Title: Toil and Trouble: 15 Tales of Women and Witchcraft
Editor: Jessica Spotswood
Age Group: Teen/Young Adult
Genre: Anthology/Short Story Collection
Star Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
I borrowed this book from my local library and reviewed it.
I’ve had this anthology on my library loan list since I heard of it, and as soon as I had an opening in my library stack, I ordered it. When I was finished with The Sacrifice Box, I wanted to keep that witchy, spooky feeling going; nothing gets me in the mood for Halloween and autumn quite like horror stories. I also really love short stories, they kind of serve as a sampler size for new authors and are a fun new way to experience ones that I’m already familiar with. There are fifteen stories total in Toil and Trouble, and honestly, I’ve been wondering how to review this for a few days now, because there wasn’t an entry that I didn’t enjoy in some way! For clarity and length’s sake, I will highlight my favorites and give the whole book an overall rating. Okay, so without further ado, here we go!
Starsong by Tehlor Kay Meija: 5 out of 5 Stars. The story of a magical Latinx girl who was chasing a high and ending up hitting rock bottom, she discovers the magic that she inherited from her late aunt, and slowly begins to work toward peace, even knowing that her overprotective mother is waiting for her to fall off of the wagon again. When she gets into a heated debate with a headstrong and very pretty girl online, Luna must decide if she’s willing to open herself up again and take a chance, or risk hiding everything that makes her love herself. Beautiful, funny, and romantic, this vies as one of my favorite pieces in the whole anthology. Absolutely stunning, and I will be checking more of Meija’s work as soon as I can.
Death in the Sawtooths by Lindsay Smith: 5 out of 5 Stars. This story read, to me, like an old-school, black and white noir crime movie, only with magical female witches at the forefront! I loved it. When a young, dark witch discovers that someone has taken her lady’s magic and perverted it, using it to control the dead instead of lay them at rest, she must team up with an old classmate that she didn’t get along with when they were younger. Along with finding the culprit, the witch discovers that she can take pride in her unusual, grim trade, even if it means the rest of the small town of Smalltooth shuns her. Absolutely fantastic and unique! Lindsay Smith, were have you been all my life?
The Moonapple Menagarie by Shveta Takrar: 5 out of 5 Stars. Oh my goodness, this story is one of my favorites! First of all, I loved how diverse the characters were, and that the main character was a writer, asking an ancient monster for help with completing her play. The prose was gorgeous, and I loved every single character in the story, but my favorite part especially was the ending. It was a knockout! One of the reasons I love this anthology so much is because of the diversity and scope of the authors; I feel like I’ve definitely gained some new people to admire for my writing career.
The One Who Stayed by Nova Ren Suma: Nova Ren Suma is one of my favorite authors; I just love her prose and her dreamy, slightly spooky writing style. The One Who Stayed tells the story of three sisters, all coming back together after being apart for a while. The middle sister, Rose, is just bouncing back from an abusive relationship, and her sisters are trying desperately to pick up the pieces. I really enjoyed it because Suma’s prose was wonderful, and I loved the bond between the three of them. To be honest, this story had me crying through most of it. Of all her sisters, Rose stayed in their small town, drawn into a relationship that was intoxicating and volatile until it stifled her entirely. I loved the way it ended, and even though it was painful, I really enjoyed the way that sibling love was at the forefront instead of romantic.
Why They Watch Us Burn by Elizabeth May: 5 out of 5 Stars. This story in particular was searing; even a few days later, I cannot stop thinking about it. It was like The Handmaid’s Tale but with magic. The prose was stark and sparse and hard-hitting, like a punch to the gut, and the imagery had me gritting my teeth and crying, often. Especially considering our current social and political climate, it bore into my brain and wormed its way into my heart and I loved the way it ended; it reminded me that though things are very dark and scary right now, that doesn’t mean that things can’t change. It gave me hope, and I can’t wait to seek out more of May’s work. The bottom line: A fantastic, diverse, and timely anthology that’s all about feminine power, I loved Toil and Trouble—one of my favorite books of the year for sure! Next on deck: Grace and Fury by Tracy Banghart!