My rating: 5 of 5 stars
One of my short stories is included in the dark fiction anthology Coppice & Brake, but my review here is about the other stories and one of the most exciting and enjoyable reading experiences I’ve had this year. I’m enthusiastic because in a year of great anthologies, Coppice & Brake from Crone Girls Press and Editor Rachel A. Brune is an absolute favorite. I love every single story, which I cannot say about most anthologies.
“Dog’s Blood Trail” by Gabrielle Bleu and “Swing a Dead Cat” by Shannon Scott bookend the anthology with levels of horror and violence I was not prepared for, and I mean only praise by saying so. These were surprising, shocking stories, one of them very serious, the other very funny.
Editor Rachel A. Brune’s arrangement of the other stories in between these two sent me on a journey over a variegated terrain of narratives super dark, heartbreaking, grotesque, fast-paced, slow-paced, beautiful, heartwarming, and life-affirming. The diversity of characters, including LGBT characters, made me so happy, made me feel welcome, let me see the world through other perspectives. “Cold Dread and Hot Slices” by Spencer Koelle, “Eccentric on the Grandest of Scales” by Voss Foster, and “All the Dead Girls, Singing” by Avra Margariti are just a few of several examples of LGBT representation where neither identity nor story are neglected. “Terracotta Daughter” by JZ Ting challenged me with a complex protagonist, “Trumpet Voluntary” by Edmund Schluessel with the horrifying apathy of it’s protagonist, and “In the Forests of the Night” by Joanna Michal Hoyt with the central relationship so profoundly affected at the end by the events of the story.
Various genres are represented in these dark pages, including the fairy tales of “Raff and the Scissor-Finger” by R.K. Duncan and “The Red Shoes” brilliantly retold by Holly Lyn Walrath; the ghost stories of “Tones of Memories” by Julie Novakova and “Ghost Story” by Jeff Dosser; the fabulism of “Keys Without Locks” by C. Patrick Neagle and the aforementioned “Swing a Dead Cat” by Shannon Scott; the dark science fiction of “Like a Cat” by Brian K. Lowe and the aforementioned “Trumpet Voluntary” by Edmund Schluessel; and the outright horror of “The Rat Room” by Rebecca Dale, “The Homeless Special” by Andrew Jensen, and “The Play Date” by James Van Pelt, which, like many of these stories, is cross-genre and genre bending, including elements of fantasy, science fiction, and various subgenres.
“White-Tail Lies” by Friedrich Sarah E. Thompson reminds me favorable of stories written by Alyssa Wong, one of my favorite authors, but is unique and beautiful and affirming all on its own. So many stories in this anthology were life-affirming, including “The Anomaly” by David J. Thirteen, or satisfyingly triumphant even when especially dark, like “A Woman Unbecoming” by CM Harris. “Shiny People” by Elizabeth Donald is a great story with a chilling final sentence I cannot get out of my head. Most of the pieces are short stories, but one of the flash fiction pieces, “Catch of the Day” by Karter Mycroft, is a favorite among favorites.
Coppice & Brake is the second anthology from Crone Girls Press. I just ordered the first and I’m looking forward to many more.