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The Poison Eaters

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Overview

Pick your poison: Vampires, devils, werewolves, faeries, or . . . ? Find them all here in Holly Black’s amazing first collection.

In her debut collection, New York Times best-selling author Holly Black returns to the world of Tithe in two darkly exquisite new tales. Then Black takes readers on a tour of a faerie market and introduces a girl poisonous to the touch and another who challenges the devil to a competitive eating match. Some of these stories have been published in ...

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Overview

Pick your poison: Vampires, devils, werewolves, faeries, or . . . ? Find them all here in Holly Black’s amazing first collection.

In her debut collection, New York Times best-selling author Holly Black returns to the world of Tithe in two darkly exquisite new tales. Then Black takes readers on a tour of a faerie market and introduces a girl poisonous to the touch and another who challenges the devil to a competitive eating match. Some of these stories have been published in anthologies such as 21 Proms, The Faery Reel, and The Restless Dead, and many have been reprinted in many “Best of ” anthologies.

The Poison Eaters is Holly Black’s much-anticipated first collection, and her ability to stare into the void—and to find humanity and humor there—will speak to young adult and adult readers alike.

A Junior Library Guild Pick. Illustrated by Theo Black.

Holly Black is the author of Tithe: A Modern Faerie Tale (an ALA Best Book for Young Adults) and two related novels, Valiant (Norton Award winner) and New York Times bestseller Ironside. Her latest novel, Black Heart is the third of a new series, The Curseworkers. She and Tony DiTerlizzi created the best-selling Spiderwick Chronicles. Holly lives in Massachusetts with her husband, Theo, in a house with a secret library.

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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)
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: 9781455844104
  • Publisher: Brilliance Audio
  • Publication date: 10/28/2011
  • Format: Other

Meet the Author

Holly Black

Holly Black's first novel Tithe: A Modern Faerie Tale, was published in 2002 by Simon & Schuster. Tithe received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Kirkus Reviews, and was included in the American Library Association's Best Books for Young Adults. Holly has since written two other books in the same universe, Valiant and a sequel to Tithe, New York Times bestseller Ironside. Valiant was a finalist for the Mythopoeic Award and received the Andre Norton Award.

Holly collaborated with her long-time friend, Caldecott Award-winning artist, Tony DiTerlizzi, to create the bestselling Spiderwick Chronicles which include eight novels as well as the lavishly illustrated Arthur Spiderwick's Field Guide to The Fantastical World Around You, The Notebook for Fantastical Observations, and Care and Feeding of Sprites. The Chronicles have been translated into 32 languages and been into adapted into a major motion picture.

Holly has also been a frequent contributor to anthologies, and has co-edited three: Geektastic (with Cecil Castellucci), Zombies vs. Unicorns (with Justine Larbalestier), and Bordertown (with Ellen Kushner).

She is working on Black Heart, the third novel in The Curse Workers series—about capers, curse magic, and memory—which follows White Cat and Red Glove.

Holly lives in Massachusetts with her husband, Theo, in a house with a secret library.

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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

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