Book: “Mestiza Blood” by V. Castro
Publishing Info: Flame Tree Press, January 2022
Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.
Book Description: From the lauded author of The Queen of the Cicadas (which picked up starred reviews from PW, Kirkus and Booklist who called her “a dynamic and innovative voice”) comes a short story collection of nightmares, dreams, desire and visions focused on the Chicana experience. V.Castro weaves urban legend, folklore, life experience and heartache in this personal journey beginning in south Texas: a bar where a devil dances the night away; a street fight in a neighborhood that may not have been a fight after all; a vengeful chola at the beginning of the apocalypse; mind swapping in the not so far future; satan who falls and finds herself in a brothel in Amsterdam; the keys to Mictlan given to a woman after she dies during a pandemic. The collection finishes with two longer tales: The Final Porn Star is a twist on the final girl trope and slasher, with a creature from Mexican folklore; and Truck Stop is an erotic horror romance with two hearts: a video store and a truck stop.
Review: Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this short story collection!
I wrapped up 2021’s Horrorpalooza with a review of V. Castro’s “The Queen of the Cicadas”, and while I thought it had some great moments I found myself wanting more. So when I saw that Castro had a new collection of short horror stories coming out called “Mestiza Blood”, I was more than willing to jump past my hot and cold relationship with short story anthologies to give her another chance. And I’m glad that I did, because “Mestiza Blood” had a lot of really great stories that cover a huge variety of horror themes! I’m going to do the usual format I do with short story collections, by showcasing my favorite three stories first, and then doing a wrap up of the collection in general (but I MUST say that I had a hard time choosing just three favorites… Yep, that’s how strong this collection is).
“Donkey Lady Bridge”
The set up grabbed me from the jump: A woman named Jackie is walking home drunk from the bar, and finds herself crossing a notorious local bridge that has the urban legend of the Donkey Lady attached to it. A deformed and screaming spectre, the Donkey Lady has a lot of potential origin stories, and lots of people who hope to see her. Jackie has never believed in her…. until she has an encounter with The Donkey Lady that changes the course of her life. I’m a huge sucker for urban legend horror as we all know, and there was one particular moment in this story where I said out loud ‘Jesus CHRIST’ because it was so unsettling and scary. Castro’s descriptions of the Donkey Lady are terrifying and disturbing, and the story goes in a direction that I totally didn’t expect. For me this was probably the scariest story in the book.
“The Most Wonderful Time of the Year”
Christmas wasn’t so long ago, and I found myself relating a LOT to this story about a stressed out mother during the holidays who finds herself propositioned by a demon to make her life easier. At a price, of course. This past Christmas was a stressful one for me, between getting back together with family, taking on a number of cooking tasks, and having to coordinate rapid testing to keep my ineligible to be vaccinated kid as protected as possible in a sea of uncertainty about Omicron. So yeah, I REALLY felt how the Mother in the story would be tempted by a demon who promises lofty things. There are also a lot of really funny moments in this tale, as well as vulnerable ones that really nail how hard motherhood can be during a time of year where everything has to be magical. This story definitely feels more heartwarming than I expected, which fit pretty well since it’s a Christmas story. Even if it looks at Christmas like it’s the flawed and high stress holiday that it is.
“The Final Porn Star”
A little bit of a ‘cabin in the woods’ tale, a little bit of Mexican folklore, and a lot of slasher fun come together to make “The Final Porn Star”. Thalia Sanchez is a well loved and popular porn star who is nearing retirement, hoping to spend more time with her daughter and to settle into a less harried life. Her last shoot is in a large, glamorous house in the middle of nowhere, and it seems like a standard shoot with colleagues she loves. But then they start finding mutilated animals on set. And it becomes clear that none of them are safe from a creature that is stalking them. I loved Thalia as our protagonist, and I loved seeing the cast and crew slowly realize that they are in danger as something hunts them. Castro hits a lot of fun slasher tropes but makes them feel fresh by using La Lechuza, a monstrous bird with the head of a crone, as the monster in the tale. It’s bloody, it’s fun, it’s sex positive, and it achieves everything it wants to.
And as mentioned above, there were lots of great stories to pick from! Even the ones that didn’t quite connect (there were only two or three at most) were more because of the genre choices as opposed to the storytelling itself. Castro has a really diverse collection here that truly has something for just about any horror fan.
“Mestiza Blood” is a lot of gory and scary fun. If you are a horror lover and haven’t looked into V. Castro yet, this may be the moment to do so.
Rating 8: A varied and creepy collection of stories that range from scary to funny to touching, “Mestiza Blood” is an enjoyable compilation by V. Castro.
“Mestiza Blood” is included on the Goodreads list “Horror To Look Forward To in 2022”.