Book Review

A Human Stain

A Human StainA Human Stain
Author: Kelly Robson
Publisher: Tor Books
First Published: January 4, 2017
Genres: Gothic, Horror, Lesbian, Mystery
Pages: 40
Format: Webpage


"A Human Stain" by Kelly Robson is a disturbing horror novelette about a British expatriate at loose ends who is hired by her friend to temporarily care for his young, orphaned nephew in a remote castle-like structure in Germany.

My Thoughts

What a wild ride this story was, I read it in a single sitting before bed and I couldn’t put it down. The opening of A Human Stain reminds me of The Turn of the Screw; a young woman is enlisted by a wealthy gentleman to care for his recently orphaned nephew. The young woman goes to a remote castle and finds something strange is going on. It is a beautifully written gothic mystery with a healthy dose of body horror.

“Perhaps the girl was simple. But so lovely. Roses and snow and dark, dark hair. Eighteen or twenty, no more. What a shame about her mouth. Bad teeth perhaps.”

I loved the main character, a brash lesbian with an eye for the beautiful and quiet nursemaid. Everything about the castle and the people that reside there feels off-kilter and strange, the setting elicits a sense of dread the more that the heroine explored it. While the prose was gorgeously written, I’ll admit that I found it confusing at times, but I feel this was intentional as the main character was not sure of what she was really seeing. The vivid imagery came to life and the descriptions of bones, teeth, and other things were truly chilling. The descent to madness among the cast of characters was expertly written in a way that felt natural and I fell in love with the author’s writing style.

Warnings: gore

About Kelly Robson

Kelly Robson is a Canadian writer whose work regularly appears in major speculative fiction markets. Many of her stories have been selected for the year’s best anthologies, and have been translated internationally. In 2018, her time travel adventure Gods, Monsters and the Lucky Peach debuted to high critical praise.

In 2018, her story “A Human Stain” won the Nebula Award for Best Novelette, and her novelette “We Who Live in the Heart” was a finalist for the 2018 Theodore Sturgeon Award. In 2017, she was a finalist for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. In 2016, her novella “Waters of Versailles” won the Prix Aurora Award. She has been a finalist for the Hugo, Nebula, World Fantasy, Theodore Sturgeon, Locus, and Sunburst awards. In 2017, she was a finalist for the Astounding Award for Best New Writer.

She grew up in the foothills of the Canadian Rockies. After 22 years in Vancouver, Kelly and her wife (fellow SF writer A.M. Dellamonica) now make their home in downtown Toronto.

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