Sycorax’s Daughters

 

Sycorax’s Daughters

Edited by Kinitra Brooks PhD, Linda Addison, and Susana Morris PhD

(Cedar Grove Publishing)

 

I am very in favor of people telling their unique stories, as a way of bridging any cultural gaps. And speculative fiction is an excellent vehicle for that. So when Linda Addison offered me a chance to review Sycorax’s Daughters, I jumped at the chance.  It’s a hefty read; over 500 pages long so you’ll get your money’s worth.

Sycorax was a black sorceress in Shakespeare’s The Tempest. In the introductions, Dr. Brooks says, “our project fills the lacunae by privileging Black women’s visions of self in horror over their previous problematic characterizations as constructed by others. Sycorax has ensured that her daughters are provided the opportunity to speak for themselves.” So, this was horror as unfiltered by white imposition on black culture? Sounded good, although I am a fragile reviewer who hates horror. But I promised I would read it so I will keep my word. I hope the nightmares I get when reading any sort of gruesomeness will not be too bad.

***

The book opens with “Seven Bells Turns the World Round Midnight” by Sheree Renée Thomas. This was my first experience reading Thomas’s work, and she is a lyricist without equal. Chilling and yet beautiful, I can see why the editors chose this as their first tale in the anthology.

Then, after the sort of fitting suitable poetic interlude there is between most of the stories (more on the poetry later), we have “Scales” by Cherene Sherrard, where a half-siren has to chose between the life of myth or modernity. But not to decide is a decision, too.

In “Letty,” by Regina N. Bradley, we have our first true horror story. Add a star if you like horror. I don’t. I did like the twist in “Ma Laja” by Tracey Baptiste, where a mythical sort of beast passes on her odd deformity, deathlessness, and hungers to a new victim by mistake.

“Born Again” by RaShell R. Smith-Spears refers to two vampires, one with a conscience and one with what some might call too much of a conscience. Even vamps need something to live for. But not, I think, the ‘something to live for’ in the oh-so-arch short-short “Thirsty For Love” by the obvious pseudonyminous  “Vocab” – a tale as close to a cliché as anything about vampires could be.

Next we have “How to Speak to the Bogeyman” by Carole McDonnell. A man gets a terrifying call from a recently deceased friend, a call literally from Hell. The man becomes an exorcist, not just of spirits but of portals, connections to other worlds. This is his story about “the one that got away.” A very odd and well-done story of a descent into madness, mostly as told to an observer.

“The Monster” by Crystal Connor was absolutely wonderful. Army-trained northerner Maleka despises the superstitions and monster-lore of her Deep South relatives, to the point of throwing out a charm sent with her to protect her from evil things lurking on her road home. She comes to regret it as she and the unlikeliest of allies make a stand against the supernatural. Well, well done.

Next it was black Judas-deal-with-the-devil time: “Taste the Taint: A Cursed Story” by Kai Leakes. While it was a reasonably well written decent into evil, it was still a decent into evil. Let’s just say I’m not into manipulating and killing others for fun and profit.

“Cheaters” by Tish Jackson was more my sort of horror story. In a series of flashbacks and in a clinical setting this poor woman dealt simultaneously with the question “do you want to get well?” (answer, Hell no, disability is all I have) and the slowly revealed—and chilling—supernatural problem that is her real disability. Talk about your impediments to healthy relationships!

The magic of girls’ friendships. Exorcism via hoodoo. Soul-gobbers. Music.  Dance. “Kim” by Nicole D. Sconiers is the bittersweet tale of BFF, the supernatural, betrayal, and received wisdom. It’s one of the best stories in this anthology.

The point of view in Zin E. Rocklyn’s “Summer Skin” is extremely odd: that of a child-like young woman who has a skin condition, and a madness that she thinks is sane. Very difficult to pull off but convincing and in true psychopathic fashion the horror of what happens to those around her never touches her emotions. Chilling.

