I don’t usually read anthologies. I don’t feel like I’ve had my fill of an author and I never really feel like I get a handle on their writing style based on one or two short stories. I would say anthologies turn me off writers more than they turn me on.
It’s just a weird thing I have.
The other thing I don’t read a lot of is fiction starring shapeshifers or werecreatures, because authors tend to fall back on werewolves, and werewolves, as everyone knows, all suffer from testosterone poisoning. Seriously, of all the possible cool animals that you could turn into, it’s always werewolf this, werewolf that, because Europe, or something.
Bleh, wolves, I’ve always been a fox girl.
Since I don’t like werewolves that much I’m always on the lookout for books that have a variety of shapeshifters represented within their pages, and this one name-drops kitsune, selkies, and crane-wives on the back cover. I only recognized two of the authors (one I’ve read, the other I’ve heard things about) and, well, the book was the reasonable price of $2, so I thought I’d give it a shot.
I’m going to be doing something different for this review, though. I’m going to be reviewing each of the stories individually, the way they do it on Amazon, so even though this looks like it didn’t take very long, by the time I’m finished I’ll probably have written this over a couple weeks or so.
So, without further ado, the stories….
Note: I’ll list the types of shifters involved in each story unless the reveal somehow spoils the plot
The Thief of Precious Things by A.C. Wise (foxes, crows)
This story is about an amnesiac fox girl tasked with stealing a thing for the ruling class of crow men, only she can’t remember what that thing was, or much of anything. Yeah, it’s a cliché, but overall, I’d say this is a strong start for the anthology. I’ve certainly read worse. And look, no wolves!
The Poison Eaters by Holly Black
This is not a conventional shapeshifter story (there is a “shift” of sorts). It’s about three sisters who kill anything they touch. It’s weird and dark and kind of Gaiman-esque (who also writes weird and dark things). It’s an interesting story.
Go Home Stranger by Justin Howe
Not only is this story very short (2 ½ pages), it’s another one of those strange ones. It’s also really short so there’s not much to say about it save that it’s about a resort with a dark secret and it’s written from a second-person perspective (“you”). I think I’m beginning to see a pattern here.
The Heavy by Cherie Priest
The Heavy is more of a “traditional” were-creature tale involving a mysterious creature killing off a man’s goats and a man nicknamed “The Heavy” who tracks down weird stuff like this for a living. I’m kind of lukewarm on this one. It’s not a bad story, it just didn’t scratch my itch. I did like how The Heavy is…not really your average “Hunter” type character.
Tusk and Skin by Marissa Lingen (walrus)
This is a short story based on the tales of selkies—walrus selkies, er, walkies—in Greenland. I think it could have gone on a bit longer, but as it is, it’s not bad. Also, the protagonist and the shifter are both POCs.
A Song to the Moon by Richard Bowes (wolves)
This story loses points for having wolf shapeshifters, but it redeems itself because the protagonist is intersex and genderfluid. At first, it was hard to get into this story, because it’s about as quirky as you would expect a story about independent theatre to be. (Seriously, I took acting classes in high school, actors are only second to composers and inventors when it comes to eccentricity.) It’s basically the narrator and the main actor turning their own origin stories into a form of entertainment, and they do an abridged version of Euripides’ The Bacchae, so that’s okay.
In the Seeonee Hills by Erica Hildebrand (wolves)
This story could probably be considered “typical” if it didn’t have a lesbian protagonist (or she could be bisexual, nothing’s said either way). The point is that the protagonist is a woman and her love interest is also a woman. The plot involves a turf war between rival wolf packs (*sigh* wolves again). I did like the dynamic between “natural born” shapeshifters and “infected” werewolves, though.
The Sinews of His Heart by Melissa Yuan-Innes
I couldn’t really get into this story. It’s about a woman who is in China for her cousin’s funeral, and then he shows up alive. Tigers are involved. The protagonist is Chinese-Canadian and well, the story is set in China, so I’m assuming the characters are all POCs. One note: It does get a little violent towards the end, and those of you who are sensitive to animal cruelty (especially against big cats) should take care.
(Nothing But) Flowers by Nick Mamatas
I just didn’t get this story. It felt like a plug for primitivism (except it’s not) with a side order of “everything’s wrong with the world”, not gonna’ lie, there’s a whole lot wrong with the world, but it seemed like there was no story at all. And the ending, the fuck was up with that ending? Did not get this story, at all. On the plus side (or not, depending on how you take how the characters are portrayed) the protagonist is black.
The Coldest Game by Maria V. Snyder
This is a story about hockey, soullessness is involved. The solution to the major issue in the story is heteronormative to the max and strikes me as kind of creepy and coercive, and the ending is kind of “Okaaay, that’s one way to deal with your antagonist.”
Red on Red by Jen White
Another story that just flew right over my head in terms of writing style. I can basically sum this one up as: “You know that thing where that mother claimed a dingo ate her baby and then it turned out she was right all along?” Yeah, like that. Seriously, that ending is creepy as fuck.
Extra Credit by Seth Cadin
Yet another story where I’m like “the fuck is happening?” but I gather it has something to do with animal masks, and parties, and people turning into animals. It might have made an interesting novel where the author could flesh out the concept, but as a short story, it’s just kind of WTFery all over the place.
Thirst by Vandana Singh (snakes)
This story is set in India and is centered around the festival of Nag Pachami (the snake festival). I liked this story, I found the prose very evocative (it helps that the author was born and raised in India) and while you’ve probably seen variations on the plot before, at least it’s not about wolves.
