Coppice & Brake: Edited By Rachel A. Brune
Reviewed By J.A. Sullivan
When I pick up anthologies, I usually have a good sense of the type of stories I’ll encounter, but that was not the case with Coppice & Brake, much to my absolute delight. These tales are almost beyond imagination, directly tapping into that place where nightmares are born. From grizzly body horror to dark science fiction, this collection runs the full gamut of superb speculative fiction.
The very first story, “Dog’s Blood Trail” by Gabrielle Bleu, was a fantastic step into what Coppice & Brake holds in store. Weird and horrific, this story was part Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart” and part John Carpenter’s version of “The Thing.” After reading Bleu’s story, I knew I had stumbled upon a unique and wonderful anthology.
Some of the other entries include a Slenderman type creature, magical abilities to make and unmake living things, an obsession with keys, and a lakeside serenade by ghosts of murdered girls. The entire collection stays away from subjects you normally expect from dark fiction, and even those that tread closer to the familiar take unexpected twists.
One of the stories I enjoyed most, “The Red Shoes” by Holly Lyn Walrath, is a perfect example of unexpected twists. Walrath gives us a story of a lonely old witch in a deserted forest. You would expect that when the witch finds a lost girl (“A lovely redheaded thing curled in the litter of the forest floor like a fairy in bracken”), she would immediately make a meal of her, as the witch had done with so many other helpless children through the years. Yet she doesn’t. Obsessed with the past when trolls, werewolves, and other sorcerers called the woods home, the old woman casts a spell on a pair of red shoes for the girl. But magic rarely brings us the things we most desire, especially not without a hefty price. This was a beautifully written story with sharp images, and it reminded me of being a child, listening to Grimms’ Fairy Tales for the first time.
Another standout for me was “White Tail Lies” by Friedrich Sarah E. Thompson, which starts: “The first lie I ever told came crawling out of my mouth when I was four. With its hairy legs tickling my throat and jabbing against my cheeks…” Completely horrifying and intriguing, to say the least. As someone suffering from arachnophobia this story really got under my skin! But aside from the creepy crawlies, this story is really about being an outsider and trying to find your place in the world. And even with all the spiders, I enjoyed this story so much I read it more than once.
“The Anomaly” by David J. Thirteen also grabbed my attention. Having read some of Thirteen’s other work I knew I’d be in for a treat, and this one did not disappoint. In this tale, Oswald’s grandson brings home a scrapped metal calendar which has a mirrored backside. But there’s a splotch in the mirror, an anomaly, which begins to grow every night after Oswald’s encounters with something evil. These nightly visits are like terrifying experiences of sleep paralysis and leave Oswald a little weaker every day. As well as providing a creature that left me wanting to sleep with the lights on, the story also delves into complexities in family relationships as the roll of caretaker shifts between generations. It reminded me of the poem “Do not go gentle into that good night” by Dylan Thomas, but set in a horror story, which is a great combination in my opinion.
My favourite in the collection was “The Rat Room” by Rebecca Dale. A young artist moves to Sydney to attend art school, but beneath the building’s flats is a room, a room of rats. While the unfolding plot is compelling, with manic episodes of creating, infection induced fever dreams, and an artist’s failure to launch, what I absolutely loved was the use of language to tell this story. In fact, every time I tried to find a snippet to include in this review, I ended up reading the entire story again. Simply a fantastic read.
Most of the time when I review anthologies, I only focus on the individual stories, but this collection deserves a special shout out to editor Rachel A. Brune, who arranged the entries like a maestro conducting a world class symphony. While each story was distinct, the order in which they appeared helped build the overall reading experience by modulating the tone and tension, making this nearly impossible to put down.
I highly recommend Coppice & Brake for anyone who wants to tread in dark, unfamiliar nightmares.
Coppice & Brake
A night guard brings an offering to the eternal denizens of a notorious prison.
In a young girl’s room, the shiny people keep watch in the night.
A proud father beams as his son takes the stage for the performance of a lifetime.
The stories in this anthology are the glimpses of the dark places between the forest and a dream. They are the shadows seeking the last notes of a dying violin. They invite the reader into a world where a condemned man faces his fate over and over and over again. Coppice & Brake is an anthology of dark fiction, featuring tales from the borderlands of horror, speculative fiction, and the nightmare fears that linger even after you turn on the lights.
J. A. Sullivan is a horror writer and paranormal enthusiast, based in Brantford, ON, Canada. Attracted to everything non-horror folks consider strange, she’s spent years as a paranormal investigator, has an insatiable appetite for serial killer information, and would live inside a library if she could.
Her latest short story can be found in Don’t Open the Door: A Horror Anthology (out July 26, 2019), and other spooky tales can be found on her blog. She’s currently writing more short stories, a novel, and reading as many dark works as she can find.
You can follow J. A. on Twitter @ScaryJASullivan
Check out her blog https://writingscaredblog.wordpress.com
Find her on Instagram www.instagram.com/j.a_sullivan