Laini Taylor’s collection of short fiction centres thematically around the moment when – you guessed it – lips touch. The world moves, something changes. It may be a small disturbance, ripples spreading out towards a new and foreign shore. Or perhaps the change is electric, the spark that starts an inferno.
In Goblin Fruit, a story inspired by Christina Rossetti’s fantastical poem, ‘Goblin Market’, the moment heralds a fall into damnation. Whereas in Spicy Little Curses Such As These, the touching of lips is the shift, like the volta line of the sonnet, which signifies a change of direction. Hatchling is different again. The act of lips coming together haunts the story like memory, a nostalgic symbol of what has passed and what could possibly be again.
In fact, what I liked about Hatchling – apart from the sumptuous world-building – was the resonant presence of Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy. I found obvious parallels between the tribal Druj and the Chimaera of Eretz, not to mention the double lives idea employed so effectively in Daughter.
My favourite story, however, is Spicy Little Curses. I adore fairy tales and the fairy tale literary form, which Taylor uses to brilliant effect. The story has a multi-mythical feel, with strands pulled from mythologies as disparate as Greek and Indian. The structure is tight, the pace fluid, and the narrative embodies a perfect balance between immediacy and distance.
If I had any criticism to make at all, it would be that Goblin Fruit ends too abruptly, perhaps because Taylor spends so much time painting Kizzy for us. It actually reads like the beginning of a novel, rather than a short story. You’re lulled into a feeling of length, which the sudden end quite jarringly destroys. I was a little disappointed, but only because I’d come to like Kizzy as a character and didn’t want to say goodbye just yet.
Overall, Lips Touch is a beautifully crafted collection. Taylor’s writing is intelligent and imaginative, delving beyond the physical act of kissing into a subtle world that is as rich and strange as the human heart.
The Hodder hardback, sumptuously illustrated by Jim di Bartolo, would make the perfect Christmas gift for anyone with a love of fantasy or fairy tales.