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Pretty Monsters by Kelly Link

Pretty Monsters by Kelly Link
Book Name: Pretty Monsters
Author: Kelly Link
Publisher(s): Canongate (UK) Speak (USA)
Formatt: Hardcover / Paperback / Audio Book / eBook
Genre(s): Fantasy
Release Date: June 10, 2010

Kelly Link is not a name that is commonly heard when discussing contemporary fantasy writers as too often these discussions are populated with names like Rothfuss and Pratchett and R. R. Martin. Link’s name is always there though, you just have to listen carefully. Her name is the one lurking in the shadows and being whispered excitedly by people who all feel as if they share in a wonderful secret. She is the literary equivalent of being at a party and saying that you like the film Moon or In Bruges or the music of Amanda Palmer. Some people will wave it away but those in the know will feel an overwhelming need to talk to you, ask your opinions and share the love for something amazing. This is because Kelly Link produces a rare kind of magic.

The Specialist’s Hat by Shaun TanPretty Monsters is a beautifully twisted collection of short stories and I really don’t use either of these words lightly. It opens with the line, “Anyone might accidentally dig up the wrong grave…” and what follows is filled with ghosts in pockets, warring siblings, a kid called Onion, stories within stories and deadly monsters with a sense of humour.

All of these tales come across at first as wonderfully wicked bedtime stories. They have all the window dressing of kid’s stories with magic and monsters and an intimate understanding of teenage angst, but these yarns are written first and foremost for adults.

The Hugo and Nebula winning The Faery Handbag for example, tells of a woman who carries around a handbag that contains her entire race of people as well as the man-eating dog that was skinned to make the bag.

The Wizards Of Perfil is a great study in humanity with all the futility, irritation and wonder that comes with it and is possibly my favourite story in the collection.

Then again, the story called Monster was a twisted kind of amazing and is about a group of kids on a camping holiday who get gobbled up by a deadly and fun-loving monster.

The Specialist’s Hat is another stunner and is one of the most gorgeously haunting short stories I have ever read. It also won the World Fantasy Award, which ain’t too shabby either.

I think that strangest story for me, has to be the Nebula winning Magic For Beginners. This one is about a boy and his friends who love a TV show that seems to be able to play anywhere, at any time and might not actually be from this dimension at all. It also has a Vegas wedding chapel, a painting and a road trip. Magic For Beginners is an eclectic mix that works and is possibly the story that will keep you thinking for the longest time afterwards.

Kelly Link writes with the kind of skill, flare and style that is so often reserved only for the finest literature. Link has a poetic style that flows hypnotically and actually reminds me a lot of Neil Gaiman. It is a style that at first seems quite simple, to the point and indicative of a great story teller but slowly you realise that there is true genius permeating every paragraph, as if there really is magic in her words.

Link can blend fantasy, horror, real life and humour smoothly into something that is not only readable but is also compelling. She makes her ideas seem almost obviously natural, as if asking, “why the hell shouldn’t these things be happening in the ‘real’ world?” Why the hell not indeed, I love it.

This style is complimented perfectly by the sheer wealth of incredible stuff that is going on in her stories. I could talk for hours on how Link’s ideas set my mind alight but instead I’ll chose a terrible simile. Kelly Link’s ideas made my imagination foam like a flatulent goblin’s bathwater – filled full of small and constant bubbles of surprise with the constant threat that something more sinister could appear at any moment.

There is very little deadwood in this collection. Of course, there are some stories that I didn’t enjoy quite as much as others but that’s always going to be the case with any collection of stories, that’s the beauty of it. If you find something you don’t get on with, just turn a few pages until you find something else. Sometimes the storylines can feel a little too convoluted for something so short and occasionally you find yourself wanting a few hundred words more just to round the story off perfectly but on the whole, it’s pretty hard to pick much fault at all with Pretty Monsters.

What also works (with the UK edition I have anyway) is just how much the book itself helps to create a truly impressive package. I know this shouldn’t factor in to a review but this book truly looks and feels like a celebration of what a book can be. The cover design is simply stunning and is echoed again a few pages in. Then, before each story, there is a small picture that sums up the coming story along with a small, relevant caption. This isn’t a new idea I know, but I have never seen it done so well. It drags you into a story that you might not bother with due to a crappy title. Case in point, the afore mentioned The Faery Handbag. Now, that is not a title that grabs me, however, the picture that accompanies the story is a big, furry handbag hungrily eating an old lady. There was no way I wasn’t going to find out what was happening.

So how to tie this up?

Well, usually I like to lend out and pass on books I love. However, I do have a shelf for the books that I treasure the most and no one gets to take these books. Pretty Monsters is going firmly on this shelf.

You see, Pretty Monsters is bonkers and scary and crazy while also being funny and beautiful and touching, and as a result, it is everything you could ever want from a collection of short fantasy stories.

Head over to Kelly’s website for more information and a free download of the story Magic For Beginners. Pencil illustrations are from Pretty Monsters and are by Shaun Tan.



  1. Nice review, I will now have to root around in my dog-skin purse for some money; I have a book to buy.

    I understand what you mean about the book making an impressive package, my edition of Susannah Clarke’s The Ladies of Grace Adieu is so pretty it made me like the stories more.

    Now… off to buy the book.

  2. Larik says:

    Great review. I’ll definitely check it out after finishing the Best Weird Tales of H.P. Lovecraft.

  3. Evie Manieri says:

    I rarely read short stories, but this sounds so great I’m going to have to check it out. (And I loved both Moon and In Bruges, so you had me from the first paragraph!)

  4. Masha says:

    Oh yes! I took this out from the library because I liked the cover – had never heard of Kelly Link before – and was hooked from the first story.

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