It’s here. It’s queer. Its creepiness levels range from minimal to severe. It’s Unspeakable, the queer gothic anthology that you didn’t know you needed until just now. From beginning to end (minus a handful of “meh” moments), it is a fun-filled read, especially for those of us who like an extra dash of the paranormal, dark, and/or macabre in our stories. Plus, it is positively bursting with queer rep of all shapes and sizes! Stick with this post to the end, and you’ll find a nice little giveaway for a copy of the book, too.
(There’s no good way to do a plot summary for a short-story collection, but here’s the official blurb!)
Unspeakable contains eighteen Gothic tales with uncanny twists and characters that creep under your skin. Its stories feature sapphic ghosts, terrifying creatures of the sea, and haunted houses concealing their own secrets. Whether you’re looking for your non-binary knight in shining armour or a poly family to murder with, Unspeakable showcases the best contemporary Gothic queer short fiction. Even dark tales deserve their time in the sun.
Amazon | Goodreads
Right from the get-go, I could tell I was going to like this collection–the very first story is a dark, Rapunzel-esque story, with a nonbinary knight-in-shining-armor who saves the princess. How could I not be excited, with a beginning like that? Fortunately, with very few exceptions, the rest of the book lived up to that same standard.
There are many tropes that can be found in gothic fiction–ghosts, haunted houses, damsels in distress, gloomy weather, and so on. Rather than feeding us a dozen variations of the same story, the tales contained in Unspeakable manage to touch on most (if not all) of the common themes of Gothic literature, sometimes hitting multiple within the same story (shoutout to the excellent “Hearteater,” which blended Red Riding Hood, werewolves, and a haunted house, with a sapphic relationship to boot). And then, as the name suggests, the stories subvert all of our stereotypes of gothic literature by making characters within them queer!
In some of the stories, this subversion is subtle–it is the same sort of story we would expect to read, except the characters happen to be not heterosexual, or cisgender, or allosexual. For example, the haunting “Quicksilver Prometheus” could just as easily have been about a straight man, but the main character is gay. It is a small fraction of his character, but it supports the normalization of queerness in literature, making it possible for queer characters to inhabit stories where their queerness is just one part of their being, not the focus of the plot.
But in others, the subversion is overt, forcing us to confront the inherent biases that fill much of our literature today. Let’s face it: most gothic fiction–most genre fiction in general, really–is pretty darn cis/het/allo. That leaves a lot of room for questions. What if a sea monster only ate men because she was waiting for a woman? Can a house linked to its owners emotions be impacted when that human is experiencing distress over their gender identity? What happens when a succubus confronts someone who is asexual? Where is the line between literal non-human monsters, and those who society deem “monstrous” for things that really aren’t monstrous at all? Many of the stories in this book address questions like that, inserting queer characters into stories normally reserved for non-queer protagonists and resolving the questions that such representation adds to the mix. In a particularly well-rendered moment, “An Account of Service at Meryll Point” turned the queerness of a character into a total (but not obnoxious) plot twist that threw conventional gothic tropes out the window.
I will say that for a lot of the book, I was getting a little disheartened–not because the stories were bad (they were actually quite good), but because I had heard there was asexual representation in this book, and I had only found one story that implied an asexual sapphic romance (which, incidentally, was beautiful; “Homesick” meditates on the afterlife and also the importance of having good books around for all of eternity). I needn’t have worried, though–the second-to-last story, “The Dream Eater,” gave me the ace rep I had been waiting for, and then some. It was cute and wholesome and, I kid you not, the main character was an ace guy who writes for a dating/relationship website. Was the ending a little cheesy? Yes. But did it make me smile? Also yes.
Out of the whole collection, there were only three stories that didn’t quite work for me. One, “Laguna and the Engkanto,” I think that maybe I just didn’t…get? It was strange, involved masturbation in the ocean (which seems super unsanitary?), and while I’ll keep this vague to avoid spoilers, it ended with a confusing sequence of events that I thought I sort of understood but couldn’t grasp the significance of. The second was “Rodeo,” not because it was a bad concept, but because the only real gothic element of the story hit in the last page or so, and it opened a lot of doors while shutting practically none. I felt like I had just read the opening scene of a longer story, rather than a self-contained unit, if that makes sense. And the third disappointment was the finale story of the collection, “Leadbitter House,” which was a weird mashup of allegedly-haunted-house (though this supposed haunting never became relevant), gay orgy (yep that happened), argument over inheritance (which was pretty anticlimactic), and body horror without prompting or explanation. There was just a lot going on in that story, and most of it ended up being completely irrelevant, especially given the ending that came out of nowhere and felt disconnected subject-wise from the rest of the book. The result was a way-too-long short story that offered virtually no payoff for the time required to read it.
