Summary: The Doll Collection is exactly what it sounds like: a treasured toy box of all-original dark stories about dolls of all types, including everything from puppets and poppets to mannequins and baby dolls. Featuring everything from life-sized clockwork dolls to all-too-human Betsy Wetsy-type baby dolls, these stories play into the true creepiness of the doll trope, but avoid the clichés that often show up in stories of this type.Master anthologist Ellen Datlow has assembled a list of beautiful and terrifying stories from bestselling and critically acclaimed authors such as Joyce Carol Oates, Seanan McGuire, Carrie Vaughn, Pat Cadigan, Tim Lebbon, Richard Kadrey, Genevieve Valentine, and Jeffrey Ford. The collection is illustrated with photographs of dolls taken by Datlow and other devoted doll collectors from the science fiction and fantasy field. The result is a star-studded collection exploring one of the most primal fears of readers of dark fiction everywhere, and one that every reader will want to add to their own collection.
Thoughts: Dolls. You either like them or they creep you out on some level. Miniature humans in plastic or porcelain, they have a place in just about everyone’s lives. At some point in your life, you probably owned a doll, whether it was some collectible item you put on a shelf and admired from afar, or a hand-sewn ragdoll that was loved to death over the years. They’ve touched us, as individuals and as a culture. And The Doll Collection takes us on a spine-tingling ride through numerous short stories all about them, but with one proviso: no stories about “evil dolls.” It’s a fallback. The doll possessed by a malicious ghost demon or that steals the soul of is owner or some such cliché. There’s none of that here. All stories involve dolls in some way or another, and all are creepy, but there’s no fallback on old and tired themes, and that gives this collection a wonderfully fresh and original feeling.
As always, some stories were stronger than others, but impressively, all the stories here were quite strong, and even when I didn’t expect to enjoy them so much due to prior experience with some authors’ works, I ended up surprised and impressed by how much I really did like what I read. Just goes to show that sometimes first impressions can be dead wrong, and I love being confronted with that when it yields new good fiction to read! But there were some amazing stories here, some true gems of the genre!
Seanan McGuire’s There is No Place for Sorrow in the Kingdom of the Cold is probably the best example of this, and a stand-out offering in this anthology. Taking beautiful and expensive ball-jointed dolls and turning them into something powerful and ancient and disturbing was a stroke of genius, especially the way she did it, and I would pick up this book for that story alone! Trigger warning: there’s physical abuse from a too-smug [expletive] in this story, so it may well turn your stomach in some places, but the revenge ending was quite satisfying. Beautiful, dark, and haunting.
But Joyce Carol Oates’s The Doll Master? Miranda Siemienowicz‘s After and Back Before? Richard Bowes’s Doll Court? Lucy Sussex’s Miss Sibyl-Cassandra? All amazing stories, all a treat to read! Mary Robinette Kowal’s Doctor Faustus is the very reason that I’ve thought I couldn’t swear allegiance to any gods or demons while acting; you never know what will happen as a result. Pat Cadigan’s In Case of Zebras shows why sometimes the young sees things that adults brush off, and why they should be paying attention.
I think it’s the sheer variety of stories here that really makes the collection shine. When you give people a limitation in what they can write, it forces a stretch of the imagination, forces one to think outside the box, and you can get some wonderful creative and varied stories as a result. That’s the joy of The Doll Collection. Every story may involve dolls, to a greater or smaller degree, but that’s the only thing that connects them besides a general feel of the supernatural or macabre. It’s prefect for a quick dip into many authors’s writing styles, what they can do with words and a connecting theme, and I loved it.
If you buy any one anthology this month, it ought to be this one. There’s very little to be disappointed by and so many things to impress you, whether you’re a fan of dark fiction, the supernatural, or just damn good stories. Datlow worked wonders with this idea and the selection of submitted stories, and the authors pulled out all the stops to make this a fantastic collection. Highly recommended for those nights when the rain is pouring, the wind is howling, and you want a little more tingle in your spine.
(Received for review from the publisher.)