Pretty Monsters by Kelly Link

Blending fairytale, fantasy, horror, myth and mischief in a delicious cocktail, Kelly Link creates a world like no other, where ghosts of girlfriends past rub up against Scrabble-loving grandmothers with terrifying magic handbags, wizards sit alongside morbid babysitters, and we encounter a people-eating monster who claims to have a sense of humour.

Pretty Monsters is a collection of nine first-rate short stories, all featuring an appealing quirkiness that is at times both wonderfully absurd and surreal.

These dark and wonderfully imaginative tales get underway with The Wrong Grave, a story in which a young man digs up the coffin of his ex-girlfriend in order to recover the poetry buried with her (based on the true story of the poet and painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti). This stalwart opening is followed by The Wizards of Perfil, a thoughtful piece with more than a little Ursula Le Guin about it; a pleasant contrast to the urgent opening.

The third story is Magic for Beginners and arguably the pick of the bunch. The way in which the story weaves a gloriously conceived pirate-television show into a coming-of-age story makes for joyful reading.

The Faery Handbag is another superb tale although The Specialist’s Hat was rather confusing (although a favourite amongst Link’s fans). Monster is remarkable in its absurdity, featuring a terrifying monster that brutally kills yet has a keen sense of humour and makes notes in a little book. You do not come across stories like these every day!

To end it all we have Pretty Monsters (which is a reference to teenage girls), the story which features the best opening paragraph:

“THE WORLD WAS still dark. Windows were blue-black rectangles nailed upon black walls. Her parents’ door was shut; the interrogative snores and snorts from their bedroom were the sounds of a beast snuffling about in a cave. Clementine Cleary went down the hallway with her hands outstretched, then down the stairs, avoiding the ones that complained. She had been dreaming, and it seemed to her still part of her dream when she opened the front door and left her parents’ house. Wet confetti ends of grass, cut the day before, stuck to the soles of her bare feet. The partial thumbprint of a moon lingered in the sky even as the sun came up and she rode her bike down to Hog Beach.”
Pretty Monsters

Each story in the collection is strong and will appeal to adults of all ages. Kelly Link showcases her great skill at the short form (to which Nebula, Locus, British Science Fiction Association, World Fantasy, and Bram Stoker awards testify) and Pretty Monsters will delight both existing fans and newcomers, although the former should be aware that three of the short stories (Magic for Beginners, The Faery Handbag and The Specialist's Hat) have appeared in Link’s previous publications.

Pretty Monsters is an energetic, clever, amusing and imaginative read. It is also highly recommended.

About the author
Kelly Link is the author of two previous collections, Stranger Things Happen and Magic for Beginners. Her stories have won three Nebula awards, a Hugo and a World Fantasy Award. She was born in Miami, Florida and once won a free trip around the world by answering the question, ‘Why do you want to go around the world?’ (‘Because you can’t go through it.’)

Link lives in Northampton, Massachusetts, where she and her husband, Gavin J. Grant, run Small Beer Press and play ping-pong. In 1996 they started the occasional zine Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet.

Her website is

9/10 An energetic, clever, amusing and imaginative read..

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