But, really, three duds in a collection of nearly 20 stories is pretty darn good. And you never know–maybe you will love one of them!
A few more stories that deserve a shout-out: “Doctor Barlowe’s Mirror,” which was an unsettling take on the “mad scientist” trope with an ending that is genuinely unnerving, and “Taylor Hall,” a story concerned a fun sort of haunted house with a personalit of its own.
All things considered, this was a solid collection, and I would recommend it to any fans of gothic fiction and/or queer literature, especially those who look for queer rep that goes beyond just gay and lesbian–if you want more characters who are nonbinary, transgender, asexual, or pansexual, you can find all of those identities reflected in these pages. Not in a creepy haunted-mirror way. Just, you know, in a normal, good reflection way.
List of Stories (with trigger/content warnings)
- Let Down by Claire Hamilton Russell
tw/cw: imprisonment, non-consensual sex
- Moonlight by Ally Kölzow
tw/cw: death of a loved one
- An Account of Service at Meryll Point, as recollected and set down by C.L.
tw/cw: societal transphobia (narrator is accepting, however)
- The White Door by Lindsay King-Miller
tw/cw: violence, murder
- Doctor Barlowe’s Mirror by Avery Kit Malone
- Laguna and the Engkanto by Katalina Watt
tw/cw: death of parent
- The Moon in the Glass by Jude Reid
tw/cw: murder, hallucinations
- Brideprice by S.T. Gibson
tw/cw: mention of sexual assault, murder, blood-drinking
- Lure of the Abyss by Jenna MacDonald
tw/cw: some people get eaten by a sea monster
- Hearteater by Eliza Temple
- Quicksilver Prometheus by Katie Young
tw/cw: hallucinations, mention of death of children
- Homesick by Sam Hirst
- Rodeo by Ryann Fletcher
tw/cw: homophobia, domestic violence, murder
- Lady of Letters; or, the Twenty-First Century Homunculus by Heather Valentine
- Taylor Hall by Jen Glifort
tw/cw: panphobia (challenged)
- The Ruin by E. Saxey
tw/cw: threat of the apocalypse
- The Dream Eater by Anna Moon
tw/cw: illness of loved one
- Leadbitter House by Mason Hawthorne
tw/cw: body horror
(I’m doing the best I can to share quotes that don’t spoil anything, for whatever that’s worth.)
“I find myself very good at destroying things. It makes me feel better to fix what I can.”“Hearteater”
“Turns out my ace ass is still just as ace in dreamland as he is in real life. Here this person was, all naked and such, doing all of the things people do to seem available, and all I could think about was a guinea pig and getting a drink.”“The Dream Eater”
Uninvited guests enjoy uninvited consequences.“Moonlight”
“I’ve got this,” I say, moments before the Petunia shudders to a halt, proving that I most definitely do not have this.“Lure of the Abyss”
It’s something mixed up inside me—not bravery, just an instinct that works the wrong way. When anyone else would retreat, I want to go forward.“The White Door”
Ghosts appreciate a holiday as much as the next person and they have so much world left to see.“Homesick”
The other hosts on this tour have been doing a fantastic job of creating more content about this book for you, including graphics, quotes, reviews, mood boards, playlists, and book-inspired outfit/makeup looks (yes, you read that correctly!). You can see the full tour schedule HERE.
The publisher is providing one (1) finished paperback copy of this book to one lucky winner! This giveaway is open internationally and will run through December 14, 2020. Note that the cutoff is Philippine time, which is 12 hours ahead of EST.
You can enter HERE. Best of luck!
Thank you to Caffeine Book Tours for allowing me to participate in this tour, and to the publisher, Nyx Publishing, for providing me with an electronic copy of this book as part of my participation in the tour. All opinions are my own.