Book Review: His Hideous Heart (edited by Dahlia Adler)

The publisher of this book reached out to me and asked if I would provide an honest review in exchange for an electronic copy. All thoughts & opinions are my own.

His Hideous Heart is a short story collection of re-imaginings of Edgar Allen Poe (hereafter referred to as EAP) short stories (and one poem) written by various Young Adult authors. Instead of going story-by-story and giving you a review and synopsis of each, I’m going to talk to you about the highs & lows of the collection.

The first story in this collection that was actually interesting to me was “Night-Tide” by Tessa Gratton, which is based on EAP’s “Annabel Lee.” This story had some mysterious substance to it, and wasn’t just a surface plot-based retelling. The emotion behind this story was made clear through the gorgeous, careful language. It struck a good balance between being original but also referencing its source material. Also yay it’s gay! My only issue with this one was that I was (and still am) unsure about what time period it’s supposed to be set in, which doesn’t really make a difference in terms of how good the story & writing are. I definitely think that Tessa Gratton was the perfect author for this one, and I ended up giving it a 4/5 stars.

One of the most disappointing ones to me was “The Glittering Death,” which is the story based on EAP’s “The Pit & the Pendulum.” I am more familiar with “Pit & Pendulum” than I am with any other EAP stories, so I went into this one with high expectations. Unfortunately I just didn’t find this one very chilling, especially in comparison with the original. I didn’t like that the main character, Laura, was part of a “mean girls” type clique at school. It created a gap between me as a reader and her and I couldn’t connect. It all felt superficial and I couldn’t quite buy into the creepiness or dread of her situation & captivity. I ended up rating this story 2/5 stars.

Though I didn’t rate it particularly high, I feel the need to talk a little bit about the story “The Oval Filter” – based on EAP’s story “The Oval Portrait.” I had some very overwhelming feelings about it – some positive and some negative – that I’d like to just touch on & point out. My initial reaction to it was that it was gross; the writing style had some very bro-y language in it that was unnecessary. For example, the main character describes his past girlfriend as “Rihanna-esque” and a “bad chick.” It was so very focused on how pleasant her body and features were to him and it was gross to read. And not very professional writing, in my opinion. Just very surface and disappointing. The plot itself though was actually super cool! The way she like, hacked into his phone and controlled it, it was cool and creepy and fun. And the ending was badass! I just wish this story had focused more on the fun mystery plot and the supernatural elements to it than on the flimsy, bad “character development.” I ended up giving it a 2/5 stars.

My favorite story of the collection was actually “Changeling,” based on “Hop-Frog.” I didn’t quite know that it was my favorite until I had finished the whole collection and went back through all of my thoughts I had written down to write this review. This story, while not necessarily the “scariest” of the bunch, was the most original, intentional, and well-written of the bunch for me. Despite it being short in length it still managed to be intricate in every way. There was a fleshed-out history & context for the characters and the fantasy world it’s set in. Like I said before, the story was intentional in every way; the word choice seemed thought out and the characters relationships & choices seemed like they served a deliberative purpose. It was confusing in the best way – an authentically mysterious way. Overall it just was a sweet story, which is surprising to say considering the themes and ideas were fairly dark. I gave it 4/5 stars.

And all of the others stories were either not memorable or too confusing and should have been longer. Overall I was a bit disappointed in this book as a whole. It wasn’t as spooky as I would have liked, and it seemed all over the place – likely due to the fact that the stories were all written by different authors. At the very least with EAP’s original stories, the voice and vibe of the stories & poems were consistent because the same author was writing them. And I think that’s why I had trouble with this. It was very disorienting and I felt jerked around and like I couldn’t get into anything. And once I did get into it and start to understand it, it was over. I think this was a personal reading experience – I 100% still think that if you like gothic-type books, want something to read for Halloween times, or like EAP, you should definitely give this a try yourself.

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