This post is part of a blog tour organised by Rachel’s Random Resources. I received a free copy of the book in return for an honest review.
‘Green thumbs beware.
‘Plants are beautiful, peaceful, abundant, and life-sustaining.
‘But what if something sinister took root in the soil, awakening to unleash slashing thorns, squeezing vines, or haunting greenery that lured you in?
‘Perhaps blooms on distant planets could claim your heart, hitch a ride to Earth on a meteor, or simply poison you with their essence.
‘Imagine a world where scientists produced our own demise in a lab, set spores free to infect, even bred ferns to be our friends, only to witness the privilege perverted.
‘When faced with botanical terror, will humanity fight to survive, or will they curl and wither like leaves in the fall?
‘Read ten speculative tales ripe with dangerous flora to find out.’
Spread: Tales of Deadly Flora, edited by R.A. Clarke, features ten stories where weird and (sometimes, initially) wonderful plants drive the plot (no pun intended).
The stories cover a great deal of ground (I’m not doing this on purpose, I swear!) and, in my opinion, can be broadly sorted into four categories:
- Humans mess with biology, with undesirable results: Seedling (Katie Ess); Plant Friends (Jen Mierisch); Tears of Green (Alex Grehy).
- Humans encounter alien plant species: Black Thumb (Alyssa Beatty); The Bubble (R.A. Clarke).
- Plant-themed Gothic tales: The Koi Pond (Josephine Queen); An Invitation to the Grovenor Mountain Resort (Lisa Fox); Blood & Thorns: A Family (Angela Goyan).
- Mother Nature gets her own back: Mother (Katie Jordan); Where the Fireflies Fall (Melissa R. Mendelson).
Within these categories, the authors take the theme in a fantastic range of different directions – the words “imaginative” and “creative” came up in my notes a lot, as did “vivid”, because they all describe their green antagonists so well.
For example, the three stories that highlight the potential dangers of messing with biology vary considerably in premise and tone.
In Plant Friends, a new type of plant provides comfort to the lonely and touch-starved, but soon becomes possessive and aggressive. While this obviously gives the story a dark edge, the overall mood is quite sweet, playful, and low-stakes.
Contrastingly, in Seedling, an attempt to address the climate crisis by developing injectable chlorophyll results in the advent of killer human-cacti hybrids, and in Tears of Green, plants modified as weapons of war have extreme consequences for everyone. Both of these stories are apocalyptic in tone and full of suspense, following small groups of desperate survivors.
In Black Thumb, a group of humans who have moved to the planet Cabos from an increasingly uninhabitable Earth discover a plant that acts as a powerful antidepressant. However, they come to find that it is a little too effective, not to mention addictive and even deadly. This story was one of my favourites, due to its strong message and fascinating, creative setting.
Constrastingly, in The Bubble, the alien species comes to us, quite literally crashing to Earth on a meteor. In this tense, twisty story, a specialised military team has to enter the dome that’s keeping the invasive plant and its unfortunate victims temporarily contained, and collect samples for analysis without succumbing to its dangers themselves.
Blood & Thorns: A Family was another favourite of mine. Angela Goyan spins a compelling dark fairy tale where a mother and her many young daughters live separately from the world in their ancestral home, their past and future inextricably bound up with the deadly roses they tend. When a daughter rebels against this claustrophobic, cruel way of life, her mother becomes a fearsome enemy.
Similarly, The Koi Pond, An Invitation to the Grovenor Mountain Resort, Mother, and Where the Fireflies Fall are darkly beautiful and enchantingly sinister, juxtaposing vitality and decay to devastating effect in their own distinctive ways.
Spread is an exciting, lush, and highly imaginative anthology.