Queens of the Abyss: Lost Stories from the Women of the Weird, ed by Mike Ashley

Queens of the Abyss: Lost Stories from the Women of the Weird, ed by Mike Ashley

British Library Publications, pb, £7.37

Reviewed by Mikaela Silk

This anthology introduces the forgotten women ‘weird tale’ writers from the last two centuries and presents us with some of their previously unexplored short stories. It contains everything from ghosts and vampires, to carnivorous plants and cursed songs; it has mystical fog, magical hands of creation, fortune-telling gypsies and mystery horses. Interwoven with the elements of the ‘weird’ are the more typical story themes of romance, kindness, and the strength of familial bonds, as well as the darker elements of revenge, scandal, and death. In short, there is something for everyone. So if a story doesn’t strike the right chord with you, don’t let it hold you back from enjoying the next one.

I personally found some of the stories a bit slow-moving, some of the plots overly predictable and some of the supernatural elements less than engaging. However, this was balanced by other stories which I felt featured unique plots, inspiring characters and gripping supernatural details. In my opinion, the best stories are those which include a human emotional edge, such as a mother who only wants to feed her daughter, regardless of what her appetite might be for, and a man who searches for his dead wife despite the alluring distractions around him. There are also some stories in which the weirdness is so grotesque in form, that I couldn’t help but be drawn in by it: this is most notable in ‘The Wonderful Tune’ due to the tense build-up of anticipation leading to the culmination of the grotesque.

However, my favourite element of this anthology is actually not the stories themselves, but the biographies of the women who wrote them. I think it is notable that these ‘Women of the Weird’ seemed to mostly lead unconventional or otherwise difficult lives, suggesting that their writing was inspired by their own lives and perhaps also served as an escapism from those lives. Despite the feminine stereotypes of the earlier centuries, these women travelled, supported their families, and led independent lives. From Edith Nesbit’s fear of premature burial to Greye La Spina’s expert knowledge of weaving, this background knowledge inspired my reading of their stories and allowed me to see the souls of the writers living behind their words. Just as many of their characters live on as ghosts, so too do these women writers live on as inspirations through their work.

Queens of the Abyss: Lost Stories from the Women of the Weird, edited by Mike Ashley

British Library Publications, pb, £7.37

Reviewed by Michaela Silk

This anthology introduces the forgotten women ‘weird tale’ writers from the last two centuries and presents us with some of their previously unexplored short stories. It contains everything from ghosts and vampires, to carnivorous plants and cursed songs; it has mystical fog, magical hands of creation, fortune-telling gypsies and mystery horses. Interwoven with the elements of the ‘weird’ are the more typical story themes of romance, kindness, and the strength of familial bonds, as well as the darker elements of revenge, scandal, and death. In short, there is something for everyone. So if a story doesn’t strike the right chord with you, don’t let it hold you back from enjoying the next one.

I personally found some of the stories a bit slow-moving, some of the plots overly predictable and some of the supernatural elements less than engaging. However, this was balanced by other stories which I felt featured unique plots, inspiring characters and gripping supernatural details. In my opinion, the best stories are those which include a human emotional edge, such as a mother who only wants to feed her daughter, regardless of what her appetite might be for, and a man who searches for his dead wife despite the alluring distractions around him. There are also some stories in which the weirdness is so grotesque in form, that I couldn’t help but be drawn in by it: this is most notable in ‘The Wonderful Tune’ due to the tense build-up of anticipation leading to the culmination of the grotesque.

However, my favourite element of this anthology is actually not the stories themselves, but the biographies of the women who wrote them. I think it is notable that these ‘Women of the Weird’ seemed to mostly lead unconventional or otherwise difficult lives, suggesting that their writing was inspired by their own lives and perhaps also served as escapism from those lives. Despite the feminine stereotypes of the earlier centuries, these women travelled, supported their families, and led independent lives. From Edith Nesbit’s fear of premature burial to Greye La Spina’s expert knowledge of weaving, this background knowledge inspired my reading of their stories and allowed me to see the souls of the writers living behind their words. Just as many of their characters live on as ghosts, so too do these women writers live on as inspirations through their work.