Black Cranes: Tales of Unquiet Women – Lee Murray and Geneve Flynn

Okay, so I know I said one a month, but I’m only a day late, right? Would you believe I was reading or writing and got distracted?

Which *segue* is an apt description for Black Cranes. A distracting book that completely distracted me from doing all the other things I should have been doing. Every time I finished a story, I would read just a bit of the next – and down the rabbit hole I went.

So, onto the blurb;

Almond-eyed celestial, the filial daughter, the perfect wife. Quiet, submissive, demure. In Black Cranes: Tales of Unquiet Women, Southeast Asian writers of horror both embrace and reject these traditional roles in a unique collection of stories which dissect their experiences of ‘otherness’, be it in the colour of their skin, the angle of their cheekbones, the things they dare to write, or the places they have made for themselves in the world.

Black Cranes is a dark and intimate exploration of what it is to be a perpetual outsider.

Featuring 14 stories by Nadia Bulkin, Grace Chan, Rin Chupeco, Elaine Cuyegkeng, Geneve Flynn, Gabriela Lee, Rena Mason, Lee Murray, Angela Yuriko Smith, and Christina Sng, and a foreword by Alma Katstu.

In short, Black Cranes 100% delivers both in pure entertainment, and on the promises made. Each of the fourteen stories in the anthology contains the three major elements; women of horror, the concept of ‘otherness’, and reaching into the cultures, mythos, and voices of Southeast Asia to create disturbing, immersive, and technically fantastic stories.

To be honest, I tried rating them individually to come out with out with an average, but by the time I got half way through and they were all 4.5-5 stars, I realised there wasn’t any point. There is not a weak story in here, and the range of horror – some disturbing, some creepy, and some as horrifying as they were hilarious – only added to the delight of these stories. Kapre: A Love Story by Rin Chupeca is a heartbreaking tale with a subtle touch firmly grounded in Filipino folklore, and while I’ve read it before, the tension and anticipation of Grace Chan’s disturbing The Mark made the re-read just as enjoyable as it was the first time

I was also trying to pick a favourite I could do a bit of a deep dive into, but again that is almost impossible with Black Cranes. As much as they all stick to the themes, there is a wide variety of stories both in content and execution. To compare them would be to place them all against the same criteria, and with each pushing different boundaries of tropes and expectations, it would do a disservice to the variety that makes the anthology work as a whole. The Truth is Order and Order is Truth by Nadia Bulkin mixes Jakartan mythos with a [NO SPOILERS] mythos that had me completely immersed in the world of Dhani and her followers, for example, and I’m a sucker for a second-person POV executed to near excellent perfection, as in Lee Murray’s Frangipani Wishes. Both of these, like the remainder of the stories, are great stories in their own right, and even better for the company they find themselves in.

I think what I enjoyed the most though is the mix of variety and quality. All were enjoyable (in that weird, disturbing way that good horror always is), and yet despite all sticking very much to the themes, all were vastly different and unique. All centred around what happens when roles are embraced or rejected, all went on to explore facets of the common theme of the ‘Other’, yet in vastly difference ways inspired by different cultures within Southeast Asia.

I’m still getting used to this whole reviewing thing, so I’m really not sure what else I can say aside from that this is a fantastic collection of short stories from some incredibly talented authors, and if you even have the slightest interest in horror, I would absolutely recommend it to anyone!

Unsurprisingly, that gives it five out of five stars (rotting one for horror of course)

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