Town,” who runs towards vampires instead of away from them. But when she tries to save her lover from a horrible fate, he betrays her in the coldest way possible. Nikki finds herself in an eating competition with Satan in “Reversal of Fortune,” while Tomasa tries to bargain with an evil elf for her sister’s life in “The Night Market.” There’s a nice ode to librarians and the Dewey Decimal system in “Paper Cuts Scissors” while tailors get props in “The Coat of Stars,” about an NYC costume designer who whips up gorgeous wraps in order to tempt a reluctant faery Queen into returning his kidnapped boyfriend. But my favorites were the ones featuring clever lads fighting their animal natures. In a totally Twilight Zone turn, Black’s “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” will warn you not to believe everything you read when Alex becomes convinced after reading it in a book that smelling a certain posy will cause his canines to grow. And “The Dog King” is a marvelous medieval tale about a monarch who should’ve kept a tighter rein on his beloved tamed wolf, as the natural predator ends up being much smarter than his scruffy nature would suggest. Then there was the story that brought me to tears—“Virgin” about a lonely homeless boy and his pet unicorn—and the one that left me snickering on the subway—“In Vodka Veritas,” about an “accidental” boarding school orgy. Good stuff, all. Black doesn’t strike a sour note in the bunch. Plus, the small, detailed pen and ink illustrations by Black’s hub Theo add a distinctly melancholic touch. So go ahead drink some Poison—it’s good for you!
The Poison Eaters and other stories by Holly Black