When a publisher releases two books, both single word themed that contain stories from competitive writers there’s only one way to review them. It’s Book Battle Royale time folks.
Knightwatch Press have released two beautiful anthologies titled Worms and Potatoes. In the red corner sits Worms. It’s the slimmer of these books with a mere 8 stories, though they do pack a punch. Along with author biographies and an entertaining foreword by editor Alex Davis it comes in at just over 90 pages. But this isn’t a beauty contest or Slimmer of the Year. This fight is about the stories.
So let’s meet contender number 2 in the green corner. Potatoes almost double in size, but this is a not a weight class fight. However with a foreword from Adrian Middleton and author bios Potatoes offers up a feast of 17 stories.
Let’s check out all the contenders.
The Twitching Tail from Sandra Unerman is a steampunk-esque fantasy that got better as the journey of Jaro the protagonist progressed. The ending was a great choice to finish a steady piece of writing. Anna Taborsk’s story ‘Cyril’s Mission’ was a topical creature feature dealing with trust, paedophilia and the priesthood. A highly enjoyable and well-paced tale that dealt with the subject matter with care while treating us to a spectacular worm creature.
Tommy Squirm by Adam Millard has a great balance of dark comedy and horror. I could sense the ever growing threat of the tiny worm as it transformed into a monster. The chaotic and dangerous home life of Archie was written with enough background detail to make the reader worry for the young boy’s safety. This is the shortest story at only 7 pages but Millard ends it with a brutal punch.
Nobody Likes Worms by Stephen Palmer is a claustrophobic story part Roald Dahl part William S. Burroughs. A twist in the tale story that builds tension through creepy and very crawly incidents along the way. It felt like a story in two parts but thankfully Palmer never lets the reader see the stitching so it is a natural change. I’d also like to say that his use of the transformation and fall into madness was written with great confidence
Zombie Worms Ate My Hamster by KT Davies is a crime story with a difference. A worm eats through this Big Apple noir and pokes its head out in a police interview room in England. The story is told through the device of interview tape and third person narration. This technique adds realism to the fantasy which is also aided by the use of naturalistic language. A strong tale that keeps up all the way through to the poignant and grinning end.
The Figurehead by Amelia Mangan is usually the kind of story I steer clear from. A fantasy dealing with warring Kingships, magic and strange lands. But this is unlike most things I’ve read in that sub-genre. It’s a fable, a folklore tale written in full rich language that kept me turning the pages.
A chilling tale of strange repetitions and patterns is the place we find ourselves in The Place Where It Always Rains by James Everington. Funereal rain and melancholy beat down on Gillman each time he returns to his brother’s grave.
A weird figure looks on holding back the wind, beneath him a newly dug hole ever growing. The depths and darkness mirror Gillman’s torment as he tries to assemble random patterns and finally understand his brother’s death. Another remarkable piece of writing by Everington who wrangles the strange with skill and beauty to keep its roar from biting.
The Worm Boy by Simon Dessloch is a slice of brutal darkness brimming with sex and death. The conceit of the pregnant boy that The Trick hires for sex is as astonishing as it is horrific. This tale never pulls a punch in its treatment of the subject. It feels like chewing away the filth from underneath dirty fingernails while managing to floor the reader with a sort of poetic beauty.
A fantastic idea well executed. I’ll certainly be looking out for Simon Dessloch in the future.
Can you really have an anthology about anything? Is the question Adrain Middleton posed to Theresa Derwin in the introduction of Potatoes. Well of course you can and this proves it. Whether a reader can live on potatoes alone however needs examining further.
Well and Truly Sporked by Matthew Sylvester is a spud dug up served unwashed with gritty soil rumbling onto the plate. A hard-knock tale set in the land of loan sharks and violence. A competent story that uses the potato theme well and leaves a nice little after taste with a neat reveal at the end.
Stewart Hotston creates a novel idea of multiverse hopping in his story The Eye of the Potato. A single location scene of a mini-mart during a robbery adds to the siege feeling of the story. This is one of the most inventive story ideas in the anthology and after a slow start really kicks into something highly entertaining.
Eyes of God by Marion Pitman is a subtle story of worship and loyalty. A folk tale about gods and sacrifice is written well enough to work using potatoes as the theme. A stunning conclusion will leave the reader wondering how the lowly veg could be so dramatic. In the hands of Pitman this is indeed possible.
