From the lauded author of The Queen of the Cicadas (which picked up starred reviews from PW, Kirkus and Booklist who called her “a dynamic and innovative voice”) comes a short story collection of nightmares, dreams, desire and visions focused on the Chicana experience. V.Castro weaves urban legend, folklore, life experience and heartache in this personal journey beginning in south Texas: a bar where a devil dances the night away; a street fight in a neighborhood that may not have been a fight after all; a vengeful chola at the beginning of the apocalypse; mind swapping in the not so far future; satan who falls and finds herself in a brothel in Amsterdam; the keys to Mictlan given to a woman after she dies during a pandemic. The collection finishes with two longer tales: The Final Porn Star is a twist on the final girl trope and slasher, with a creature from Mexican folklore; and Truck Stop is an erotic horror romance with two hearts: a video store and a truck stop.
Since V. Castro’s novella Hairspray and Switchblades, she has been making a huge amount of noise. This year she released a novel, The Queen of the Cicadas, a novella, The Goddess of Filth, and early next year, she will release a short story collection, Mestiza Blood. If you have not picked up any of her works yet, you are missing out on a great talent and some remarkable stories.
Mestiza Blood is a story collection with all different sizes and lengths of story. All but three of the 14 stories make up the first half of the book and the second half is primarily two longer stories, “Truck Stop” and “The Final Porn Star.” Even though the stories are varied in size, they seem to have common themes seeped in Mexican folklore, tradition, and survival. Like any story collection there are stories that I like more than others, but there are very few that did not just make me fall in love. Here are my favorites.
“Night of the Living Dead Chola” starts the collection with a bang. The Rio Grande is drying up and all of the dead women at the bottom are starting to rise and walk to earth. The main character seeks out her killer. Even though this is only a five or six page story, there is so much idea and plot packed into it that if I found out she was writing a novel based on these women, I would preorder it immediately.
“Donkey Lady Bridge” A local legend of a creature half donkey/half woman named Diana is living under a bridge. Another woman, Jackie, is walking home drunk across this bridge and nothing is the same afterward. This is a good example of the present day and folklore meshing.
“Cam Girl Sally” A college girl gets hurt during a campus shooting. Out of desperation to pay her medical bills, she becomes a cam girl. When she gets a chance at revenge, she takes it. This story is perfect, and I enjoy the plotting and the empathy we feel for the main character.
“The Cold Season” This is the first of three longer stories about a woman, Araceli, who has her mind transferred to a new baby so that she can live on. The story starts at the end of one life and the beginning of another. We follow her through her newest life, and with all of the twists and turns her life brings.
“Truck Stop” This is my favorite of all of the stories in this collection. The story starts with Sonora found as a baby wrapped in her dead mother’s arms while they were trying to cross the desert, and after she lives in an orphanage for eighteen years, she leaves and finds a home working at a truck stop, making money by being company for truckers. She has regulars and she has a decent life, even with the secret on her chest, literally. This reminds me of Basket Case (which is actually mentioned in story “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year”), and I will say that someone needs to make this into a film. There are a solid three acts and it would be a movie that the horror community needs.
Many people are hesitant to read short story collections, but this is one that really showcases V. Castro’s talents and her storytelling abilities. There are some stories where I thought about how she writes like Ray Bradbury, particularly “The Cold Season”. She is able to drop us into a world that is already off-kilter but the characters think it is normal. Her short story writing is strong, and she can make a six page story feel epic.
She also does such a great mix of Mexican folklore with sex positive and female positive literature that also shows a female empowerment that I don’t always see, especially in horror fiction. Even though there are monsters and demons throughout the stories, there are many harsh reminders that much of the real evil is performed by men against women. This is something that V. Castro uses as a theme in all of her work, and as long as men do not change, she will always have a story to write. Her writing is important as much as it is entertaining and exciting.
I received this as an ARC from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.