Review: “Cruel Works of Nature,” Gemma Amor

Pros: Absolutely wonderful horror collection
Rating: 5 out of 5

Gemma Amor’s Cruel Works of Nature: 11 Illustrated Horror Novellas contains some delightful tales. I couldn’t put the book down until I had finished them all!

In Foliage, Dan takes a job doing handyman jobs at the old Norfolk Manor. Fay Lockwood has decided to make the place her home, years after her grandparents disappeared from the house when she was 11 years old. When he tries to cut away the massive vines that have taken over the backyard, however, he makes a disturbing discovery.

In Jack in the Box, poor baffled Barry doesn’t understand his wife’s anger when he gives her a Jack-in-the-box for her birthday. Even when she points out that it has a child’s skull–and their own baby died some time ago–he doesn’t quite know what to think. When she leaves the house for a couple of weeks, he starts talking to Jack. Of course, it’s when he starts listening to Jack that the real problems start.

Black Sand introduces us to a woman who used to be a combat medic, vacationing in Italy. After discovering a body on the beach–missing its legs–she ventures to a mysterious beach of black sand. The bartender warned her not to touch the sand, but her walking companion isn’t as careful as she is.

Back Alley Sue is a melancholy little tale of a homeless man coming to terms with the loss of his wife, with the aid of a rather disturbing local urban legend. The characters in these tales have depth despite the shortness of the stories; they are very human and “real”.

In Girl On Fire, a woman survives the crash and explosion of her 1989 Pontiac Bonneville–but it has changed her life forever.

I am the fucking apocalypse.
My name is Ruby Miller.
And I am a Phoenix from the ashes.

Scuttlebug, in which a new type of spider triggers an apocalypse, made my skin crawl! I think I’ll stay away from bugs for a while, thanks! Whereas The Path Through Lower Fell introduces us to some… cows? Somehow it works! Special Delivery sees a bizarre, huge egg delivered to a seemingly random recipient. When it hatches, things get bloody. Amor can create scary monsters out of just about anything.

His Life’s Work is a touch Lovecraftian, focusing on an old man’s attempt to open a mysterious door.

It Sees You When You’re Sleeping is a favorite of mine. Something very sinister comes down the chimney on Christmas Eve. This one’s pretty bloody, but with purpose. Amor builds up an impressive amount of tension in this one! My other favorite is the closing story, Sketchbook, in which a five-year-old child ends up with a very special sketchbook. Again, Amor creates some wonderful monsters–it’s one of her many talents as a writer.

As a note: content warning for attempted rape. I really enjoyed these scary stories. The plots are fun, the pacing is tense, and the characters have plenty of personality. I hope to read more from Amor!

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