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The Poison Eaters: And Other Stories

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Overview

Poisonous girls whose kisses will kill. A fateful eating contest with the devil. Faeries who return to Ironside, searching for love. A junior prom turned bacchanalia. In twelve short stories, eerie and brimming with suspense and unexpected humor, Holly Black twists the fantastical creatures you thought you knew in ways you’ll never expect.

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Overview

Poisonous girls whose kisses will kill. A fateful eating contest with the devil. Faeries who return to Ironside, searching for love. A junior prom turned bacchanalia. In twelve short stories, eerie and brimming with suspense and unexpected humor, Holly Black twists the fantastical creatures you thought you knew in ways you’ll never expect.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
This first short story collection from a favorite writer of dark YA fantasy features 10 previously published tales and two original stories. “The Coldest Girl in Coldtown” tells the story of Matilda, who has been bitten by a vampire and knows that the only way to remain human is to stay “drunk. Stupid drunk. Whatever drunk she could get,” and avoid consuming blood for 88 days. The masterful “The Coat of Stars” concerns Rafael, a gay costume designer who, having lost the boy of his dreams to the faeries, discovers a way to regain him. And the brief but chilling “Going Ironside” concerns an elf girl who has come to our world to get pregnant (“We thought it would be easy.... Find a boy. Roll around in the grass. Dash back. What a prank!”), but has succumbed to heroin addiction. Black (the Good Neighbors series) proves equally adept at urban fantasy and more traditional fairy tales, and her stories often feature the edgy sexuality and angst that have become her trademarks. Ages 14–up. (Mar.)
School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up—This collection of 12 short stories is sure to satisfy readers who crave something magical. Black's got all the supernatural bases covered: vampires, fairies, an elf, a unicorn, wolves, the devil, and a spell-wielding high school Latin club. Included is a tale of a boy tempted to eat a flower that he's read can turn him into a werewolf, as well as a story set in a world where vampirism is like an infectious disease and a girl resists the urge for blood by numbing her desire with alcohol. All but two of the stories have appeared elsewhere, including in Deborah Noyes's The Restless Dead (Candlewick) and David Levithan and Daniel Ehrenhaft's 21 Proms (Scholastic, both 2007). Although they are often centered on bleak, dark characters, the pieces inspire hope, are touching and delightful, and even turn the most ghoulish characters into feeling beings. Some sexual situations and mature settings make this a collection for older teens.—Shawna Sherman, Hayward Public Library, CA
Kirkus Reviews
Black's first story collection assures her place as a modern fantasy master. The two new and ten previously published tales revisit fantasy tropes (faeries, kings, werewolves and even the devil), but in the author's deft hands each of these transforms into something fresh and haunting. Dealing with magic here is a means to understanding and knowing yourself, from the man who must win back his lover, stolen by faeries, and also come out to his family ("Coat of Stars"), to girls who find empowerment, whether by beating the devil at an eating competition ("A Reversal of Fortune") or by using magic to find self-love ("Night Market"). These vampires ("The Coldest Girl in Coldtown") are the antithesis of romantic heroism, and harsh realities like drugs and homelessness coexist with unicorns and magic. The two standouts, the title story and "The Dog King," both mix horror and high fantasy into some rare magic; in other tales, plangent loss reverberates ("Virgin," "Paper Cuts Scissors" and "Going Ironside"). Sly humor, vivid characters, each word perfectly chosen: These stories deserve reading again and again. (Short stories/fantasy. 13 & up)
From the Publisher

“Black’s first story collection assures her place as a modern fantasy master…. Sly humor, vivid characters, each word perfectly chosen: These stories deserve reading again and again.”
Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“Black (the Good Neighbors series) proves equally adept at urban fantasy and more traditional fairy tales, and her stories often feature the edgy sexuality and angst that have become her trademarks.”
Publishers Weekly

"Black's got all the supernatural bases covered: vampires, fairies, an elf, a unicorn, wolves, the devil, and a spell-wielding high school Latin club.... Although they are often centered on bleak, dark characters, the pieces inspire hope, are touching and delightful, and even turn the most ghoulish characters into feeling beings."
School Library Journal

"Compelling, rich and engaging."
Bulletin of Ctr for Child Books

"Gritty, grim, and fabulous—Holly is a master of dark magic and dark reality!"
—Tamora Pierce (author of Bloodhound)