The Collectors by Sue Mayfield Geiger reads like Toy Story 3 on acid. A fun tale that plays with existing characters to good effect.
A Tuberous Anomaly by Benjamin T. Smith is a battle tale based on potato puns. This story wasn’t really my cup of tea and I think it relied far too heavily on the theme without broadening out the focus. Though it was fun.
Conversely King Edward’s Mine by Bob Lock uses potato puns just enough to make it work. Again not my kind of story but written well enough. This is a ripping adventure with some nice comedic touches.
Eye for an Eye by Matthew Scott Baker is a revenge tale that deals with trust and paedophiles like Anna Taborsk’s story in Worms. This is a more subtle take but works just as well. A very short tale that packs a lot of disturbing ideas into those few pages.
Dicky’s Potatoes by J.M. Cochrane is a story balanced on the final reveal. While this can often be a dangerous route to take the story itself is short enough for it to work.
Jessica McHugh takes a completely different approach to the theme in her story Domestic Hate. She takes us to the fields, pulls back the leaves and shows us the society of dung beetles that survive on potatoes. This is a society at war with farmers, the elements, internal conflict and snotty boys who want to kill bugs. Domestic Hate has a real message of fairness and equality growing from the roots of fun. A great read from Jessica McHugh.
Eyes by Rebecca Fung is one of the stories that really utilises the theme. A kitchen sink soap opera seen through the eyes, well heard at first then one eye, of an abandoned potato. The narrative of a potato POV is odd at times but Fung deals with the arc of the newlywed’s life well enough to sustain the technique.
Land of the Potato by Pauline E. Dungate is like a travelogue rather than a story. Beautifully written and able to transport the reader to Equador and the lush and rich nature of that land. This came at just the right point in the book and was a welcome breather.
The Potato Mafia is a quick read that deals with the paranoia of a great inventor who has grown the world’s biggest spud. Not really sure what to make of this as it feels a little confused about what it wants to be. But the ending did leave a smile on my face.
Tater by Dana Wright deals with addiction, which I thought is an odd choice for a potato story but when you think of it we all eat these things most days. In a world of obesity the French Fry is (Burger) king.
One Potato, Two Potato by Lisamarie Lamb is one of the strongest stories in the book. It could easily be a Twilight Zone episode or a Tales From the Crypt comic strip. Thankfully it’s a story beautifully written by Lamb. This is a writer in full command of her art. The journey from the common or garden, quite literally in this case, to the man broken by obsession is deftly written. The potato is this story is used just right. A slight connection that helps it move away from comedy or puns. Great work by Lisamarie Lamb.
New Skin by Lizz-Ayn Shaarawi is another campfire tale written well. A fantastic ending will leave the reader grinning at the darkly delicious playfulness of it all.
Killing Ghosts by Angeline Trevena is like a dystopian YA treatment of the potato theme. A sort of Hunger Games with spuds. But lazy comparisons apart this is quite a novel idea and expertly written. The characters, the setting and the unfolding tension are all drawn well. This could easily be a sketch for a larger work and I did hope to reader more from Angeline Trevena soon.
The Banshee’s Egg by Phil Sloman is the winner for me in this book and highlights exactly how a theme should be treated. He’s whittled down the jump word into a thin spike which he used to pin down his ideas. This is my favourite story in the book and one writers should look to when thinking of how to utilise a worded theme. A story so well developed I actually thought the story of the Banshee’s Egg was based on a real folktale. So much so I researched it and was delighted to discover this is a new lore for us to enjoy. Clever, witty and written in a style that makes me know Phil Sloman has a lot to offer in the world of strange tales and horror. Every character, location and scene was written beautifully but more important it was connected flawlessly into a rock solid story. This is one I will certainly be reading again.
So there you have it. Two anthologies, two theme words and a lot stories. For quality of product, editors, cover art and care taken I would have to call it a draw. While Potatoes had some of my favourite stories from both anthologies there were a lot more to choose from. Both books had moments of excellence and low points. That’s usually true with most collections though. If I had to choose one book to read all the way through again I would choose Worms. A shorter read with more consistent quality. However Potatoes had contained three of my favourite stories.
So no TKO but points to both books. So now it’s over to you. Do you prefer Worms or Potatoes? Share this link and/or use #PotsvWorms for your chance to win a copy of both books.