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Carniepunk - Kevin Hearne, Kelly Gay, Jackie Kessler, Nicole Peeler, Kelly Meding, Hillary Jacques, Allison Pang, Jaye Wells, Delilah S. Dawson, Rob Thurman, Rachel Caine, Seanan McGuire, Mark Henry, Jennifer Estep disclaimer: received this digital ARC in return for an honest review.
review also posted at Tangled Bookmarks

A few strong enjoyable tales, and a few clunkers, make up this new anthology of stories centred around carnivals and fairs, featuring some very well known urban fantasy authors.

Short story anthologies are hit and miss for me. Rarely do I ever enjoy every single tale, but then, I guess that could be the point. Often an anthology is a good starting point to discover new authors or a new series, if the tale is featuring characters from an author’s established series. Something that I found interesting was that I quite enjoyed the Jennifer Estep tale Parlor Tricks, which is from her Elemental Assassin series…yet when I read the first in that series a while ago, I didn’t enjoy it at all and didn’t continue on with it. As someone who only has a very vague grasp of the series, Parlor Tricks was still easily read and understood despite the established characters.

Carnipunk leads off with a very strong and very much enjoyable story by Rob Thurman (author of the Cal Leandros series), which I truly loved, and gave me high hopes for the rest of the anthology. Painted Love is the tale of a totally unpleasant carnie worker Bart, and his foreboding desire for a fellow carnie, a young girl called Becca. Told from the PoV of a completely unexpected narrator, and the narrator’s love for Becca’s older sister, it’s a wonderful creepy story.

Delilah S Dawson‘s The Three Lives of Lydia is a surreal story that unfortunately I couldn’t connect with. Subtitled A Blud Short Story perhaps it’s a tale that would be better read with an understanding of Dawson’s Blud series, which I have never read nor heard of. With an ending that had me scratching my head in confusion, it left me cold.

Kevin Hearne‘s The Demon Barker of Wheat Street follows his three characters from his Iron Druid Chronicles series, a series that I am very much in love with. Granuaile and Atticus and of course, Oberon, attend a Wheat Festival in Kansas, and stumble upon a truly gruesome, stomach-churning sideshow.

Mark Henry‘s The Sweeter the Juice is a very odd tale about zombies, transsexuals and drugs. Plus a zombie baby. Left me quite cold – not so much because of the subject matter (although the zombie baby had me a bit grossed out), but because it’s another one of those short stories that delight in having an ending left up in the air. Which I dislike. Felt more of a horror tale than an urban fantasy one.

Jaye Wells The Werewife tells the story of a man married to a werewolf, along with the obligatory “that time of the month” jokes at the start. Meh. Getting a little tired of authors continually paralleling the whole “time of the month” thing with the werewolf change every month. Bit overdone. Visiting a freak show at the local carnival, where the star exhibits are damaged and broken people who have been traumatised in love, they’re caught up in a horrendous show, presided over by what appears to be an evil ringmistress, and discover that their present situation seems to have something to do with it. A rather bland tale, with fairly unpleasant and unsympathetic characters.

Rachel Caine‘s The Cold Girl is a beautifully told, heart-wrenching story of teenagers and love and the horrible things that teens can do to each other. I think this and Rob Thurman’s tale were my favourites from the book.

Allison Pang‘s A Duet with Darkness is a good story of the fey and carnivals and music. Although I do think that perhaps if I was familiar with her series, I may have enjoyed it a bit more, understood the characters better. Subtitled An Abby Sinclair Short Story, I think it was piqued my interest enough to search out her other books.

Hillary Jacques‘ Recession of the Divine, a story of goddesses and Muses, carnivals and murder. Not enough to keep my interest. Rather confusing and kinda dull.

Jennifer Estep‘s Parlor Tricks, as I mentioned before, makes me want to go back and try the Elemental Assassins books again. I thoroughly enjoyed this story, of Gin Blanco and her sister Brea, investigating a missing girl amidst a carnival led by an evil Elemental.

Kelly Meding‘s Freak House – confused me a little at the start, but I ended up enjoying it. Supernatural people are being exhibited as freak shows for wealthy customers, until the daughter of a captured djinn infiltrates to try and rescue her father. Subtitled A Strays Short Story this had excellent world building, and a wonderful female lead character. I can’t seem to find any info on a series called Strays by Kelly Meding, so I’m hoping this is like a prequel and it’ll show up soon. It’s definitely enough to make me check out a series.

Nicole Peeler‘s The Inside Man is from her Jane True series. If you’ve never read that series, you may find yourself a bit confused about the characters. I have read the first in the series…and I still found myself confused. It’s more a story set in the Jane True world, I think. Capitola, Moo and Shar are hired to find a missing woman, and come across a soul stealing clown. A quick paced action filled tale, it’s not a bad story, but ultimately left me a bit blah.

Jackie Kessler‘s A Chance in Hell is an erotic tale of a former demon trying to live amongst humanity, Jezebel discovers a carnival where a demon is stealing souls. Quite witty, I would have enjoyed this more without the gratuitous and blatant sex, something that I’m extremely tired of in urban fantasy. From her Hell on Earth series, readers of that series would probably enjoy this a lot more than I did.

Kelly Gay‘s Hell’s Menagerie is from her Charlie Madigan series, and centres on Charlie’s daughter Emma, trying to rescue some kidnapped hellhound pups. A great story, it makes me want to go back and try the series again. If you’re a reader of the Charlie Madigan series, you’ll enjoy this.

Seanan McGuire‘s Daughter of the Midway, the Mermaid and the Open Lonely Sea ends the anthology and it comes full circle, with the opening story being a wonderful tale that I loved, and the closing story being a great, strongly written, sad tale of a daughter of a mermaid who grows up in a carnival, being taken back to her home town. Along with a title that I fell in love with, Ada is a character I’d love to read more of.

Out of the 14 tales that make up Carniepunk, I liked half of them. The other 7 tales were very meh for me, adn to tell the truth, if the book had only contained those 7 stories, I would have rated it a LOT higher. But you can’t pick and choose when it comes to short story collections, and perhaps it’s inevitable that not all the tales were for me. Readers who are fans of the series written by some of these authors will perhaps enjoy the ones I didn’t a lot more, being more familiar with the characters and worlds. Still, it’s an enjoyable anthology, and with that stunning cover, I expect this one to be rapidly snapped up by urban fantasy fans.