Rating: 4 out of 5
Under Her Black Wings: 2020 Women of Horror Anthology is an anthology of all female-authored stories (19 of them). The overall quality is quite good, although I found one or two stories that didn’t entirely appeal to me. I also thought it was a little tone-deaf to have a man write the foreword for a book of all women authors, as if someone thought the book wouldn’t stand on its own without at least one guy involved.
The only content warning I have is for some animal harm and some gore. Nothing extreme. I do have a mild objection to the fact that multiple stories identify their bad guys by bad teeth, which is really just another variation on the old “ugly = evil” stereotype that I hate so much. On an entertaining side though, I find it amusing that an anthology written by women has at least two stories for which the moral seems to be “never accept a party invitation from someone who wouldn’t normally give you the time of day.” That seems to be a very female-driven setup.
Alys Hobbs’s “What You Eat” is a bit bizarre. A young woman’s strange new governess keeps pushing food at her.
Carmen Baca’s “The Aztec” is intriguing. Señora Atlacamani Ahuatzi is looking for a particular woman who will suit her needs.
One of my favorite stories in here is “The Riddled Path” by Somer Canon. Mark takes his son’s Boy Scout troop for a hike and encounters a Sphynx. The Sphynx’s riddles are just entirely too much fun! Normally I find riddle stories to be kind of eh, but this one made me laugh out loud.
“Desert Kisses” by Michelle Garza and Melissa Lason is a satisfying tale of beyond-the-grave vengeance.
“Somewhere to Belong,” by Yolanda Sfetsos, is a very poignant story. It’s oddly horrifying and yet sort-of weirdly optimistic at the same time. Enid meets a mysterious little girl at the playground who wants to help her shed her loneliness.
Charlotte Munro’s “Heart for the Heartless” is a bizarre story of obsession and life after death. It has some nuance to it, although it’s also a bit “talky.”
Another favorite story is Stevie Kopas’s “The Darkness.” The world has ended in plague and a mysterious Darkness. Lana needs to find food before her starving younger sister Katie dies. It just gets awesome from there.
I didn’t entirely enjoy “Sarah Smiles.” I mean sure, it’s great to see a guy who obsesses over a girl and won’t give up after she breaks up with him get a rather harsh lesson in letting go, but the rest of the story is just sort of… random. It left me with too many unanswered questions.
“Goddess of the Lake” by Malena Salazar Maciá is short but sweet. Morgo decides to use two hapless refugees as bait in order to hunt the Goddess of the Lake. Only things don’t turn out the way he expected.
Sharon Frame Gay’s “Abigail’s Army” introduces us to two sisters during the Civil War trying to maintain their farm. When an injured soldier comes looking for a place to rest and hide, they offer to help him in exchange for his help with their farm. I started out disliking Abigail, and absolutely loved her at the end.
Sharon Frame Gay has a second story in here called “Road Rage.” Chris’s husband is a cheater, and he just died in a car accident. From there things get interesting.
Paula R.C. Readman wrote “Cold Calling,” a story in which Evelina has been roped into helping her boss’s daughter decorate for a Halloween party–and now she’s invited.
Copper Rose’s “Upon Acceptance” is the other story in which a woman receives an unexpected invite to a party with the beautiful people. This story felt a bit glib for its subject.
Maria Lanza’s “The Faceless Woman” involves a couple who are speculating about various urban legends connected to the place where they’re hanging out. The ending is a little abrupt.
Andrea Dawn’s “Kingdom By The Sea” is melancholy and beautiful. Allan is an orphan with a lung disease; there’s little he can do to help out in the whaling town where he lives. Then he meets a gorgeous, exotic woman who lives in the sea. This is a very poignant tale.
I feel like Dawn DeBraal’s “Unplugged” is a great concept with questionable execution. Vivian Markley, former pornstar, becomes good friends with her therapist, Dr. Lauren Fenton. The point of view is slippery; sometimes it slides from one character to another in the middle of a scene, which is very awkward. Also the pacing is odd, with too many short, terse sentences.
Interestingly, there are two stories involving Malaysian mythology. In Jill Girarde’s “Firstborn,” Adi Mansur’s wife Hajar is due to give birth at any time–while Adi has intense erotic dreams about a mysterious young woman. In Tina Isaacs’s “Pontianak,” Corey wants to visit Malaysia–but his father won’t let him go. Finally his dad tells his son the truth about what happened when he visited in his own youth. My only problem with this story is that it’s hard to imagine a father telling his teenaged son a story in this much explicit detail, down to phrases like “her moist core.”
Lydia Prime’s “Sadie” is short but interesting, starting off with a woman having absolutely bizarre nightmares that eventually bleed into reality.
All in all I enjoyed this anthology. It had a few rough spots, but otherwise was entirely worthwhile.