TWICE CURSED edited by Marie O’Regan and Paul Kane

Titan Books, pb, £9.99

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan

One of the things that helps an anthology sell is the quality of the names on the contents list. Fans of certain authors will buy books for the first publication of someone they admire. This anthology, Twice Cursed, has a majestic line-up. Not every novelist is capable of writing coherent short stories – it is a different skill – so it is a credit to the editors, Marie O’Regan and Paul Kane, that they have managed to compile a selection of gems.

            The premise behind the anthology is that each story has to contain a curse of some kind. The anthology title stems from the fact that there was an earlier volume with the title Cursed: An Anthology. Objects, people and places can all suffer from curses, and there is a wide variety in Twice Cursed.

            ‘Shoes As Red As Blood’ by A.C. Wise is a variation on the Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale ‘The Red Shoes’. In both cases, it is the shoes that are cursed, as when put on, the wearer is unable to stop dancing. In ‘Just Your Standard Haunted Doll Drama’ by Kelley Armstrong, the cursed object is, as the title suggests, a doll. Bought as a birthday present for his girlfriend, who has a penchant for creepy dolls, Rian finds that he has bought more than he bargained for. ‘The music box’ in L. L. Mckinney’s story of the same name is the source of the curse. The narrator discovers it on an occasion when she house-sits for a neighbour.

            The best cursed object story, and also the best story in this volume is ‘Dark Carousel’ by Joe Hill. The four teenagers involved are typical of their age. They are thoughtless and jump to conclusions, drink too much, drive too fast and walk the edge of legality. After mistakenly believing a carousel operator has stolen money from one of them, they return with an accusation and help themselves to what they think is theirs, but it proves to be a misunderstanding. The carousel rides take revenge, especially as one of the group carved a message on one of the horses.

            It isn’t always clear if the person or an object is cursed, or perhaps the curse is only active if the two are together. In ‘The Confessor’s Tale’ by Sarah Pinborough, a mute boy is just that until he comes into possession of a puzzle game that belonged to his mother. From then on, people are compelled to confess their sins to him. They die within a few days, and the tiles in the game have changed.

            Objects can also counter a curse, as a boy finds out in ‘The Bell’ by Joanne Harris. A curse had turned all the people in the city to stone. The curse can be lifted by ringing a bell. He doesn’t stop to think what the consequences might be or why the city was cursed in the first place before he decides to ring the bell.

            Sometimes, it is a person who is cursed. In ‘Mr Thirteen’ by M. R. Carey, there is a support group for people who have been cursed. When a new member joins them, the thirteenth, he won’t tell them his name because of his curse. He is hoping that the group will help him overcome his curses (he has three), but he doesn’t get what he is looking for. It is not always easy to explain to a disbeliever that there is a curse at work. In ‘Pretty Maids All In A Row’ by Christina Henry, Terry’s family think she is becoming senile. Terry knows, though, that the dolls guarding her house are keeping the curse out. The problems start when the spiders start removing the eyes from the dolls. Most people have heard of the Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner. ‘The Viral Voyage Of Bird Man’ by Katherine Arden is an update of the tale in which the sailor who killed the bird is cursed to tell the story at every opportunity forever.

            In ‘The Old Stories Hide Secrets Deep Inside Them’ by Mark Chadbourn, the curse lives on long after the witch who cast it is dead. Following clues in an ancient text, an archaeological dig in Orkney unearths a ship burial and, with it, the curse.

            In ‘The Angels Of London’ by Adam L. G. Nevill, it is a place which is cursed. In this case, a dilapidated pub which provides cheap accommodation. Frank moves in as the rent is all he can afford but then finds that moving out is not an option. Cursed places do not always stay in the same place. In ‘The Tissot Family Circus’ by Angela Slatter, the circus stays for only one night. The performers are all ghosts who are cursed to remain until their murderers are caught. Only then can they move on. With a similar premise is ‘St Diabolo’s Travelling Music Hall’ by A.K. Benedict stays only one night at a venue. The victim of the curse is an abusive man who has terrorised his wife once too often and is turned into a ventriloquist’s dummy.

            Many folk and fairy tales involve curses of some kind. Other than A.C. Wise’s story ‘Shoes As Red As Blood’ there are two variations of the Snow White story included in this volume. In ‘Snow, Glass, Apples’ by Neil Gaiman, Snow White is portrayed as a vampire, and the Queen is trying to protect her people when she sends the princess into the forest to be killed. ‘Awake’ by Laura Purcell continues from when the princess takes up her duty as Queen, indicating that there is no happy ever after.

            ‘A Curse Is A Curse’ by Helen Grant is the only one of these stories that is Science Fiction. In a post-apocalyptic world, a wall is built to keep cursed people in. They had asked for everlasting life but failed to consider the consequences as they still aged.

            Most of these stories can be regarded as horror, but at the same time, it is possible to enjoy them because of the skill of the writing.

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