"Holly Black is the Real Thing: a gifted writer with a solid grounding in what matters. Her stories are dark and splendid blooms rising from roots sunk deep in myth and tradition."
—Ellen Kushner (author of The Privilege of the Sword)

"Simply put, Holly Black is one of our best writers. Enchanting and edgy, yes, but it's the big heart in her stories that brings me back to her writing, time and again. Reading a new book by Holly is like meeting up with an old friend. They might be a little messed up from the last time you saw them, they might have some serious drama going on in their lives, but the connection is immediate, and when they're packing up to head off again, you don't want to let them go."
—Charles de Lint (author of The Blue Girl)

Praise for Holly Black’s books:

“Black’s series [is] considered to have kick-started the fairy trend in young adult fantasy.”
New York Times Book Review

"Black has an eye for the telling detail that brings the most minor character to life."
Kirkus Reviews (starred)

"Dark, edgy, beautifully written, and compulsively readable, this is sure to be a word-of-mouth hit with teens, even a few usually unmoved by magic and monsters."
Booklist

VOYA - Rachelle Bilz
For those with a penchant for dark, edgy, fantasy fiction, Holly Black, popular YA author of Tithe (Simon & Schuster, 2002/VOYA October 2002) and other novels, offers readers a collection of twelve stories. Ten tales have appeared in anthologies; two appear in print here for the first time. One new story was not included in the advance review copy. Like the Pied Piper, Black entices readers to follow her down paths both fascinating and twisted. A Reversal of Fortune pits a teenager against a devil in a battle of wits; Tomasa must save her sister from an elf's destructive love in The Night Market; an evil high school Latin Club's nefarious plan for prom night must be thwarted in In Vodka Veritas. Paper Cuts Scissors looks at books in a strange new way. A few of the stories, such as Going Ironside, revisit worlds from the author's novels, but readers need not be familiar with Black's lengthier works to enjoy them. Black seamlessly blends reality with the supernatural, creating tales that are sometimes amusing, often hair-raising, and always satisfying. Deftly blending both believable characters and realistic settings, Black serves up heady concoctions for those who like their fairy tales on the chilly side. The graphic nature of some of this collection's stories make it best suited for fantasy fans in senior high school. Reviewer: Rachelle Bilz
School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up—Holly Black's dozen edgy short stories (2011) frequently use first-person point of view to introduce realistic adult and teen characters in tales that feature vampires, a fairy, the devil, and other characters that are sure to surprise. In "Paper Cuts Scissors," a girl climbs into a book as she dumps her boyfriend. "The Coldest Girl in Coldtown" sacrifices herself to live as a vampire to save a boyfriend from an eternal, bloodsucking life. A man makes "The Coat of Stars" and raises a long-dead, homosexual, high school lover. Many of the protagonists are social outcasts, down on their luck, or trying to save others, but almost all deal with adolescent identity struggles. There are unique situations such as an eating competition with the devil in "A Reversal of Fortune" and the use of magic by the Latin club to debauch the prom in "In Vodka Veritas." "The Poison Eaters" live in a mythical place where three female spirits/women are cursed by a kiss or touch that causes death. These tales use vivid, sometimes visceral imagery, but they all reflect aspects of real teen life. The author reads her well-crafted text at an even pace, rarely betraying the emotion in dramatic scenes, but with an overall intensity. Gathered from other anthologies and enhanced by two new stories based in Black's Tithe (2004, both Margaret K. McElderry Bks.), this collection will attract Twilight fans and those seeking fantasy with a literary flair.—Barbara Wysocki, Cora J. Belden Library, Rocky Hill, CT
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781442412323
  • Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
  • Publication date: 3/22/2011
  • Edition description: Original
  • Pages: 224
  • Sales rank: 194,632
  • Age range: 14 - 17 Years
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Holly Black
Holly Black spent her early yearts in a decaying Victorian mansion where her mother fed her a steady diet of ghost stories and faerie tale. An avid collector of rare foldlore volumes, spooky dolls, and crazy hats, she lives in West Long Branch, New Jersey, with her husband, Theo. Visit her website at www.blackholly.com.
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Read an Excerpt


Excerpted from "The Coldest Girl in Coldtown" by Holly Black

Matilda was drunk, but then she was always drunk anymore. Dizzy drunk. Stumbling drunk. Stupid drunk. Whatever kind of drunk she could get.

The man she stood with snaked his hand around her back, warm fingers digging into her side as he pulled her closer. He and his friend with the open-necked shirt grinned down at her like underage equaled dumb, and dumb equaled gullible enough to sleep with them.

