I had to get my hands on Unspeakable as soon as I heard about it. A queer, gothic anthology? I was sold. I love gothic literature, and as we all know I looooveeee queer lit. I usually struggle with reading short story collections, and they take me forever, but I literally finished this one in a day. Turns out they just weren’t queer enough for me. I absolutely loved every page of this anthology, and now every single one of the authors is a must-follow to me. It’s out today, February 28th, so make sure you get it now!
Rating: 5 stars!
Huge thanks to Nyx Publishing for my review copy of this incredible anthology. It hasn’t affected my honest, and genuinely glowing, review.
Read me for the:
- Queer characters! Queer monsters! Queer humans! Queer mermaids and vampires and witches and werewolves and a sentient house!
- Creepy gothic atmosphere
- Diverse stories
- #Ownvoices rep
- Seriously goddamn creepy gothic atmosphere
What did I think?
I’m only going to cover a handful of the short stories in this actual review because otherwise it’s going to be a novella in itself, but you can click through on the tweet below to see my as-it-happens reactions to reading each short story. There’s not a single one that I didn’t love, and it was so hard to pick a few to review. I limited myself to six of the total eighteen, but all eighteen are worth reading and will stay with me forever.
Taylor Hall by Jen Gilfort
If you freak her out like this, you’re going to scare her off and who knows who we’ll end up with. So if you could please do me the courtesy of acting like a normal house, I would appreciate it.
Emily is Kit’s new roommate, moving into her house that has a bit of a… personality. Taylor Hall is sentient, and it likes to be paid the proper amount of attention. When Emily moves in, Taylor Hall falls in love with her, and the house isn’t the only one. But Kit needs to face herself before she can face her feelings for Emily, and tell a truth that she’s never told.
I was reading this one sat in the cinema waiting for a movie to start, and I honestly nearly left when the lights went out so I could finish it. I completely fell in love with Taylor Hall and Kit and Emily. When I hear ‘gothic short story’ and ‘sentient house’, I’m assuming something haunted and creepy not wholesome as fuck. I wish my house was sentient. The house had so much personality it was definitely its own character, and I loved it. Kit’s struggle throughout the story was handled carefully and lovingly, and especially considering it had limited pages to do it I think it was done perfectly.
Hearteater by Eliza Temple
I thought she had to know, to somehow sense the frantic animal inside of me, but she simply smiled and offered me her hand. I took it.
Lady Scarlet opens her house to Kat when the woman shows up at her door in the middle of a storm, soaked. She swears she can’t stay, but the woods aren’t safe at night, not with a monster prowling them and tearing the hearts from the breasts of anyone foolish enough to get caught out under the moon’s light. Despite her words Kat can’t seem to leave – though she swears she must go before the next full moon. That’s okay though, because Scarlet finds her fascinating and wants her to stay and share the house, as long as she never enters the West Wing, because there lies the truth of Scarlet’s isolation – she’s a monster.
I highlighted like a good 60% of this story, because every single line was beautiful. This story hit on some of the things I absolutely love about gothic lit. The whole way through, I was trying to guess what was happening, putting the pieces together from the crumbs of clues that I was given by the author. I was so invested in these characters and the ending made me feel riotous and powerful, honestly. I want to disappear into the wilderness and live in a mansion with a monstrous girlfriend.
Lure of the Abyss by Jenna MacDonald
I’ve never tested it out, but apparently, I possess the ability to be so distracting that male sailors will become bad enough at their jobs to anger the sea gods.
Imagine being caught at sea. Your crew has been picked off one by one, and now you’re the only one left. They’ve been stolen into the sea by a monster with a beautiful face and you know she’s coming for you next. So why is she just waiting, and watching?
I absolutely love mermaids. I just love love love them. And I love them infinitely more when they’re not Disney-fied maidens with flowing hair but sharp-toothed monsters with oil-slick scales and a thirst for blood. I have a literal phobia of the sea and this made me want to sail out to the middle of the ocean and become one with the waves. This story absolutely nailed the creepy gothic aesthetic, and our MC was fierce and brave in the face of certain death. I just loved it, and I could read epics about her adventures.
The Moon in the Glass by Jude Reid
They found her body on my wedding night.
She was floating face-up, they said, her unbound hair spread around her like flames.
It’s Charlotte’s wedding night, and her brand new sister in law is dead in the pond. Charlotte is devastated of course, because she was so close to Ness. Too close, some might have said. Then Charlotte starts to see a flicker in the corner of her eye, a movement in the mirror. Something is following her, watching her. But why? Does Charlotte have something to hide?
This one gets a special mention for being GODDAMN TERRIFYING. I work in a place with a thousand mirrors, and after reading this I felt like I couldn’t look directly at them. Sorry to any of my customers who came in the other day and saw me doing extreme gymnastics to avoid looking at mirrors, but this gave me those big Bloody Mary feels all over again. This short story honestly felt like a three act novel. It was so unnerving, and I felt a pervasive sense of dread the entire time I was reading it which is exactly what I want from my gothic fiction.
Homesick by Sam Hirst
Marion wondered if perhaps it wasn’t murder which had bound them here but something much more beautiful.
Marion is a woman in white. She has unfinished business, it seems, but she’s not much interested in finishing it. She’d rather read the books from her library instead – though she ran out of those a hundred years ago. Still, she can travel, and that’s… fine. Then when she meets Sanan her world gets a little brighter – and not just because she has new books to read.
I want a graphic novel of Marion and Sanan. I want fan-art too. They’re so vividly created that I could practically see them, reading together by the sea, and I love them. If they weren’t already dead, I’d die for them. This story was beautifully wholesome, and made my little queer heart warm. Ghosts deserve HEA too. This was beautifully written, and gave me the same warmth and joy that I hope the characters found. I can see myself coming back to Homesick again and again as a quick comfort read to remind me to enjoy the little moments with people I love.
Moonlight by Ally Kölzow
“Don’t ever do that to me again.” The warning would not matter in a few hours, but she spoke it nonetheless.
Adanna chases Nina, her love in a snow-white dress, through a twisty, dark house. Her time is short, and the stakes are high, and she has to reach Nina soon.It should have been the most wonderful day, but it was stolen from them. The moon watches them, her children, and gives them everything she can to let them steal a few precious moments back.
Moonlight emotionally wrecked me. Hell. Weirdly enough it also reminded me of a fanfiction I read approximately a million years ago that I cried my eyes out over. Seeing a similar theme, this time with f/f characters? I’m weak and I’m sad. The prose itself is fluid and gorgeous, flowing like poetry, and the story made my soul ache. I guessed what was happening very, very early and if anything that actually made the whole story more impactful and painful. I knew what was coming, but I owed it to Adanna and Nina to make it to the end of their sorrowful tale. Moonlight is true love with a happily never after, a reflection of the true horror of being queer in history with a gothic spin to really twist the knife. Brace yourself when you read it but please, please read it, because it’s too perfect for words.
Add it on Goodreads here!