An anthology of 14 strange stories that take place around carnivals. As with any anthology, some stand out more than others. Here's a quick break down of the stories with my thoughts:
Painted Love by Rob Thurman - We follow some sort of entity that has hitched a ride with a carnie back to the traveling carnival but the carnie is a predator and murderer and has his sites on someone the entity has come to care about. Not a safe place to be. A bit slow but with a nice twist at the end that I hadn't seen coming.
The Three Lives of Lydia by Delilah S. Dawson - A young woman wakes up in a carnival with no memory of exactly who or where she is. A vampire comes along and takes care of her but it turns around as she ends up bouncing to her other life and then back again. No big surprises with this one but it seems to be set in an established world that I'm not familiar with so it may be that these characters have more going on that I am not aware of but this wasn't enough to make me want to go search it out either.
The Demon Barker of Wheat Street by Kevin Hearne - Atticus has brought his apprentice back to her home town for a quick visit on the condition that they don't run into anyone she knows. While they are there, they end up at the carnival where they notice that something is very strange about the Haunted House. It turns out there is much more going on there than anyone realized and they will be getting a lot more attention than they counted on. This is an Iron Druid short story and while I have the books on my bookcase, I haven't read any of them yet but this story laid out the world nicely and quickly so I was able to get a decent sense of what was going on even without all the back story. I found it engaging and the characters interesting and the series has now moved up on my to-read list.
The Sweeter the Juice by Mark Henry - A story about a pre-trans in a world after the zombie uprising who is trying to get the operation but has run out of goods to barter with so is sent off to find an elusive new drug to act as full payment. What she finds is much different than what she could have possibly expected. This one was more forgettable. The characters didn't stand out to me and weren't particularly likable, the writing style was bland, and the ending predictable.
The Werewife by Jaye Wells - A husband and wife went to the carnival a year ago and a month afterward the wife is a werewolf. Now that the carnival is back in town, the husband has convinced her to go back with him to see about getting the curse lifted. Instead, they find out that she was specifically chosen for that curse and she isn't the only one. Interesting take on several levels and quite enjoyable. I finished it in one sitting as I didn't want to put it down.
The Cold Girl by Rachel Cain - A girl who has fallen for the worst type of guy goes with him to the carnival and when she gets her fortune told, it's nothing that she wanted to hear. She is going to die and it's going to hurt and she will be visited by the Cold Girl and will have choices to make. What happens to her after that will depend on those choices. What will she choose? This one was disturbing on several levels but so very well done that again, it was hard to put down.
A Duet with Darkness by Allison Pang - An Abby Sinclair Short Story. An extremely accomplished violinist is rebeling against expectations and traveling with a small band of Otherworlders playing various venues when they happen upon a faire of their own kind. She finds another violinist and feels the need to prove that she is better than him and enters into a dual for more than just a new instrument. Honestly, I felt like there was a lot more subtext going on that if I had read other pieces in that universe I would understand but instead I spent my time reading this confused as to how things worked in the universe and why I should care.
Recession of the Divine by Hillary Jacques - A goddess has decided to forsake her duties and take on human form. In her current life, she is an insurance adjuster who is checking out a carnival and finding things that don't add up. Will these mysteries be what finally push her away from her human life and back into the fold of her brethren? I found this one okay but slow.
Parlor Tricks by Jennifer Estep - An Elemental Assassin Short Story. Gin has agreed to accompany her sister, Bria, to the carnival to help in a missing child case. She is generally unimpressed until they get to the knife throwing act but what is more impressive is the amount of elemental magic she is feeling from the ring. They know when they are getting too close when Bria is kidnapped and Gin is caged. Admittedly, I enjoy this series so I'm familiar with all the characters and universe and this story did not disappoint.
Freak House by Kelly Meding - A Strays Short Story. A djinn has gone missing and his half-human child is searching for him. She has finally gotten a lead but it's one that requires funds that a starving college student can't possibly come up with when she stumbles upon an unlikely group of other supernaturals also looking for missing people who seem to have ended up with her father. They decide to join forces and apparently the rest is history. Again, I have no previous knowledge of this universe but things were well enough explained that I was able to follow along and am intrigued to learn more about it. A nice introduction.
The Inside Man by Nicole Peeler - A Jane True Short Story. Capitola Jones and her companions have been hired by the biggest, meanest supernatural boss in Chicago to find out what happened to his sister who lives in outlaying small town where everyone seems to have gone even quieter. As they start investigating, they find that there is a whole collection of towns that fall into this category so they map it out and find the next logical town on that route and start staking it out. It seems fairly boring and straight-forward until the clown shows up and takes her companions along with the town's inhabitants. Now Capitola has to try and figure out what is going on and how to retrieve their essence by herself. Another short story in a universe I'm not familiar with but felt right at home. Well set-up, the magic in the universe was sufficiently explained without bogging the story down, and what seems to be a fresh take on it as well.
A Chance in Hell by Jackie Kessler - A minor demon has managed to obtain a soul and escape from hell. She still has her knowledge intact and is occasionally called to put down demons who are not following the rules but she is in over her head when her friend invites her to a carnival and she finds that it's run by a major demon who is just itching to get his hands on her soul. There was some interesting stuff going on and while I wouldn't run away from something else by this author, I'm not searching them out at this point either.
Hell's Menagerie by Kelly Gay - A Charlie Madigan Short Story. Charlie's mom has left her in the care of her supernatural guardian who was unable to successfully talk her out of her mission to go to hell and find the hellhound puppies and their mom that she had rescued. He figures it would be better to go with her and try to keep her safe but he didn't count on just how stubborn she would be when she found the menagerie of exotic animals and sentient beings trapped in misery. Another interesting new author for me, not 100% sure I'll searching it out but not sure I won't either.
Daughter of the Midway, the Mermaid, and the Open, Lonely Sea by Seanan McGuire - The mermaid's daughter has been cautious her whole life to stay away from the water lest it claim her as it has her mother but now the traveling carnival she is with has come back to her mother's home town and her mother's adoptive parents have other ideas for her. While this story is not actually set in any of Ms. McGuire's series, the mermaids are definitely like those we were introduced in one of the Incryptid short stories with Jonathan and Fran. This story was another reason why I bought and read this anthology and it did not disappoint.
In all, a good anthology and I found a few new authors that I may look into checking out further.
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