Grotesque Angels by Gwendolyn Clare
An interesting story that is clearly influenced by the works of H.P. Lovecraft, I really liked how the city itself is a sort of genius loci even if I didn’t really get what the titular creatures were (other than that they had wings and are apparently seen as monstrous, perhaps they do look like freaky angels).
Blue Joe by Stephanie Burgis
This is a story about the horrors of war, following your dreams no matter what, and loneliness, oh so much loneliness. It’s a story that’s pretty sad in a way, but it ends on an optimistic note. Overall it’s not bad.
The Were-Wizard of Oz by Lavie Tidhar
This is a dark alternate-universe take on The Wizard of Oz where Oz is a werewolf, written in the style of a screenplay. As much as I’m kind of tired of darker and grittier takes on well-known works like Oz, this story was okay, kind of depressing, though.
Seven Year Itch by Leah R. Cutter
This story is potentially triggery for parental abuse/neglect and is also a more “traditional” take on werewolf mythos. I thought this story was sorta’ meh, TBH, also it’s really short, so there’s just not a lot to say about it.
An Unnatural History of Scarecrows by Mario Milosevic
Well, here’s an interesting sort of shapeshifter. Unfortunately, the story’s so short that the novelty doesn’t really have a chance to stick. I kind of like the “lecture” format of the prose.
The Gaze Dogs of Nine Waterfall by Kaaron Warren
This is a story about a woman hunting for vampire dogs in Fiji for a wealthy client. I didn’t really like it that much. The main character came across as slightly callous and the dialogue didn’t make much sense half the time. I also found the shapeshifting aspect kind of half-assed. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say the author has something against dogs, because it seems like a dog is suffering some sort of misfortune every page or so.
Snow on Sugar Mountain by Elizabeth Hand (fox)
This story one of the longest (if not the longest) in the anthology. It follows a recently orphaned teenager trying to live a solitary life as a fox and a retired astronaut named Howell. Most of the time I feel as if short stories could stand to be a little longer, but I think this one could definitely have been cut down a bit. There also seems to be this subtle racism going on with the Native peoples forgetting how to shapeshift and then white people stole their shapeshifting stuff. It just left a bad taste in my mouth.
The Aphotic Ghost by Carlos Hernandez
The titular ghosts are jellyfish. The plot is about a man looking to climb Mount Everest to bring back the body of his son. Trust me, it all makes sense by the end. I did like this story and the choice of animal was very interesting.
The Fowler’s Daughter by Michelle Muenzler
This is another of those really short stories. I didn’t like it very much. Basically it’s about….a fowler’s daughter….geese are involved.
Moonlight and Bleach by Sandra MacDonald (er…maid)
This story is a fun one about a were-maid. Yes, I mean this is a story about a woman who turns into a maid each full moon and has an obsessive desire to clean things. It’s a fun story.
She Drives the Men to Crimes of Passion! by Genevieve Valentine
The title is both an in-universe reference and a reference to the ending. It’s about a film producer/director trying to make it big with the help of an “exotic” actress. Even the writing style is glamorous. The ending is actually pretty dark, though.
Coyotaje by Marie Brennan
This story is about a woman seeking to (illegally) immigrate from Mexico to the United States, but, as is to be expected in shape shifter stories, things aren’t always what they seem. Actually, the ending was kind of cliché.
Swear Not by the Moon by Renee Carter Hall (wolves)
Another really short story with an interesting take on werewolves; it’s definitely one that could have been a bit longer if “Snow on Sugar Mountain” hadn’t been so long.
Infested by Nadia Bulkin (various)
I didn’t really like this one. The basic premise is that you can pay a sorceress to curse someone and they become “pest-people” who turn into pest animals (like rats). It’s an interesting idea, but it’s wrapped up in this ridiculously classist narrative where “bad” people and poorer folks are automatically assumed to be pests, or it could be a very cynical look at city life, take your pick.
Watchmen by Aaron Sterns (wolves)
I didn’t like this one at all because the grimdark has been turned up to max and it’s really just another take on hyper-aggressive werewolves, and the author seems to have a thing for having women die horribly (not that the men don’t die horribly, but their deaths are quick compared to what happens to women) I don’t need that level of misogyny in my stories, thanks.
And Neither Have I Wings to Fly by Carrie Laben (crane, birds in general)
Just when I thought the book was going to end on a grimdark note, it ends with this nice sedate story about bird watching and people who shapeshift using animal skins. There’s also a nice queer twist at the end. It was a good way to finish off the anthology.
Overall, I would say I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of diversity in this anthology, particularly on the human level. A good chunk of the stories have POCs as protagonists, two stories have romantic relationships between women (one is more blatant, the other is a bit more subtle). I would have liked to see more shapeshifters/were-creatures that weren’t canines (many had wolves or foxes) or birds, but there are definitely some more creative offerings. The major flaw with Bewere the Night is that none of the stories really grabbed me. I’ve read anthologies that were much, much worse (I hated Hotter Than Hell so much) but this is just okay, I guess, notable for its diversity, but none of the stories really stuck out to me. I also wasn’t prepared for how dark some of the stories turned out to be (which, if you’re a fan of horror, you might not mind as much) but on the whole, there are worse things I could have spent $2 on.
Bewere the Night definitely won’t be the last anthology I’ll ever review, so I think I’ll try out this format again, see how it works.