Lips Touch: Three Times
LIPS TOUCH: THREE TIMES is a short story collection featuring supernatural tales of young love, with each selection focusing on a pivotal kiss with potentially deadly consequences.
The first story, “Goblin Fruit,” narrated by wry and darkly funny 16-year-old Kizzy, captures the very essence of teenage longing. Kizzy --- quiet, observant and sarcastic --- is the perpetual outsider. She believes that her life is like no other American teenager’s and her family is like no one else’s. Her mother wears a peasant scarf around her head, and her father wears bones in a pouch around his neck. There are numerous gypsy aunts and uncles wielding accordions and clinging to the superstitions of the Old Country. In Kizzy’s backyard, cars on blocks share the space with anvils, tick-infected goats, peacocks screaming “rape” and melancholic and lonely ghosts.
At school, Kizzy is not one of the popular girls. She is the one watching the pert and popular girls. In fact, it turns out she is just the kind of girl the goblins crave. When strikingly gorgeous Jack appears in Kizzy’s life and shows an interest in her, Kizzy must decide whether to heed the warnings she is seemingly receiving from beyond the grave, or follow her heart. Is Jack really who he seems to be?
The second story, “Spicy Little Curses Such as These,” tells of two English women --- one old, one young --- living in India in the days of the British Raj. Their lives intersect tragically at the behest of a demon. Estella has been pressed into service as the human ambassador to Hell, where she must bargain daily with the demon Vasudev to save the lives of the young and innocent. After 40 years of serving as the ambassador, Estella slips up and makes a trade with Vasudev that she will regret for the rest of her days --- the lives of 22 children in exchange for a curse that she must place on a newborn girl, Anamique.
Estella is required to curse Anamique with a bewitching voice that will kill all those who hear her, but she is also able to compel the girl not to talk. Anamique thus grows up in utter silence, never speaking or singing, until a kiss from a dashing stranger on her 18th birthday gives her a reason to finally test her voice. Is Anamique truly cursed, or can she find happiness with her handsome suitor?
The third and final story, “Hatchling,” is also the longest and --- at novella length --- complex and layered enough that it just as easily might have been shaped into a full-length novel. Esme wakes up one morning shortly before her 14th birthday to find that one of her eyes has turned from brown to icy blue overnight. The blue eye seems to belong not to her, but to a different person with other memories: memories of thrones, castles with bridges and spires, and sharing soul-searing kisses (although Esme herself has never been kissed).
When Esme’s mother Mab discovers her blue eye, Esme’s quiet (indeed, too quiet) life erupts in chaos. Mab tells her that they are being stalked by the Druj, immortal demon-shifters who turn into wolves each night. Mab once drew the wrath of the powerful and pitiless Druj Queen, and now, after all their years of hiding, she and her daughter have been found. As Mab and Esme seek to escape the long reach of the Druj, one of the enemies unexpectedly reaches out a hand to help them. But can Esme and Mab really trust the Druj demon Mihai? Why does Esme remember sharing a kiss with him?
These three stories together form a compelling tapestry of fantasy tales, ranging from the wry and jocular (although still scary) “Goblin Fruit,” to the more grim “Spicy Little Kisses” and the fairy tale-like adventure dreamscape of “Hatchling.” Each draws inspiration from widely diverging sources: “Goblin Fruit” from Christina Rossetti’s haunting and enigmatic poem, “Goblin Market”; “Spicy Little Kisses” from the days of the British Raj and aspects of Hindu mythology; and “Hatchling” from the Zorastrian religion and the legend of the Druj.
Laini Taylor has a knack for crafting vivid and beautiful sentences that succinctly capture the essence of people, places and things. She describes vividly the longing of a teenage girl in the rush of first love and lust, competently and believably recreates the days of the British Raj, and uses Parsi mythology and culture as the basis from which to create both her own rendition of Druj demons and (most impressively) their speech in the rare language Avestan.
No review of LIPS TOUCH would be complete without a mention of the haunting and lovely illustrations of artist Jim Di Bartolo, who is married to Taylor. Several pen and ink drawings scattered throughout are a perfect fit for the text, giving the book the feel of a fairy tale collection and graphic novel rolled into one.
I am now looking forward to reading Taylor’s other works.
Reviewed by Usha Reynolds on October 1, 2009