Book Review: Don't Break the Oath



Don't Break the Oath: Women of Horror Anthology #4, edited by Jill Girardi and Janine Pipe

Stuff to get out the way

Compensation for this review: a review copy of the ebook. No other consideration, and no solicitation of a favorable review.

Content Warnings: “WARNING: MAY CONTAIN SENSITIVE SUBJECT MATTER… This book contains adult situations and is not suitable for children.”

The review

I don't review books I don't like, so if you're just looking for a thumbs up/thumbs down, you can stop here. I like this book.

This anthology is unusual in that there was no call for submissions. This is the overflow from Volume 3, 23 stories they wanted to include but didn't have space for. I haven't read that volume, but this is not a “didn't quite make the cut” collection. These are top-notch tales. The one slightly negative comment I have is that it's hard sometimes to see a connection between the story and the anthology's title, but that could be the result of having the stories first and looking for a commonality among them. Loss is a prominent theme.

Of course, not every story connected with me, but there are no clunkers. All are well-written, and any might be some discriminating reader's favorite. I won't summarize each, but highlight a few that stand out for me, while trying to avoid spoilers.

The anthology opens with “What the Sea Gives” by K.P. Kulsi. This might be more a narrative prose poem than a story (if that distinction means anything), about an island castaway seemingly doomed to a solitary immortality.

The protagonist of Ariel Dodson's “Black-Eyed Susan” is haunted by her loss, and her own guilt, in a very literal way.

Alyson Faye's “The Silver Horn” is set in the modern day (including lockdown), but it has the feeling of a macabre old ballad or one of the creepier corners of Arthurian romance.

About “Shoot Your Shot” by Charlotte Platt, I'll only say that an incel chooses the wrong library to shoot up.

“Capable of Loving,” by Sonora Taylor, is a chilling, thoughtful, and deep bit of psychological horror, in which the horror isn't the whole point. I'll be looking for more of Taylor's fiction.

It's cliche to say that robot stories are about exploring humanness, but that's true, in a good way, of Angela Yuriko Smith's “Perfect Girlfriend.” It has an interesting point of view and an economical narrative that trusts the reader's intelligence.

“Sharp Spaces,” by Samantha Ortiz, is another entry in the psychological horror category, with a poetically apt title.

Cosmic horror is represented by Kirby Kellogg's “Four Corners.” It's a little reminiscent of Welcome to Night Vale, a bit of Twilight Zone, but completely original.

What can I say about Cecilia Kennedy's “Soul Grinder” without giving too much away? You may never want to go to a county fair again. (Assuming you ever did.)

The anthology closes strong with R.A. Busby's body horror parable “Fluid.” The story reminds me of Junji Ito, and it contains some beautiful sentences.