This story is followed by a poem about a hanging no one admits. That opens for “Taking the Good” by Dana Mcknight: a hidden hanging in a dyke bar, involving tentacles. (Did I just write that sentence in a review? Yes, and, well…it fits.)

I was surprised they included a novel excerpt in this book. But it’s good, and just enough to make you want to read more of  the Creole/steampunk/Haitian “Paranormal Detective II” by Valjeanne Jeffers.

I was annoyed by “The Malady of Need” by Kiini Ibura Salaam. Why was it necessary to write the whole thing in second person future perfect tense? It wasn’t. This was an exercise in pure showmanship and it distracted from the simple, otherwise well-written tale.

“The Ever After” by L. Marie Wood…at first felt like slipstream plus horror. If there is anything I like less than horror, it’s slipstream. I don’t like the sensation of nothing making sense, of the laws of the universe being unreliable. So of course some of the horror genre has to be slipstream. But this wasn’t what it seemed. Scary and sad, this one will haunt me.

I enjoyed “Perfect Connection” by Deana Zhollis. Wow. Except for my personal belief that “spirit guides” are not what this story portrays, I found this a beautiful and touching fantasy and adventure.

Next was “Foundling” by Tenea D. Johnson, a story that made me gasp in its intricacy and technological application. Petal is a hacker who just happens to work with companies and NGOs that use expensive teleportation tech to extract victims of natural disasters: earthquakes, cave ins, floods. She’s never lost an extractee before but when she does it leads her onto a trail of intrigue on the Darknet you’ll not soon forget. Absolutely riveting.

We find young people with talents being persecuted by unreasonable hatred by those who thought them ‘death dealers’ in “Rise” by Nicole Givens Kurtz. Frankly, I wanted more and hope this was part of a larger work.

Despite K. Ceres Wright offering, “Of Sound Mind and Body,” being a high tech science fiction spy tale it’s actually one of the most horrifying in the anthology. When you sign those releases with the government, they may give them more power than you think.

“Asunder” by Lori Titus is a sad tale of not exactly love potions gone wrong, but more of “if you love someone, set them free.” Painful. And instructive.

Next we have “The Tale of Eve of De-Nile” by Joy Copeland, which is a tale of an herbal bayou abortion gone horribly wrong, due to…spiritual complications. Actions have consequences.

I’d enjoyed Eden Royce’s work before so I was looking forward to reading her short story, “Sweetgrass Blood.” This one was about Gullah culture, all passed down songs and verbal histories and magic, and the price a person who left them paid when she betrayed them by trying to tie these thing down to mere words.

“The Armoire” by Patricia E. Canterbury asks and answers this question about ghosts: if you don’t  believe in a ghost and dismiss it, will it affect someone who does believe?

In “A Little Not Music” by LH Moore –I like the play on A Little Night Music, if it’s intentional—we find a haunting that starts in the golden age of Jazz and will not leave a young woman alone. All because she worked somewhere less than respectable.

Was their hesitance to sell the house because it was truly bad luck, or because papa was a black man? “The Mankana-kil” by L. Penelope. This story was not so much about luck, or the lack of it, as it was about erasure because of race. Well done, indeed.

“Mama” by A.D. Koboah brought a tear to my eye. It’s the story of a young woman taking in slavery in Africa, but aware of the spirit world around here and using it whenever she could to make the hard life of slaves easier for those she cared about. Until her daughter and grandchild were finally free. All I could think was this would have fit so well in So Long Been Dreaming.

“To Give Her Whatsoever She Would Ask” by R. J. Joseph is a Trinidadian deal-with-the-devil tale, but this time the devil is female, and much more cruel.

***

The poetry will have to wait for another review, as this one took three days to compile.  I really enjoyed these stories for the richness of the diversity of backgrounds, experiences, and viewpoints. I can wholeheartedly recommend it.

And may the nightmares I might get from being unaccustomed to reading horror be gentle.

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