Black Juice review

Weird enough for adults. Smart enough for kids.

230 PAGES · £8.99

Author:
Margo Lanagan

Publisher:
Gollancz

ISBN:
0-57507-781-6

Rating: 5/5

The line between so-called “adult” fiction and children’s books can get pretty thin at times, but it’s rarely been as hazy as in Black Juice, a seriously bizarre World Fantasy Award-winning short story collection from Australian author Margo Lanagan. Coming across like a punky version of Angela Carter crossed with Geoff Ryman, Lanagan conjures up a series of weird and arcane worlds while being unafraid of dealing with death, violence or sex, but her main focus is always the emotions of her characters as they face up to the darker edges of their lives.

The boundaries are being pushed right from the first story, as within a few pages we’re already witnessing a particularly horrible yet weirdly tender public execution in the highly acclaimed “Singing My Sister Down”. The later tales feature everything from trigger happy clowns to horned, sinister angels. It’s all described with rich, detailed prose and a wonderfully strange approach to language, with Lanagan having no problems in throwing in bizarre slang, or telling an entire story from the perspective of an elephant.

Lovers of traditionally escapist fantasy will find this a very different proposition, teetering as it does on the edge of magical realism, and there are certain moments where the short length of the tales becomes frustrating; it’s hard not to wish for more detail in these strange and perplexing universes. There’s not a single story that outstays its welcome, and with the brilliantly terrifying “Yowlinin”, Lanagan shows clearly that she’s not worried about scaring the bejeezus out of her audience, when hordes of terrifying monstrosities start erupting from the ground. All we now need from her is a full-length fantasy novel that maintains this level of eye-opening quality, and we’ll know for sure that a seriously talented new voice has officially arrived…

Saxon Bullock

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