She thought they might just be right.

“You want to have a party back at my place?” the man asked. He’d told her his name was Mark, but his friend kept slipping up and calling him by a name that started with a D. Maybe Dan or Dave. They had been smuggling her drinks from the bar whenever they went outside to smoke—drinks mixed sickly sweet that dripped down her throat like candy.

“Sure,” she said, grinding her cigarette against the brick wall. She missed the hot ash in her hand, but concentrated on the alcoholic numbness turning her limbs to lead. Smiled. “Can we pick up more beer?”

They exchanged an obnoxious glance she pretended not to notice. The friend—he called himself Ben—looked at her glassy eyes and her cold-flushed cheeks. Her sloppy hair. He probably made guesses about a troubled home life. She hoped so.

“You’re not going to get sick on us?” he asked. Just out of the hot bar, beads of sweat had collected in the hollow of his throat. The skin shimmered with each swallow.

She shook her head to stop staring. “I’m barely tipsy,” she lied.

“I’ve got plenty of stuff back at my place,” said MarkDanDave. Mardave, Matilda thought and giggled.

“Buy me a 40,” she said. She knew it was stupid to go with them, but it was even stupider if she sobered up. “One of those wine coolers. They have them at the bodega on the corner. Otherwise, no party.”

Both of the guys laughed. She tried to laugh with them even though she knew she wasn’t included in the joke. She was the joke. The trashy little slut. The girl who can be bought for a big fat wine cooler and three cranberry-and-vodkas.

“Okay, okay,” said Mardave.

They walked down the street and she found herself leaning easily into the heat of their bodies, inhaling the sweat and iron scent. It would be easy for her to close her eyes and pretend Mardave was someone else, someone she wanted to be touched by, but she wouldn’t let herself soil her memories of Julian.

They passed by a store with flat-screens in the window, each one showing different channels. One streamed video from Coldtown—a girl who went by the name Demonia made some kind of deal with one of the stations to show what it was really like behind the gates. She filmed the Eternal Ball, a party that started in 1998 and had gone on ceaselessly ever since. In the background, girls and boys in rubber harnesses swung through the air. They stopped occasionally, opening what looked like a modded hospital tube stuck on the inside of their arms just below the crook of the elbow. They twisted a knob and spilled blood into little paper cups for the partygoers. A boy who looked to be about nine, wearing a string of glowing beads around his neck, gulped down the contents of one of the cups and then licked the paper with a tongue as red as his eyes. The camera angle changed suddenly, veering up, and the viewers saw the domed top of the hall, full of cracked windows through which you could glimpse the stars.

“I know where they are,” Mardave said. “I can see that building from my apartment.”

“Aren’t you scared of living so close to the vampires?” she asked, a small smile pulling at the corners of her mouth.

“We’ll protect you,” said Ben, smiling back at her.

“We should do what other countries do and blow those corpses sky high,” Mardave said.

Matilda bit her tongue not to point out that Europe’s vampire hunting led to the highest levels of infection in the world. So many of Belgium’s citizens were vampires that shops barely opened their doors until nightfall. The truce with Coldtown worked. Mostly.

She didn’t care if Mardave hated vampires. She hated them too.

When they got to the store, she waited outside to avoid getting carded and lit another cigarette with Julian’s silver lighter—the one she was going to give back to him in thirty-one days. Sitting down on the curb, she let the chill of the pavement deaden the backs of her thighs. Let it freeze her belly and frost her throat with ice that even liquor couldn’t melt.

Hunger turned her stomach. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d eaten anything solid without throwing it back up. Her mouth hungered for dark, rich feasts; her skin felt tight, like a seed thirsting to bloom. All she could trust herself to eat was smoke.

When she was a little girl, vampires had been costumes for Halloween. They were the bad guys in movies, plastic fangs and polyester capes. They were Muppets on television, endlessly counting.

Now she was the one who was counting. Fifty-seven days. Eighty-eight days. Eighty-eight nights.

“Matilda?”

She looked up and saw Dante saunter up to her, earbuds dangling out of his ears like he needed a soundtrack for everything he did. He wore a pair of skintight jeans and smoked a cigarette out of one of those long, movie-star holders. He looked pretentious as hell. “I’d almost given up on finding you.”

“You should have started with the gutter,” she said, gesturing to the wet, clogged tide beneath her feet. “I take my gutter-dwelling very seriously.”

