One of my chief complaints about short story collections, particularly those with multiple authors, is the wild unevenness in the stories. While some are well written and engaging, others are something to slog through. Overall, this was my experience with Carnie Punk, an anthology of stories all centered around small town carnivals.
Each story is in no way connected to the other, and each is related in some way to the carnival setting. In some cases, the authors chose to write a stand-alone story, while others wrote a story connected to their other urban fantasy works. The stories that are connected to other series are by Deliliah S. Dawson (the Blud), Kevin Hearne (The Iron Druid Chronicles), Allison Pang (Abby Sinclair), Jennifer Estep (The Elemental Assassin), Kelly Meding (The Strays), Nicole Peeler (Jane True), and Kelly Gay (Charlie Madigan). Even though I have never read any of these series, the majority of the authors did a great job of bringing me up to speed on their characters and the worlds in which they live.
Since it is fall and the season of witches, goblins, and werewolves, the setting of creepy carnivals worked for me. Each author gave their own spin to the idea of a carnival, but most, if not all, of the stories were filled with dread, darkness, and fear. With the exception of one story, the stories focused on the horror aspects rather than humor or romance.
The stories in this anthology ranged from “ho-hum” to awesome. Truthfully, some were uninspiring. Here is a sampling of those stories I found to be the best.
My favorite was one called “The Werewife” by Jane Wells, about a husband who is tired of dealing with his newly turned wife. I also enjoyed “Painted Love” by Rob Thurman about a sidekick in love with a carnival woman. Rachel Caine’s “The Cold Girl” was a well-written story that was fun to read. Jennifer Estep’s “Parlor Tricks” was enjoyable, as was Jackie Kessler’s “A Chance In Hell”. “Daughter of the Midway, the Mermaid, and Open, Lonely Sea” by Seanan McGuire was very different from the other stories, and it was great fun to read.
The other stories in the anthology just did nothing for me. Whether the problem was that I have not read their connected series (in some cases), I don’t know, but I do know that a 30 page short story can take longer to read than a 100 page book if you are not interested.
Given that there are 14 stories in this book, and I enjoyed 7 of them, I can say that I enjoyed about half of the book. I am not sure that is enough for me to give it the seal of approval. Given the wild unevenness of the writing, I say that Carnie Punk is really for hardcore fans of the urban fantasy genre, those people that love a good carnival, or devotees of the authors contained within its pages.
*I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Regina