NOTE: This review was originally published at High Fever Books in March 2019. That website has been closed, so I am republishing it here.
Publisher: Tachyon Publications
Release Date: February 19, 2019
Pages: 432 pages
My rating: 5 out of 5 stars
A best of collection is a wonderful concept. Especially if you’re writer Caitlín R. Kiernan, who has published over two hundred and fifty short stories. This is her third ‘Best of’ collection, which speaks to the absolute wealth of her bibliography. For The Very Best of Caitlín R. Kiernan, Tachyon and the author decided to draw stories from her limited-edition publications. This is great, because it gives us an opportunity to experience works that we may have missed in the past. The stories within this collection are powerful and diverse, each one polished to perfection. You can see the hours of work poured into every page. I expected an incredible collection (Caitlín R. Kiernan never disappoints), and she truly delivered.
The TOC is 20 stories deep. Each of them is its own little monster, with a patchwork of different genres and influences. You can see Caitlín’s own brew of Lovecraftian horror in stories like Andromeda Among the Stones or Houses Under the Sea. There are tales of dark fantasy, fantasy noir and more traditional weird fiction. Not all of them would be considered horror, but a thread of darkness is almost always present. Each story is well-written, packed with fibrous prose and rich description at every turn of the page. As you work your way through this stacked book, you can see what makes for an essential Caitlín R. Kiernan story. They are often about loss and the murky power of the sea. The narratives are usually fractured and then sewed back into something emotional and monstrous. The endings are quieter than most short fiction in the genre, but there is always something lurking beneath the silence.
While I loved nearly every story in the collection, a few stood out for me. The Ape’s Wife is a sorrowful version of a story we know very well. La Peau Verte is a piece about the truth of fairy tales that ends with a gut punch. The Prayer of Ninety Cats is a horror tale told with a vivid cinematic flair.
‘The Very Best of’ is not hyperbole. This is a collection released by a multiple award winner at the top of her game. Each story is a testament to the power of fiction and the versatility of genre fiction as a whole.