“Seriously.” He pointed at her with the cigarette holder. “Even your mother thinks you’re dead. Julian’s crying over you.”

Maltilda looked down and picked at the thread of her jeans. It hurt to think about Julian while waiting for Mardave and Ben. She was disgusted with herself, and she could only guess how disgusted he’d be. “I got Cold,” she said. “One of them bit me.”

Dante nodded his head.

That’s what they’d started calling it when the infection kicked in—Cold—because of how cold people’s skin became after they were bitten. And because of the way the poison in their veins caused them to crave heat and blood. One taste of human blood and the infection mutated. It killed the host and then raised it back up again, colder than before. Cold through and through, forever and ever.

“I didn’t think you’d be alive,” he said.

She hadn’t thought she’d make it this long either without giving in. But going it alone on the street was better than forcing her mother to choose between chaining her up in the basement or shipping her off to Coldtown. It was better, too, than taking the chance Matilda might get loose from the chains and attack people she loved. Stories like that were in the news all the time; almost as frequent as the ones about people who let vampires into their homes because they seemed so nice and clean-cut.

“Then what are you doing looking for me?” she asked. Dante had lived down the street from her family for years, but they didn’t hang out. She’d wave to him as she mowed the lawn while he loaded his panel van with DJ equipment. He shouldn’t have been here.

She looked back at the store window. Mardave and Ben were at the counter with a case of beer and her wine cooler. They were getting change from a clerk.

“I was hoping you, er, wouldn’t be alive,” Dante said. “You’d be more help if you were dead.”

She stood up, stumbling slightly. “Well, screw you too.”

It took eighty-eight days for the venom to sweat out a person’s pores. She only had thirty-seven to go. Thirty-seven days to stay so drunk that she could ignore the buzz in her head that made her want to bite, rend, devour.

“That came out wrong,” he said, taking a step toward her. Close enough that she felt the warmth of him radiating off him like licking tongues of flame. She shivered. Her veins sang with need.

“I can’t help you,” said Matilda. “Look, I can barely help myself. Whatever it is, I’m sorry. I can’t. You have to get out of here.”

“My sister Lydia and your boyfriend Julian are gone,” Dante said. “Together. She’s looking to get bitten. I don’t know what
he’s looking for . . . but he’s going to get hurt.”

Matilda gaped at him as Mardave and Ben walked out of the store. Ben carried a box on his shoulder and a bag on his arm. “That guy bothering you?” he asked her.

“No,” she said, then turned to Dante. “You better go.”

“Wait,” said Dante.

Matilda’s stomach hurt. She was sobering up. The smell of blood seemed to float up from underneath their skin.

She reached into Ben’s bag and grabbed a beer. She popped the top, licked off the foam. If she didn’t get a lot drunker, she was going to attack someone.

“Jesus,” Mardave said. “Slow down. What if someone sees you?”

She drank it in huge gulps, right there on the street. Ben laughed, but it wasn’t a good laugh. He was laughing at the drunk.

“She’s infected,” Dante said.

Matilda whirled toward him, chucking the mostly empty can in his direction automatically. “Shut up, asshole.”

“Feel her skin,” Dante said. “Cold. She ran away from home when it happened, and no one’s seen her since.”

“I’m cold because it’s cold out,” she said.

She saw Ben’s evaluation of her change from damaged enough to sleep with strangers to dangerous enough to attack strangers.

Mardave touched his hand gently to her arm. “Hey,” he said.

She almost hissed with delight at the press of his hot fingers. She smiled up at him and hoped her eyes weren’t as hungry as her skin. “I really like you.”

He flinched. “Look, it’s late. Maybe we could meet up another time.” Then he backed away, which made her so angry that she bit the inside of her own cheek.

Her mouth flooded with the taste of copper and a red haze floated in front of her eyes.

#

Fifty-seven days ago, Matilda had been sober. She’d had a boyfriend named Julian, and they would dress up together in her bedroom. He liked to wear skinny ties and glittery eye shadow. She liked to wear vintage rock t-shirts and boots that laced up so high that they would constantly be late because they were busy tying them.

Matilda and Julian would dress up and prowl the streets and party at lockdown clubs that barred the doors from dusk to dawn. Matilda wasn’t particularly careless; she was just careless enough.

She’d been at a friend’s party. It had been stiflingly hot, and she was mad because Julian and Lydia were doing some dance thing from the musical they were in at school. Matilda just wanted to get some air. She opened a window and climbed out under the bobbing garland of garlic.

