I’ve just read three intoxicating stories about kisses with the power to change destinies.
The first, Goblin Fruit, was my favorite (quite possibly the best thing I read all year) and concerns Kizzy, an “urgent, unkissed, wishful girl” growing up somewhere slightly outside modern day suburbia with her large, odd family of gypsies. Although her grandmother has warned her about goblins – and never tasting fruit out of season – Kizzy is charmed by a gorgeous new boy, Jack Husk, bearing a picnic of likely unearthly delights.
The writing here is so masterly and melodic that I read whole passages aloud, savoring the way the words rolled off my tongue. Here’s a sample passage about the woman Kizzy might one day become:
She was the one who would some day know a dozen ways to wear a silk scarf, how to read the sky for rain and coax feral animals near, how to purr throaty love songs in Portuguese and Basque, how to lay a vampire to rest, how to light a cigar, how to light a man’s imagination on fire.
If she lived to womanhood. (p 24)
The whole story reminded me of a lyric from one of my favorite Tori Amos songs, Cooling:
And is your place in heaven worth giving up these kisses?
I know if I met Jack Husk, I’d have a hard time resisting him….
Story number two, Spicy Little Curses Such As These, is set in India in British colonial times and concerns a deal made between a demon in hell and the earth’s ambassador to hell, an elderly British woman named Estella. In exchange for the souls of 22 children, Estella consents to a curse being put on a newborn girl that if she should ever speak, the sound of her voice would kill all those who heard it.
This is also a love story that very cleverly weaves in the superstitions of the day, peppered with a bit of outsider doubt, to make a truly delectable reading experience.
The prologue to this one is such a sweet tease:
Kissing can ruin lives. Lips touch, sometimes teeth clash. New hunger is born with a throb and caution falls away. A cursed girl with lips still moist from her first kiss might feel suddenly wild, like a little monsoon. She might forget her curse just long enough to get careless and let it come true. She might kill everyone she loves.
She might, and she might not. (p 69)
Story number three, Hatchling, is the longest and the most involved, thanks to its complex mythology involving immortal beings without souls called Druj that long to take part in the human experience. It all starts with a 14 year old London girl named Esme:
Six days before Esme’s fourteenth birthday, her left eye turned from brown to blue. It happened in the night. She went to sleep with brown eyes, and when she woke at dawn to the howling of wolves, her left eye was blue. (p 145)
Esme’s mother Mab is terrified by the change and tries to escape with her daughter and little by little, we learn about the origins of Mab’s nightmares, why you should be wary of one eyed animals, and how a soulless being might possibly patch together a soul…
Hatchling is a more traditional fantasy story but still with a healthy dose of the lyrical language and fairy-tale character that make the first two stories so hauntingly, achingly beautiful.
And added treat is the artwork by Jim Di Bartolo that accompanies the stories.
LIPS TOUCH is out in hardcover now. Find out more about this recent National Book Award nominee on the author’s website.