Hand’s specialty is the novella, tales of roughly 10,000 to 40,000 words — perhaps the perfect length for this sort of story, as it allows for the gradual development of a fantastic premise while sustaining the engrossing spell of a single-sitting read ... While this may be a wonderful length for a strange story, however, it makes the project of collecting them rather problematic since it’s hard to fit very many between two covers ... Happily, when the publisher is Subterranean, one of the most reliable small presses in the field, the solution is to release a very large book: 550 pages of Hand’s superlative stories, including a full six of her major novellas ... To be honest, though, most of the shorter pieces in the book are somewhat forgettable ... Judging by the evidence of the contents gathered here, Hand’s fertile imagination does not lend itself comfortably to a constrained compass ... The setup is classic Hand, with one person’s weird obsession gradually infecting and recruiting others, a pattern recapitulated in several of the book’s entries ... Personally, I have to admit that I found all the whiffs of patchouli oil and pot smoke faintly nauseating, but there is no denying the hypnotic power Hand can summon from the smoldering remains ... her uncanny ability to convey the texture of a character’s thoughts or the reality of an imagined environment through olfactory information ... The result is a sensual richness that gives Hand’s writing an arresting savor and a palpable density. In terms of the cumulative effect, I think I can smell another World Fantasy Award for best collection of the year.
Here the comfort doesn’t derive from the content of the fiction – there are decidedly unsettling and even brutal moments in the work of both writers – but from its execution. It’s the simple comfort of knowing you’re in supremely competent hands, and it’s the sort of comfort I found myself feeling before opening either book, or even glancing at the table of contents. There is, of course, some curiosity as to whether familiar tales will hold up on a return visit, and whether the unfamiliar ones would live up to expectations. In both volumes, while a few stories seemed decidedly minor in compared to others, I’m happy to report that my initial sense of assurance was not misplaced: I found myself re-reading stories I hadn’t expected to re-read, simply because they drew me in all over again ... Despite this variety of genres and modes, Hand’s fiction is distinctively recognizable in a number of ways ... While these vernacular tales demonstrate the tonal range already apparent in Hand’s novels, they’re also the least characteristic stories here ... it’s hard to argue with an elegant masterpiece like this, or with the balanced overview of Hand’s varied talents that the always-reliable editor Bill Sheehan has assembled here.
The 14 stories of this superior collection showcase the versatility of World Fantasy and Nebula Award–winner Hand while demonstrating an ear for prose that elevates genre tropes to transcendent levels ... Hand gracefully handles trauma, telling the story of a female entomology student who undergoes an unusual transformation in the aftermath of being raped. Readers will be blown away.