Another girl was already on the lawn. Matilda should have noticed that the girl’s breath didn’t crystallize in the air, but she didn’t.

“Do you have a light?” the girl had asked.

Matilda did. She reached for Julian’s lighter when the girl caught her arm and bent her backwards. Matilda’s scream turned into a shocked cry when she felt the girl’s cold mouth against her neck, the girl’s cold fingers holding her off balance.

Then it was as though someone slid two shards of ice into her skin.

#

The spread of vampirism could be traced to one person—Caspar Morales. Films and books and television had started romanticizing vampires, and maybe it was only a matter of time before a vampire started romanticizing himself.

Crazy, romantic Caspar decided that he wouldn’t kill his victims. He’d just drink a little blood and then move on, city to city. By the time other vampires caught up with him and ripped him to pieces, he’d infected hundreds of people. And those new vampires, with no idea how to prevent the spread, infected thousands.

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Table of Contents


The Coldest Girl in Coldtown
A Reversal of Fortune
The Boy Who Cried Wolf
The Night Market
The Dog King
Virgin
In Vodka Veritas
The Coat of Stars
Paper Cuts Scissors
Going Ironside
The Land of Heart’s Desire
The Poison Eaters
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 20 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 20 Customer Reviews
  • Posted August 1, 2012

    **Originally posted on Libby Blog** One touch from a Poison Eate

    **Originally posted on Libby Blog**
    One touch from a Poison Eater and you will drop dead at her feet. Within 88 days of a bite from a Cold one you'll become so hungry for blood and warmth you will bite anyone nearby you. If you ever meet the Devil, be sure to be just as clever and cheating as he is or your soul will certainly be his. When dealing with an Elf who wants to curse you, be sure to wear gold. And most of all...don't keep your secrets or your secrets will keep eventually you...

    My thoughts: This was a delicious break from the normalcy of life around me. I adored the darkness and pain that Holly Black turns into beautiful stories. I will freely admit that there were a couple that I was both completely turned off by and/or didn't "get" at all. On the other hand, there were many that I adored and will be reading again. In some of the stories you can almost see or feel the original Grimm's Fairytale that they blossomed from, and others are completely new and untouched stories like Coldtown. One of my favorites of course was The Land of Heart's Desires where I got to peek back in on all of my favorites from Black's Modern Faerie Tale series. Loved that series! So dark and raw and real while also completely fantasy!

    My favorites: The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, The Night Market, The Coat of Stars, and The Land of Heart's Desire. My absolute favorite was The Night Market though. It made me think of the magic, beauty and love that seeped into my soul while reading Valiant (my favorite Holly Black book.)

    If you're looking for something different, or don't have time for a full book right now then this is for you! It was great because I could read a story while I waited for a video to load on YOUTube or while the dryer was finishing up. This is why I love short story collections. Give them a try and let me know what you think. Which ones are your favorites?

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 6, 2012

    Holly Black at her best!

    The title story is fantastic & amazing. Much like Stephen King's The Long Walk, sometimes the short stories are the best ones. This collection is a must read!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 16, 2012

    Amazing read

    Some stories are better than others but they are all great. Holly Black is a truly amazing writer in my opinion. I loved this book and wish some of the stories had been much longer.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 26, 2011

    Recommended.

    Fantastic collection and a good introduction to Ms. Black's work.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 20, 2011

    HIGHLY Recommend.

    This is by far, one of my favorite short story collections. If you are a fan of Black's young adult books, specifically the Tithe series, this is a *MUST* read- but honestly, I think anyone could enjoy these stories. GREAT BOOK.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 21, 2012

    Ephemeral and agonizing. Taunting, tantalizing, and teasing, H

    Ephemeral and agonizing.

    Taunting, tantalizing, and teasing, Holly Black tickles and tears at your heartstrings as you are led in a somnolent yet maniacal dance through the shadows.

    I am left awestruck; my soul is heavy with a deliciously brilliant melancholy.

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  • Posted February 23, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Great book!

    Ummmm...this stories totally rocked my socks off!!! I loved reading each and every single one. They all held a significance of someone getting back at someone. Basically, what goes around comes around. I loved that each story is unique. There were fairies, unicorns, etc. So much goodness.

    I am hoping to see if Ms. Black will continue any of the stories into a full novel. Which anyone she picks, if she does I know for sure I will be dying to read. This a great book with strong characters and plots you will never forget.

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