Review: The Haunted Tea Set & Other Stories by Sarah Jackson

The Haunted Tea Set & Other Stories

I received a free copy of this book from the author in return for an honest review.

‘In these darkly comic supernatural stories, horror and wonder bleed into everyday life.

‘A forest witch haunts a golf course, while Annie defends her vegetable patch from dark forces. A would-be detective falls for a femme fatale in a seaside town, and a lonely Victorian girl makes a startling new friend.

‘In twenty bittersweet, uncanny stories, Sarah Jackson explores love and loneliness, trauma and transformation, solidarity and greed.’

The Haunted Tea Set & Other Stories

Quick disclaimer: I know Sarah Jackson a little from Mastodon (and wrote a guest post about writing creative non-fiction for her website), but I wouldn’t have requested a review copy of her new book if I thought I’d struggle to review it for any reason.

The twenty short stories in Sarah Jackson’s The Haunted Tea Set & Other Stories cover a wide range of supernatural phenomena. With ghosts, extraordinary creatures, cursed artefacts, body horror, witches, vampires, and more besides, there really is something for everyone.

But these tales are designed for far more than mere shocks and scares. Many of their main characters are dealing with emotional troubles and traumas, and their otherwordly experiences often help them find resolution and/or validation.

There’s brilliantly dark humour in abundance, but the presence of serious subject matter and real menace unfailingly prevents a descent into outright whimsy.

If I had to sum up all the stories in The Haunted Tea Set & Other Stories, I’d go with “small, but perfectly formed”. The author never wastes a word, yet it’s so easy to vividly picture any character, place, or scenario she presents to you.

I could have more than happily read two of my particular favourites – Channelsea (a mixed-media municipal horror about an abandoned factory on an island in the Thames Estuary) and Angel of the Woods (a folk horror where a demonic owl makes waves in a typical English village) – for hours on end if they were novel-length.

However, I felt in no way short-changed by the short story format in these instances, because Jackson so effectively tells you everything you need to know in just a few thousand words.

In fact, her economy of language gives you space to really engage with the stories, as your imagination fills in what’s left untold.

This effect is particularly pronounced with super-short flash pieces such as Real Human Skull, Medical Specimen, £450; Unfinished Business; and How Our Local Wine Bar Ended Up On The Ghost Tour. These left me theorising, speculating, and even half-spinning up my own story from the sparse, yet crucial details provided.

Another reason I found a number of stories in this book inspiring is that I myself aspire to write entertaining stories with elements of emotional truth and resolution/healing – it’s good to see how it can be done well!

The title story (which I’d previously read in Bone Parade magazine, and found just as powerful the second time around), Tilly’s Dolls, Pearl, and Coherence are particular standouts in this respect. They’re highly imaginative and eerie, and don’t shy away from or sugar-coat the characters’ distressing experiences, yet end on optimistic, comforting notes.

Other stories I can’t help but mention just because I found them wonderful are Greenkeeper (an unpleasant, entitled golfer gets his comeuppance courtesy of a forest witch), One Box of Earth (a Whitby woman deals swiftly and decisively with a vampire in her new garden), and Canary Glass (an antiques dealer attracts a regular customer with irregular specifications).

The Haunted Tea Set & Other Stories is a wide-ranging, evocative, and stirring collection where no word is wasted.

Alice Violett's Picture

About Alice Violett

Writer of blogs and short stories, reader of books, player of board games, lover of cats, editor of web content, haver of PhD.

Colchester, UK