P D Dawson
No Spider Harmed - A Review
Updated: Feb 9, 2021
No Spider Harmed in the Making of this Book - Edited by Cherry Potts
No Spider Harmed, brings together an eclectic compilation of stories and poems, that in some way explore our eight-legged friends. I'm not exactly fond of spiders, but I respect them enough to let them live or to find a glass big enough to toss them outside, into admittedly an uncertain fate. So the idea of reading an entire book full of stories and poems about them seemed like a challenge. But I'm glad I did offer to review this book. It would be wrong to say it's cured me of my arachnophobia. Still, I have certainly gained more respect for them, as the diversity within this book is perhaps a testament to the variety of the creatures themselves.
We get the poems at the start of the book, and so I shall talk about them first. All of the poems were very engaging and very well written, but Stella Wulf and Federica Santini efforts were admittedly my favourites. Wulf's, Femmes Fatales, describes how her mother's advice stuck with her as a child. She uses spider analogies to express her power and seduction over the inherent weakness of men:-
'I find it is lust that captivates a man.
A slip of silk clings to the body,
inflames him, set his heart racing,'
Beautifully lyrical and powerfully descriptive, Wulf's poem appears effortless as it melts like chocolate in the mouth, and stimulates the intellect as well as the senses. Santini, like Wulf, encourages with its carried verse and powerful descriptive phrasing, all tied up in a beautiful rhythmic web that sings of rebirth and evokes pride for the blooming of an Arachne or could just as easily be a woman.
'feel the smooth gilded,
coin of the sun steadying your firm
jaws, your womb prideful, swollen
with life by the hundreds. Rise.'
Then we move on to the stories which come in various genres such as fantasy, fairytale, surrealist, sci-fi and literary, among others. I'm sure you can agree, a very eclectic mix, but they all fit well together. You could say woven together like a web of silk. The first story, Spiders I Have Known by Martha Nance, is split into six sections, each one about a different spider species. It ends with a lasting and powerful comparison between them and us, which made me a little envious, as we can't instantly fall to an invisible safe spot like them. Another memorable story, for its wit and surrealist element, was by A. Katherine Black. The characters in it have mutated into giant murderous spiders. I found it delightfully playful, the idea of them sitting in a movie theatre, and discussing the merits of the film that's playing.
Anansi and the Monkey's Tale by J.A. Hopper is like an ode to stories, about the telling and the receiving. 'There is no such thing as a keeper of stories - only the teller and the listener.' The monkey tells a story, and the Anansi-Spider, who has a won a bag of stories from the Sky-God, believes he is telling it to receive a new one from his sack. Arachnomancy by Peter T. Donahue tells of a small village on the outskirts of Michalappotist, where a powerful Wizard has arrived along with a large tower. Spidercraft lessons for the children are not going well because of this, so they must try and do something about it. Each of the children has different abilities. This story is endlessly inventive and has excellent depth and complexity with a myriad of characters, each one unique. I enjoyed how Donahue brought this strange, almost fairytale land to life.
Stowaway by David Mathews is an interesting piece, set in the future where a spider has made it as an unlikely passenger on a spaceship. The idea of space travel for an arachnid is mind-blowing, and I love how the piece ends, with the spider spinning headlines around the world. Helen Morris' With Great Power, is a beautiful take on one spider changing, after a radioactive accident, but then finding that with new power comes new responsibility. Maria Kyle's story, The Aspects of Arax, is a contender for multiple rereads as I found it hard to get my head around, and yet was awed and stimulated by the styling and language of the piece. Sicarius by Carolyn Robertson is a surreal and engaging Kafkaesque tale of one woman's body gradually turning into an arachnid after a spider bite.
For brevity's sake, I can't summarise all of the stories in the collection, but alas, I enjoyed them all immensely. I admit some of them went over my head, probably my fault rather than the author, but many made a lasting impression. The last story in the anthology is by Elizabeth Hopkinson, about the spinning of a giant web to catch many things, and how time is running out.
'She will hold them safe, within the web of life.'
No Spider Harmed, is a wonderfully diverse anthology, with many different styles coming together to create a tremendously entertaining read, and yes I'll admit, a new appreciation for our furry neighbours too.
No Spider Harmed in the Making of this Book is released on 8th Aug. For more information on this and more about the publisher, please visit the website below.