A night guard brings an offering to the eternal denizens of a notorious prison.
In a young girl’s room, the shiny people keep watch in the night.
A proud father beams as his son takes the stage for the performance of a lifetime.
The stories in this anthology are the glimpses of the dark places between the forest and a dream. They are the shadows seeking the last notes of a dying violin. They invite the reader into a world where a condemned man faces his fate over and over and over again. Coppice & Brake is an anthology of dark fiction, featuring tales from the borderlands of horror, speculative fiction, and the nightmare fears that linger even after you turn on the lights.
- Title: Coppice & Brake
- Editor: Rachel A. Brune
- Cover Artist: James, GoOnWrite.com
- Publisher: Crone Girls Press
- ISBN: 9781952388002
- Publication Date: March 21, 2020
I’d like to thank Crone Girls Press for providing a copy in exchange for review consideration.
Coppice & Brake is a dark fiction anthology filled with grief, loneliness, vengeance, and dread. It features dark fairy tales and works of gruesome body horror alongside ruminations on the cruelty of patriarchy and capitalism. It examines fate and family and shows us what it’s like to live as an outcast. Above all else, it focuses on the terror of the periphery, shining a light on people who live in the shadows and bringing into focus the things that we usually only see out of the corners of our eyes.
As with any anthology, some stories will resonate with a reader more than others. With 23 stories to choose from, you’re sure to have your own favorites. I’d like to highlight a few of mine, though I have plenty of praise for most of the stories in this engrossing collection.
I have a deep love for fairy tales, and there are three in this anthology that struck a chord with me. “Raff and the Scissor-Finger” by R. K. Duncan eerily conveys the importance of knowing your lore and being careful with your words when dealing with faeries. “Terracotta Daughter” by J. Z. Ting is a suspenseful, feminist tale of magic presented within a subtle framing device that tells readers so much by not telling us much at all. “The Red Shoes” by Holly Lyn Walrath is an intriguing retelling of a classic story that makes the reader sympathize with the wicked witch of the woods. Like most good fairy tales, all three stories are dark and mournfully ironic.
My absolute favorite entry was “White-Tail Lies” by Friedrich Sarah E. Thompson. This unique, arresting piece is a breathtaking metaphor for the closeted queer experience. Although “White-Tail Lies” was my favorite, C. M. Harris’s “A Woman Unbecoming” was probably the most cathartic story in the collection. I took copious notes on most of these stories, but my first comment on this one simply said: “YES.” This story is pure rage, a primal shout against misogyny and toxic masculinity.
Two of my favorite stories have become even more relatable since I started reading the collection a few weeks ago, dealing as they do with the trauma of living in an economy that sees so many workers as disposable. “Cold Dread and Hot Slices” by Spencer Koelle, a Lovecraftian story of minimum wage food service, gave me flashbacks to countless jobs where I just tried to survive every shift. Though I can’t possibly understand the protagonist’s struggles as she navigates the world as a trans woman, I had a visceral connection to one of the ideas I believe is symbolized by the shapeshifting pink blob that torments her at her job. The monster ebbs and flows; she can’t always see it, but she knows it’s always there, waiting to attack her in a vulnerable moment. This amorphous, omnipresent menace is (among other things) a profound metaphor for suicidal ideation. You never know when it’s coming; you only know that it is coming.
The second of these increasingly relatable stories is the gleefully weird “Swing a Dead Cat” by Shannon Scott. It closes out the anthology, and I see why editor Rachel A. Brune chose it for the job. With tongue-in-cheek critiques of academia (particularly low teacher pay), grim humor, a campy but incisive sci-fi premise, and a killer final line, it’s a perfect way to end this collection of darkly satisfying tales.
As you can see by the variety of stories I chose as my favorites, Coppice & Brake has a story for everyone. With meditations on guilt, loss, fear, and destiny, this is a strong anthology of timely existential horror.
I give this book 4 out of 5 coffins.