Twice Cursed (Marie O’Regan & Paul Kane)- Book Review

In 2020 Titan Books published a darkly magical anthology book called Cursed, edited by authors Marie O’Regan and Paul Kane. It brought together a plethora of talented writers to tell twisted and grim tales about people under the spell of magical curses. Now, three years later, it looks like readers have been cursed a second time, cursed to read even more fantastic stories (is it still a curse if it’s a good thing?) as their new collection, Twice Cursed, is released.

Much like last time, this collection brings together a number of well known, award winning authors to craft stories based around the age old superstition of curses. There are a few writers who’ve actually made a return for this new volume, including Neil Gaiman, M.R. Carey, but most of the sixteen authors are new to the series this time round, and Twice Cursed acts as a wonderful follow-up to the first book, showcasing even more great names in the field of horror, and dark fantasy.

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Cursed opened with a new take on Snow White, and whilst this volume begins differently, with a short four page tale from the wonderful Joanne Harris, the second story returns to familiar ground with yet another interpretation of this classic tale. Written by Gaiman, ‘Snow, Glass, Apples’ is told from the point of view of the ‘evil’ stepmother. A young woman who falls in love with the recently widowed King, the unnamed narrator moves into the castle after marrying the now single father. Taking on responsibilities not just as wife and monarch, but as a mother, she soon comes to fear the child living within the castle; the deathly pale little girl who bites her and sucks upon the wound.

When the King passes away, withered and drained, the new Queen orders for her stepdaughter to be taken out into the woods and killed, her heart brought back as proof. With the still beating heart delivered to her, the Queen knows that despite her orders, the cursed child is still somehow alive, and must take further steps to destroy the vampiric monster. Gaiman’s prose is wonderfully written, and immediately takes the reader into a dark world, filled with twisted versions of characters that we know. The choice to make Snow White the monster, and the stepmother the victim trying to save her kingdom is a genius twist upon the tale, and the narrative will go places that you can’t predict.

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There are a number of stories in this collection that follow a similar theme, of dark fantasy worlds that feel like nightmare infused fairy tales. One that immediately stands out is ‘The Confessors Tale’ by Sarah Pinborough. Set in some long ago time, this story focuses on Arkaday Melanov, a young man whose tongue was stolen when he was a baby. There are conflicting tales about how the boy lost his tongue, whether it was a wild wolf that ripped it out, or if his mother went insane and did it to him, but either way, the young boy grew up unable to speak.

Not being able to speak, people soon begin to talk to Arkaday, unloading their secrets and dark confessions on him, knowing that he will never pass them on. When he’s given a strange puzzle made of bone not long after his father dies, people begin to die after telling him their confessions. I can’t say more without spoiling this story, but this was easily my favourite in the book. It takes a turn towards the end that made me yell out loud, unwilling to believe that it had done what it did. The fact that it connects to a very well known horror story makes it a particular stand out, and a moment of pure shock when reading.

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The book doesn’t just stick to the past, or to fantasy settings, as there are several stories in the collection that take place in our own world, that show a darker side to the lives we’re all familiar with. M.R. Carey’s ‘Mister Thirteen’ follows a group of people afflicted by different curses, who have come together to form a support group to help each other through the difficulties their curses bring. There’s someone whose body begins to unravel like twine, a man whose food turns to ash in his mouth, and woman who will die die unless they pass their curse on to an innocent person. Then, one day a new member arrives, a man who can’t give his name but calls himself Mister Thirteen, a man who was cursed to live forever, hundreds of years ago; unfortunately, he’s not come to the group for support. This is one of the more unusual stories in the book, as it not only turns curses into ordinary, almost mundane parts of life, but also poses the question of what if on occasion a curse might not be a bad thing.

‘Dark Carousel’ by Joe Hill is one of the longer stories in the book, but it doesn’t feel like it’s taking up masses of room, nor does it overstay its welcome. This story tells the tale of a group of teenage friends and the night their lives went to hell in the summer of 1994. These two couples spend their day hanging out at a seaside amusement pier, one of them ready to leave for college soon, and another off to join the military. The four of them are trying to make the most of their time together whilst they have it.

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The quartet come across a creepy carousel at the end of the pier, one with twisted horses, monstrous sea creatures, and other dark monstrosities to ride. The teens have fun on the carousel, but when one of them realises their money is missing, and they decide that the ride operator is responsible, it sets them on a course of action that leads to a terrible outcome. This story takes its time to reveal the horror at the heart of it, instead letting the reader get to know the characters, their lives, and the world that they inhabit. Because of this, you almost forget that this is a story about curses, and when the awful things finally begin to happen it’s something of a surprise; a nightmare thrown into a world of normality.

‘Just Your Standard Haunted Doll Drama’ by Kelley Armstrong, as the title suggests, doesn’t really take itself too seriously; at least in the sense that it’s not a story that revels in horror or the supernatural. This story centres on a young woman who owns a shop that sells formerly cursed items. She’s able to remove the curses placed onto things thanks to her family’s magical heritage, and does some good by doing so too. Her younger sister has grown up with a love for creepy dolls, and with her birthday coming up she’s enlisted the help of her rich boyfriend to find a creepy cursed doll to give her as a present; a cursed doll that isn’t too cursed mind you.

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However, when they come across a very disturbing looking doll it turns out that they may have bitten off more than they can chew. This story feels like something plucked from the middle of a long running supernatural drama series, and could be an episode of television. The characters are all really well formed, their world and their lives feel fleshed out, and it’s almost like taking a snapshot from a much larger narrative. Armstrong has written several supernatural drama series in her time, and it’s clear from this short story that she’s very good at it. If this kind of thing is something you enjoy, this story will definitely make you want to check out more of her work.

Twice Cursed takes the concept of the first collection and does it all over again, but never feels like it’s giving the same kind of stories, or is content to do the bare minimum. The tales collected here all feel incredibly different, with different styles, settings, and tones, yet fit together incredibly well, giving what feels like a broad overview of how a simple prompt like a curse can result in so many different kinds of stories when given to talented writers.

Twice Cursed is out on 18th April from Titan Books.

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