Carniepunk is an anthology of urban fantasy stories set around the common theme of carnivals. From mermaids to succubi, there is a wide range of fantastical characters. Some of them meet terrible fates, while others find salvation. It’s definitely a wild mix of adventures. Here’s the full table of contents.

“Painted Love” by Rob Thurman

“The Three Lives of Lydia” by Delilah S. Dawson

“The Demon Barker of Wheat Street” by Kevin Hearne

“The Sweeter the Juice” by Mark Henry

“The Werewife” by Jaye Wells

“The Cold Girl” by Rachel Caine

“A Duet with Darkness” by Allison Pang

“Recession of the Divine” by Hillary Jacques

“Parlor Tricks” by Jennifer Estep

“Freak House” by Kelly Meding

“The Inside Man” by Nicole Peeler

“A Chance in Hell” by Jackie Kessler

“Hell’s Menagerie” by Kelly Gay

“Daughter of the Midway, the Mermaid, and the Open, Lonely Sea” by Seanan McGuire

At its best, there are stories like “The Demon Barker of Wheat Street.” Now I’ll admit I’m a Kevin Hearne fan and I’ve enjoyed his Iron Druid Chronicles series. Getting an Iron Druid story was the reason I read this book. As usual, Kevin delivers laughs, action and an exciting tale of strange characters in bizarre situations. In this case, it’s a carnival with a secret attraction that sends its customers to heaven and hell. Fans of the Iron Druid Chronicles will definitely want to check this one out.

Yet I was happy to find that there were other stories I liked as well. “Painted Love” was a dark, gritty story that takes an interesting idea and spins it with some deliciously dark prose. While I began to question the main character midway through the story, the ending really cinches it and creates a satisfying tale. “Daughter of the Midway, the Mermaid, and the Open, Lonely Sea” is an interesting adventure involving mermaids and family. “Freak House” gathers together a djinn, a werewolf and an ex-army ranger to rescue a kidnapped leprechaun and several other imprisoned “paras.” Stories like these were fun and entertaining. They did a good job of creating enjoyably characters and setting up fun, self-contained stories.

However, some of the stories fell flat in Carniepunk. “Hell’s Menagerie” stars a twelve year old kid who is training in magic. She convinces her friend, Rex, who happens to be inhabiting the body of her dead father, to go to Hell with her in order to save some puppies. Sure, they’re hellhound puppies, but the story felt way too much like a kid’s story with adult content. “A Chance in Hell” has an ex-succubus who likes having sex with demons. She plans on stopping Armageddon by becoming the new ruler of Hell. Yet she escapes Hell, becomes a human, and fancies herself to be a good person. It’s pretty much a story about a sex addict hanging out with demons and using a magic, disappearing sword. Then there’s “A Duet with Darkness” which centers on a violin player who is full of herself, over confident and a diva. She plays violin in a band with a succubus (they’re pretty common in this anthology), a werewolf and a fallen angel who she also happens to be in love with. Of course she’s more or less the best violin player in the world. Like a lot of the others, it just fell flat. Sometimes I didn’t like the characters, sometimes the stories focused too much as a sales pitch for a series instead of telling a good story. Sometimes I just felt I wasn’t the target audience. A lot of the stories include steamy sex scenes and over the top characters that feel like Mary Sue fan fiction.

On the other hand, some of the stories are just too weird. “The Three Lives of Lydia” starts off like a sappy, paranormal romance story with “dangerously gorgeous”, “seriously sexy” and “movie-star gorgeous” characters. Descriptions like this may work for some people but it made me roll my eyes. Those kind of descriptions aren’t just limited to this story, either. But this one did have an interesting shift toward the end that almost made up for the awful prose. However, the shift is kind of confusing. I’m not sure if the author was intentionally making fun of that kind of sappy storytelling in the beginning only to drive home their point in the end, which if so, was kind of cool. However, if that’s not the case, then it’s just a crappy story with a dark ending. Either way, it left me in the middle.

The weirdest of all the stories is without a doubt “The Sweeter the Juice.” This is probably the strangest story I’ve ever read. It stars a man who is trying to become a woman in a post-apocalyptic zombie world. The character is also a drug addict and begrudgingly friends with a guy who has a maternity fetish. To indulge in his fantasy, his friend dresses like he’s pregnant and goes around with a zombie baby harnessed to his midsection. There are also two types of zombies: those who eat the dead, and those who eat the living. Drugs, zombies, transvestites…and a carnival. I kept an open mind and gave it a shot, but the story just didn’t work for me. Sadly, that happened a lot throughout the book.

There are fourteen short stories in this anthology. Of those, I liked about five of them. The rest ranged from mediocre to awful. If you’re a fan of Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid Chronicles, “The Demon Barker of Wheat Street” is worth reading. Most likely, you’ll find a couple other stories that you’ll like. But unless sappy characters, paranormal romance and fanfic is your thing, you might want to think twice before tossing this one in your shopping cart. I, personally, am a big fan of the Cthulhu kind of weird, or Stephen King type of horror, but the stories in this anthology don’t fall into either of those categories. It’s much more along the lines of vampire/werewolf romance or weird fanfic. Taking into consideration the book as a whole, I give this anthology a two and a half out of five metal bikinis.

Reviewed By: Skuldren for Roqoo Depot.

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