“Dear Diary, my teen-angst bullshit now has a body count.” – Heathers
I’m not typically into vampire stories, except for Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot and Bela Lugosi’s performance in Dracula.
However, Briana Morgan’s Mouth Full of Ashes dismembers supernatural horror and dark, campy teen film to conjure something scheming and bloody.
Following a tragedy, Callie (Calliope) and her family move to a boardwalk town packed with ’80s nostalgia — particularly cult classics like The Lost Boys.
Callie’s brother, Ramsay, drags her to meet an online beau of his, Jabari. Callie immediately disapproves of the impulsive and reckless guy, who also displays a bizarre reaction to the sight of blood — behind a sense of nausea.
A lot of Jabari’s introduction and vampire nature is revealed in chapter two, immediately following the death in the family. This part just felt too fast for me. As an identical twin, I can’t even imagine the pain the surviving sibling would carry. A connection, a link between the two that extends beyond standard sibling love, felt misplaced.
It seemed too quick to hop from losing a sibling, Ramsay’s twin, to joking and walking on the boardwalk, searching for a guy he met online. I would have liked to see Ramsay’s struggle following such a heavy and eloquently-written first chapter from Morgan.
I also would’ve liked to see more hesitancy on the existence of vampires from others aside from Callie. That stunned reaction is a classic trope in monster horror, and I think Morgan could’ve executed it brilliantly. I always think back to noir, Universal monster-styled films here.
Overall, Mouth Full of Ashes is a fun ode to the teen vampire trope with clever characters and brilliant becoming of age themes. Fans of vampires, YA horror, and movies like Heathers, The Lost Boys, and The Craft, this one’s for you.
I’m looking forward to Briana’s upcoming short story, “Railroad,” in Kandisha Press’ SLASH-HER anthology (coming March 1st).