Red Spikes -- Margo Lanagan

Is that not the most gorgeous cover art* you've seen in some time?

Red_spikesWell, it's the most gorgeous cover art I've seen in some time, at any rate.  At first I thought it was kind of scary, but I later realized that the thorns aren't pushing into her skin -- according to the story that the illustration comes from, those red balls are berries.

Okay, it's still a little scary.  But also gorgeous.

Red Spikes is Margo Lanagan's third collection of short fiction.  Over the course of ten stories, she visits Purgatory and a boys' school and she writes from the perspective of a ghostly parakeet and a monkey.  The worlds -- all of them -- she introduced me to were familiar but different. 

She made me think of Ray Bradbury, in that her worlds can be sometimes brutal and harsh but then, a page later -- sometimes within the same story -- there is warmth and tenderness.

My favorites:

Baby Jane:  A boy has to deliver the baby of a warrior queen while dealing with her manservant and a bear, all who happen to be miniatures come to life (and suddenly life-sized).

Hero Vale:  This is the one set in the boys' school.  It was my very favorite story in the book.  I liked it so much that even if you aren't planning on reading the whole book, I'd suggest that you, at the very least, read this one.

Under Hell, Over Heaven:  This is the Purgatory story.  (Ooo, that kind of rhymes.)

Also, the story Winkie (about Wee Willie Winkie) scared the bejebus out of me.  Actually, so did Monkey's Paternoster, but in a very different way.

Many of these stories are not for the faint of heart.  Along with the dark atmosphere, you can tick the box next to pretty much every single entry on your handy list of Things People Find Offensive in YA fiction.  In Red Spikes, you'll find sex, violence, witchcraft, and, as at least two of the stories deal with the afterlife, well, those are bound to offend someone out there.  I don't remember profanity, but that doesn't mean there isn't any.

For those of you aren't scared off by that, it's a good read.  I really appreciated the Acknowledgments section, in which she describes her inspiration behind the stories.  I read Black Juice some time ago -- never wrote it up, apparently -- and I'm planning on digging that out again and also finding a copy of White Time

*The artist is Jeremy Caniglia.