Early Review: Carniepunk (anthology) by Rachel Caine, Jennifer Estep, Kevin Hearne

July 18, 2013 Review 1

Early Review: Carniepunk (anthology) by Rachel Caine, Jennifer Estep, Kevin HearneCarniepunk by Allison Pang, Delilah S. Dawson, Hillary Jacques, Jackie Kessler, Jaye Wells, Jennifer Estep, Kelly Gay, Kelly Meding, Kevin Hearne, Mark Henry, Nicole Peeler, Rachel Caine, Rob Thurman, Seanan McGuire
Published by Gallery Books on July 23, 2013
Genres: Fantasy, Steampunk, Urban Fantasy
Format: Paperback
Pages: 448 pages
Source: Publisher
Sexual Content: mild sex scenes, kissing, references to sex
Reviewed by: Kristina
4 Stars

A star-studded urban fantasy anthology featuring bestselling authors Rachel Caine, Rob Thurman, Seanan McGuire, Jennifer Estep, and Kevin Hearne, whose stories explore the creepy, mysterious, and, yes, sometimes magical world of traveling carnivals.

The traveling carnival is a leftover of a bygone era, a curiosity lurking on the outskirts of town. It is a place of contradictions—the bright lights mask the peeling paint; a carnie in greasy overalls slinks away from the direction of the Barker’s seductive call. It is a place of illusion—is that woman’s beard real? How can she live locked in that watery box?

And while many are tricked by sleight of hand, there are hints of something truly magical going on. One must remain alert and learn quickly the unwritten rules of this dark show. To beat the carnival, one had better have either a whole lot of luck or a whole lot of guns—or maybe some magic of one’s own.

Featuring stories grotesque and comical, outrageous and action-packed, Carniepunk is the first anthology to channel the energy and attitude of urban fantasy into the bizarre world of creaking machinery, twisted myths, and vivid new magic.

PAINTED LOVE by Rob Thurman- 4/5

This was a great story to start this anthology out with as it gives you the flavor of carnival life with its descriptions of sleazy carnies and weird, almost creepy relationships they have with each other. PAINTED LOVE’s narrator, Doddle, was a weirdly passive and silent character and throughout most of the story I was constantly trying to figure out what his deal was. After pages of people talking at him and his chronic passivity in some dire situations I started to get very annoyed with him. Luckily the surprise twist ending involving Doddle’s identity had me smiling and going back to rethink the various interactions in PAINTED LOVE.

THE THREE LIVES OF LYDIA by Delilah S. Dawson- 3/5

This is a short story based in Dawson’s Blud series which presents a dark, surreal, carnival in an alternate world/dimension. The Blud series has a very compelling synopsis though not being already familiar with the characters and the world I couldn’t really connect with this story in any  significant way. Along with the confusing storyline and writing style, THE THREE LIVES OF LYDIA ended up becoming a little too dark and depressing in the end to really enjoy.


This was a nice little taste of everything I love about the Iron Druid series with prickly earth Elementals, bizarre demon bad guys, and Atticus’ loyal and hilarious dog, Oberon, who gets to help save the day in this adventure. There is tons of action and danger for Atticus and his student Granuaile with nice touches of Oberon’s hilarious comments. This story is mostly set in a carnival side show and by the end validated the creep vibe I get when I walk by one in real life. While its not necessary to have read the Iron Druid series it might help to get a better understanding of the world building.

THE SWEETER THE JUICE by Mark Henry- 1/5

My notes on this story consisted of many question marks as I was equally grossed out and confused about what I just read. The transexual narrator was a novel idea and I was more than happy to follow this character around to gain some insight into transexual lives. But the confusing plot slowly became an over-the-top-gross horror story involving  drugs, and zombies with no hint of a carnival setting until the very end which felt tacked on to fit into the general ‘carnival’ theme of the anthology.

THE WEREWIFE by Jaye Wells- 2/5

I enjoyed the concept of this story with a husband and wife dealing with her werewolf curse though it had a little too much fun with cliched ‘time of the month’ jokes. The demon ringmaster  fulfilling people’s wishes in horribly twisted ways was a fun idea that I would have liked to see fleshed out more. At first the husband and wife came off as kind of sympathetic which was short lived as they slowly became a horribly bitter and nasty couple who deserved the ringmaster’s wrath.

THE COLD GIRL by Rachel Caine- 3/5

This was a dark YA story that looked at the horrible things teens can do to each other and is a deliciously satisfying tale of revenge. THE COLD GIRL had just the right mix of horror and YA urban fantasy though the story wasn’t really anything new or interesting compared to the other stories in this anthology.

A DUET WITH DARKNESS by Allison Pang- 4/5

I loved the violin duels and deals with the devil in A DUET WITH DARKNESS along with the excellent descriptions of synesthesia which the main character has. There was a wonderful mix of faries, carnivals, and music and I would have probably enjoyed it more if I was more familiar with the Abby Sinclair series.

RECESSION OF THE DIVINE by Hillary Jaques- 2/5

This story had Greek goddesses, muses, and shady carnies vying for more money and power. I just could not get into this story as it moved really slowly. There was also a ton of inner monologuing which made an already dragging and confusing story harder to get through. Perhaps if this was expanded into a full length novel or even a novella there would be room to make a more engaging plot but it didn’t work for me.

PARLOR TRICKS Jennifer Estep- 4/5

Even if you aren’t familiar with the Elemental Assassin series you will really enjoy this missing person’s case set in a carnival. For those not familiar with the characters, PARLOR TRICKS gives you just enough information to understand this world and who Gin and Bria are. Gin and her sister Bria take a break from battling super powered bad guys to find a missing girl but like many of Gin’s adventures, this story becomes sinister. I loved seeing Gin and Bria work together and use their elemental powers.

FREAK HOUSE by Kelly Meding- 4/5

This was a really fun story with supernaturals being captured and displayed in a carnival freak show. FREAK HOUSE has some awesome worldbuilding, great pacing, and a fun half-djinn lead character. I am hoping this is a tasting of a full series because I want to read more of this world.

THE INSIDE MAN by Nicole Peeler- 4/5

This story is a little confusing for those not familiar with the Jane True series, but the story is fun and wacky enough to entertain even the uninitiated. It's fast paced, action filled and has an evil soul stealing clown who made me finally understand the creep factor of clowns.

A CHANCE IN HELL by Jackie Kessler- 4/5

A part of the Hell on Earth series, ex-demon Jezebel and her roommate go to a carnival to help Jez connect more with humanity and end up neck deep in demons. I really enjoyed this story and Jezebel is a really fun, sexy, resourceful character. A CHANCE IN HELL flows well and has a ton of wit though it would have been better if I was familiar with the characters in the series.

HELL’S MENAGERIE by Kelly Gay- 3/5

Part of the Charlie Madigan series, HELL’S MENAGERIE makes me want to put this series on the top of my TBR pile. The story centers on Charile’s daughter Emma saving some hellhound puppies from an evil carnie and that description alone is worth a peek at this delightfully well written story.


This was a really engaging and beautifully written story of the daughter of a mermaid growing up in a carnival. The mermaid mythology is cleverly played around with and I enjoyed piecing together the mother’s past as they return to her hometown. The writing is strong and had me entranced to the tragically beautiful ending.

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One Response to “Early Review: Carniepunk (anthology) by Rachel Caine, Jennifer Estep, Kevin Hearne”

  1. Jo-Fluidity of Time

    Nice to read your thoughts on the book. I ordered it for my public library and saw that it just came in, so I’m going to grab it for a read. It sounds like overall, there are some good stories in here.