Today I’m reviewing Blood & Bone: An Anthology of Body Horror by Women & Non-Binary Writers, which is a perfect read for the spooky season.
Since the earliest creation myths, womens’ bodies have been a site of conflict, venerated and feared in equal measure. In this collection, talented female and non-binary writers let rip with twenty-two powerful, visceral body horror stories that explore, celebrate and dissect (sometimes literally) femininity and the female experience. The stories traverse difficult and sometimes controversial ground, digging into subjects like eating disorders, the beauty industry, pregnancy, infertility, body dysmorphia, domestic violence, rape and sexual abuse–all done with passion, humour, and creativity.
Approach with an open mind and a strong stomach.
A.J. Van Belle, Alice Austin, April Yates, Caitlin Marceau, Cecilia Kennedy, Emma Kathryn, Evelyn Freeling, Faye Snowden, Kristin Cleaveland, Lindsay King-Miller, Michelle Mellon, Nico Bell, Nicola Kapron, Nicole M. Wolverton, Petina Strohmer, Sally Hughes, Saoirse Ní Chiaragáin, Varian Ross, Vashelle Nino, Victoria Nations, Vivian Kasley
Blood & Bone was an instant preorder for me when I spied it on my Twitter feed, firstly because it was an anthology by ‘Women & Non-Binary Writers’ which is always going to be something that I want to read more of. That and the fact that it was an anthology of body horror. I don’t read as much of it as I should, considering how much I love it. It’s fascinating, but what I really love about is the sheer scope and potential of what can be explored. Bodies are pretty weird at the best of times, and at the worst of times… I just love seeing that explored, and Blood & Bone promised so much and I knew from the moment that I read the foreword that this was going to be a book for me.
‘You’re here because at some point in your life, you’ve marvelled at and been horrified by the human body. You’ve looked at your own with suspicious eyes, wondering when it’s finally, inevitably, going to betray you. You’ve poked it and pulled it, questioned it and been questioned by it, and found that neither modern science nor philosophy can give you any answers.’
As with any anthology of short stories, there were some that I enjoyed more than others, some that didn’t resonate quite as strongly. However, there wasn’t a single story in this anthology that wasn’t striking. Beyond the body horror and various other genre elements that are woven throughout the collection, these stories ask questions. Uncomfortable questions. Necessary Questions. Blood & Bone is an exploration of identity, of girl/womanhood, and of expectations internal and external. In some ways, some of those questions and the answers were more horrifying than the body horror itself because it had anchor points in reality, although the two were twined together, and perhaps that was why this was such a hard-hitting book.
It must be said that this is not an easy read, and it shouldn’t be. This book doesn’t shy away from difficult topics including abuse/assault, eating disorders, body image, instead it shines a spotlight on them. There is a warning at the front about the content of the book, and a list of content warnings by story at the back so that you can avoid any story that would be too much and while it wasn’t something I looked at until the end, it is something that I appreciated seeing. And I have to say that everything about this anthology was done with care and consideration, and I think the fact that the authors were women or non-binary themselves was an absolutely essential part of this collection, and that it wouldn’t have had the same impact if it hadn’t been. There is an understanding and care, and relativity woven throughout these stories, even though they are all individual in topic and approach and creator, and it works to create a cohesive whole.
The writing was phenomenal across the board, and that is another reason why this anthology resonates so much because the writing takes the horror – both body and every day – and brings it to life. There were stories in this collection that had my skin crawling and shivers going down my spine, and others that created a visceral echo of what I was reading. And there was one story that had me needing to put the book down for a little while because the reaction was so strong. I loved the variety in approaches that were taken, and how even in ones where it felt as though you knew where the story was going, you were always satisfied, whether surprised or not. Some of the endings are deliberately vague, others very definite, and both held the same kind of impact. And this anthology has so much re-readability, not just because of that variation in detail – there are definitely some stories that need to be read again because of that ambiguity, but the collection as a whole has you wanting to read it again just to savour the writing.
There really wasn’t a weak story in the anthology. However, some of my favourites were ‘Written on Her Skin’ by Nico Bell. This felt much shorter than some of the others, but it was a hammer punch of a story – exploring how people speak to and about women and is a perfect example of that real-world horror paired with body horror. If people could see this story brought to life, would that change things? Probably not, but it should and I think this one, in particular, will linger with me for a while. ‘First Harvest’ by April Yates, was possibly my favourite (if I was forced to choose one), there was just something wonderfully, eerily beautiful about the entire story, and it left me both satisfied and longing for more. ‘Siphonophore’ by Saoirse Ní Chiaragáin was a perfect way to start this anthology and really leaned into the body horror, but also the sense of self and reclaiming of the body, and this was another one where I had to pause and just take time to think it over. Another one that really stood out was ‘Gastric’ by Caitlin Marceau, which again tread that boundary between real-life horror and body horror, and explored body image and gaslighting – and it was raw and painful to read, and made me so so angry because it was so believable. While ‘What Goes Down, Must Come Up’ by Evelyn Freeling was the story that gave me the most visceral reaction, and just the sheer imagery of this one has stayed with me since I read it.
Blood & Bone is a beautifully written, impactful anthology and it would be a disservice to just call this a horror anthology. Yes, body horror is a core (and wonderful) component of the book, but this collection marries that horror with many other genres and weaves in the many horrors that can be found in real life, creating unique, powerful stories that will linger long after the reading. A perfect read for the spooky season, for anyone who enjoys body horror and the questions it asks, just be prepared to feel everything as you read it.
If you’ve read it, or read it in the future, please feel free to shout at me about this fantastic book.