Written by: Matthew J. Barbour
Livia Llewellyn is a relative newcomer to speculative fiction. Her proses tend to include horror, dark fantasy, and erotica in interesting and unexpected combinations. Like Poppy Z. Brite, a generation earlier, Llewellyn does not shy away from taboo topics. Infanticide, pedophilia, and rape appear frequently her work, but trying to tie Llewellyn down to a particular type of story is nearly impossible.
Engines of Desire: Love Stories and Other Horrors is a collection of Livia Llewllyn’s short stories and novellas. Ten stories are presented after an introduction by dark fantasy master, Laird Barron. These include: “Horses,” “At the Edge of Ellensburg,” “The Teslated Salishan Evergreen,” “The Engine of Desire,” “Jetsam,” “The Four Hundred Thousand,” “Brimstone Orange,” “Take your Daughters to Work,” “Omphalos,” and “Her Deepness.”
Each story is unique both in terms of delivery and subject matter, creating a fairly odd anthology. The narrative jumps from a hardcore jaunt through the post-apocalypse (Horses) to a sexual explicit tale involving one woman’s obsession with a serial killer (At the Edge of Ellensburg) and then an encyclopedic entry on an alien tree (The Teslated Salishan Evergreen). Once you think you have Llewllyn figured out, she surprises you with something different.
There is, also, an unprecedented level of experimentation. Some of it works and other times it may go too far. “Omphalos” is told from the second-person perspective. It puts the reader in the role of a young woman being sexually molested by her father and the product of her mother’s disinterest. “The Engine of Desire” begins with the story’s conclusion, and then leaps back in time gradually, culminating with the initial action which sparked the chain of events.
Science fiction fans will cheer “The Four Hundred Thousand” as a fitting ode to Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game. While devotees of H. P. Lovecraft and cosmic horror can wrap their tentacles around “Take your Daughters to Work.” There is something for everyone.
Unfortunately, this also works against the collection. Topic variability and experimentation in writing style lead to an incohesive whole. The only thing the stories in Engines of Desire share with one another is an author.
Livia Llewellyn is a great writer. If the reader is interested in seeing her breadth in subject matter and writing style, by all means pick up the book. However, if you are looking particularly for a horror anthology (or sci-fi, or fantasy, or erotica), it is best steer clear. You will find horror, but it will be interspersed with stories you have no interest in.