‘Black Cranes: Tales of Unquiet Women’: a truly unsettling collection of horror from southeast Asian authors

July 31, 2023

TITLE: Black Cranes: Tales of Unquiet Women
EDITORS: Lee Murray & Geneve Flynn
GENRE: Horror
PAGES: 216pg
PUBLISHER: Raw Dog Screaming Press

Almond-eyed celestial, the filial daughter, the perfect wife. Quiet, submissive, demure. In Black Cranes: Tales of Unquiet Women, Southeast Asian writers of horror both embrace and reject these traditional roles in a unique collection of stories which dissect their experiences of ‘otherness’, be it in the colour of their skin, the angle of their cheekbones, the things they dare to write, or the places they have made for themselves in the world.

Black Cranes is a dark and intimate exploration of what it is to be a perpetual outsider.

Featuring 14 stories by Nadia Bulkin, Grace Chan, Rin Chupeco, Elaine Cuyegkeng, Geneve Flynn, Gabriela Lee, Rena Mason, Lee Murray, Angela Yuriko Smith, and Christina Sng, and a foreword by Alma Katstu.

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I’ve been meaning to read this anthology for ages, and I’m so glad that I finally did! There were so many incredible stories in here, both from new-to-me authors and authors whose works I had loved before. Each story in this collection touches on how hard it is to be a southeast Asian woman in a world so full of misogyny and racism, but the pieces range from speculative horror to dark fantasy to dystopian nightmares. I’m adding a breakdown of each story and the rating I gave it below, but if you need the TL;DR version, this is a fantastic, beautiful collection that I highly recommend!

The Genetic Alchemist’s Daughter // Elaine Cuyegkeng ★★★★☆
What a way to start an anthology! This piece follows a woman whose job is to follow in her mother’s footsteps by creating and genetically altering people and animals, with or without their consent. There are a lot of metaphors here for expectations that are placed upon Asian women by society and sometimes their own families, and the lengths that a parent might go to for the “perfect” child.

Kapre: A Love Story // Rin Chupeco ★★★★★
This was absolutely lovely, yet so sad and full of yearning! Despite following a rather unsettling entity from Filipino folklore, this truly is a love story, and a beautifully wholesome one at that.

A Pet is for Life // Geneve Flynn ★★★★★
Hands down my favorite story in this collection. I went into this story about a lonely pet rescuer fully expecting it to go in one direction, and then it turned itself on its head and completely stunned me in the best way. The writing was beautiful, and I want an Abraham in my life.

Phoenix Claws // Lee Murray ★★★★☆
I could feel the tension and it was so easy to empathize with this main character as she dealt with watching her new significant other meet her family. I love the idea of how powerful a family’s superstitions can be, too. I only wish it hadn’t ended so abruptly!

Of Hunger and Fury // Grace Chan ★★★★☆
I’m going to be entirely honest and say I’m not fully sure what was happening here, but I enjoyed the ride nonetheless. We follow a woman who’s bringing her husband home to visit her mother and her ailing father, and she begins to have dreams about a local legend of a young girl who went missing.

Skin Dowdy // Angela Yuriko Smith ★★★★★
Oh, this one was so much fun and such an unsettling future to think about. It takes place in a near future setting where people get technology implants to change their appearances such as fiber optic filaments for hair, or contact lenses that allow them to display holographic images around themselves. I wasn’t rooting for anyone by the end of this one, but it was delightful.

Truth is Order and Order is Truth // Nadia Bulkin ★★★☆☆
This was the first of the more fantasy-heavy stories in the collection, and while I’ve really liked other stories by this author, this one didn’t quite hit for me, but I liked the bones of it. It picks up in the middle of the narrator’s journey as she leads her late parents’ kingdom to her mother’s homelands, and while I found it a bit long and meandering, I loved the reveal in the end.

Rites of Passage // Gabriela Lee ★★★☆☆
Sadly, this was another story that had potential, but I struggled with: in this case, because the story is split into three sections, and none of the protagonists have names, so I couldn’t tell if we were following three stories about the same young woman, or if this was a generation curse affecting multiple women (which is what I’m leaning towards). It was just a little speculative for my mood, but it definitely had some solid folklore elements I enjoyed.

The Ninth Tale // Rena Mason
I typically adore retellings of legends, especially ones surrounding deities or similar entities, but the writing style and I didn’t mesh at all here. I’m leaving the star rating off, though, because the writing style actually objectively matched the story very well, since a lot of old parables tend to be a bit hokey and over-the-top like this one, but it was a personal preference issue and that’s all.

Vanilla Rice // Angela Yuriko Smith ★★★★★
Imagine a world where pregnant women can buy microchips to alter their child’s DNA and then have it implanted immediately after birth, where they could have a baby that is born looking like its Asian mother and then tweak it to be a blond-haired, blue-eyed child. This story absolutely broke my heart, not only for the mother’s trauma and insecurity, but for her child’s loneliness, too. I loved it.

Fury // Christina Sng ★★☆☆☆
If this story was fleshed out into a 100-page novella or even a full novel, I would be first in line to read it, because I think it would have blown me away, but this zombie apocalypse tale was just too much for such a short span of pages. The action was non-stop, leaving little room for character development or backstory, and I just wanted so much more!

The Mark // Grace Chan ★★★★☆
This story follows a woman whose husband has suddenly become very unfamiliar to her, which is such a disturbing thought to me, as someone who has feared body-snatcher stories since I was a little kid! This one unsettled me in a big way, and I mostly loved it, but I knocked a star off for its use of a trope I hate (minor spoiler, highlight text to read: “we aborted our first pregnancy, so we lost the second one as punishment”).

Frangipani Wishes // Lee Murray ★★★★☆
I really loved most of this story, but it lost me a little near the end! A young woman is kicked out for becoming pregnant out of wedlock and she has to find her way to a better life for herself and her child. It had me until the protagonist married, at which point I felt like her entire demeanor changed in an instant and I still don’t fully understand why. That said, the writing was gorgeous.

Little Worm // Geneve Flynn ★★★★★
This one was another favorite that I’m going to be thinking on for a while: a woman goes to visit her aging mother amidst fears that she may be developing dementia or some other health worries, and finds very bizarre behavior waiting for her there. I absolutely adored the ending of this story and would love to read more pieces about this particular lore.

Thank you to the publisher for the review copy! All thoughts are honest and my own.

content warnings →
WARNINGS (click to expand):

racism, misogyny, violence, gore, murder, death, sexual assault and harassment, pregnancy (forced and by choice), abortion, miscarriage, domestic violence and abuse, dementia, illness, medical trauma, body horror

representation →

all authors and protagonists are southeast Asian, including Filipino, Malaysian, Indonesian, Chinese, Singaporean, and more forms of representation


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More about Destiny @ Howling Libraries

Just a horror aficionado/geek girl trying to juggle motherhood, reading, blogging, gaming, and everyday life.

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