Dreams with Eyes Wide: Dark Breakers, by C. S. E. Cooney

Dreams with Eyes Wide: Dark Breakers, by C. S. E. Cooney

Greeting, Black Gate readers! C. S. E. Cooney here, hijacking Zig Zag’s post (with his permission).

I’m just popping in to say that Black Gate and Mythic Delirium are hosting an ARC giveaway for Dark Breakers: my forthcoming collection featuring all new stories and novellas from the world of Desdemona and the Deep. Goblins, bargains, battles, body paint, and talking statues abound!

Drop a line in the comments below with a favorite line from one of your favorite story collections, and we’ll put your name in our hat (probably one with sequins on it) to send you your very own Dark Breakers ARC!

Thanks for reading! Now, back to Zigs…

Dreams with Eyes Wide: Dark Breakers

I know why I’ve loved C.S.E. Cooney’s writing since Bone Swans: Cooney loves words. Not love as in the sound of her own voice, but in the willingness and ability to surprise herself, to find not just a serviceable word but — as befitting a love affair — the rapturous one. When I imbibe her rhythmically-composed sentences, her judicious one-liners sharp as Prince’s syncopation (all tied to her enthusiasm for playfulness) I feel her love and am in love myself.

So this isn’t a review, it’s utter, unabashed glee. It’s firmly I recommend-endorse-shill-fling-to-the-heavens-so-when-you-look-up-there’s-LIGHT. Dark Breakers, a book that returns readers to familiar territory but is utterly surprising, comes out Feb 15, 2022 from Mythic Delirium. It’s billed as dark fantasy, but what it is is an art deco mural under the guidance of Galadriel, Zora Neale Hurston and the Brothers Grimm. It reads the way a bite into gold that has been warmed like chocolate would feel.

Art by Brett Massé for “Susurra to the Moon,” in Dark Breakers

Nuts-n-bolts-wise, the tale is a series of connected novellas and stories showcasing an epic arc of reality and dreaming (with all the varieties of love that tie the two states together — love for things, love for others, love as sacrifice). In a way, Dark Breakers does so many things at once it’s less fantasy than our real lives. Even the book’s outstanding cover and interior designs by Brett Massé feel like events we, the readers, have experienced: that sense of being consumed by things we can’t understand; the hell of being where you feel you don’t belong; the ache of wanting dangerous things, places or people to be beautiful. Read this book when wrapped in comforts on a cold day. Read it after you’ve been kissed by someone who adores you. Or maybe after baking yourself a long-overdue pie.

Sorry if I’m hopping foot to foot way more than usual; Cooney has me between worlds and I’m not sure which heart language I’m speaking from one moment to the next. My only surety is that there is art and there is life, and the 2 shouldn’t be separate. I should simply stop and write BUY THIS BOOK a hundred-and-one times till the page is full. Turn this blog into a hypnotic spell.

But… some dreams are best approached with eyes wide open.

It’s all about appreciation.

So what is the book about, Zig? MY GODS, YOU PLOT MONKEYS WEAR ME OUT. There’s Breaker House (you might remember it from Desdemona and the Deep), there’s the Valwode (the living dream maintained by Nyx the Nightwalker), there’s a painter, a writer, and a sculptor as our 3 human protagonists (had a librarian been included I might have fainted). There are creatures who plan for centuries in the shadows, and other creatures who deem tormenting others not only prudent but a birthright. 

There’s warring for a crown. There’s the most intriguing statue come to life you’re likely to see for quite a while. There’s warmth, humanity, regret and a multitude of pangs. There’s a lovely ache between parallel storylines. The reading becomes binge-watching 12 seasons of an epic fantasy every morning before you wake up. What Cooney does with this beautiful treasure doesn’t even count as simple story. It’s an enchantment, enchantment being a state we have walked away from for far too long.

But again, plot. We begin with characters who’ve received an invitation, and the story then proceeds to be its own invitation to us: to find adventure with all the fear, excitement, abandon and anticipation that come with moving worlds aside to fiddle with the interesting bits beneath. The plotlines are exquisitely woven throughout disparate stories, culminating in such a state of appreciation from me that — OK, you know that “Sex is good but…” meme? Insert me in that meme; picture me holding this book.

Boom. Done. Love.

Love is what we read for.

Love of art.

Is that a forgotten ideal? Enjoy a thing, yes. But love it? This is one of the major themes of the book. Experience art with a quickening and deepening as the first time holding hands during a walk? 

Dark Breakers frontispiece by Brett Massé.

Love is something to think about long after finishing, to ask yourself when did it become “adult” to downplay beautiful things? When did we stop falling in love with “taking things to the art,” as a professor of mine used to say? There’s a notion love like that is a silly thing best left to children who lack the sophistication of being able to distance themselves from enthusiasm. Enjoy your art, but do not love it. Enjoy mysteries, but do not love them. Appreciate a gift but don’t self-ensnare in gratitude.


I fell in love with Elliot Howell’s (the painter) gentle passion. With Analise Field’s (the writer) rumpled sense of adventure. With Gideon Alderwood’s (the sculptor) acerbic valiance. The richness of the world(s), the plots sewing themselves to each another, the language, the pacing, and every single unexpected interaction, trope examined, or pure imaginative splash… all at which C. S. E. Cooney excels. Love. This book is beautiful for beauty’s sake, painful as learning someone who once loved us still does, and — above all — is that kiss we, during our pandemic age, during the wedges between thought and heart, during remembrances and future hopes, most desperately, most assuredly need.

This book reaches out a hand and says come with me into the half-light woods.

I follow. After a while I don’t realize I’m running, asking the book to keep up.

Art by Brett Massé for “Salissay’s Laundries,” in Dark Breakers


Zig Zag Claybourne is the author of The Brothers Jetstream: Leviathan and its sequel Afro Puffs Are the Antennae of the Universe. Other works include By All Our Violent Guides, Neon Lights, and Conversations with Idras. His stories and essays on sci fi, fandom, and howlingly existential life have appeared in Apex, Galaxy’s Edge, GigaNotosaurus, Strange Horizons, and other genre venues, as well as the “42” blog at https://www.writeonrighton.com. He is the 2021 Kresge Foundation Literary Fellow. He grew up watching The Twilight Zone and considers himself a better person for it.

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George Kelley

One of my favorite first lines is from Orson Scott Card’s “Enders Game” (1977): “Whatever your gravity is when you get to the door, remember–the enemy’s gate is down.”

Kathryn Adams

One of my favorite short-story quotes is from Neil Gaiman’s collection “Trigger Warning”: “I remember Icarus. He flew too close to the sun. In the stories, though, it’s worth it. Always worth it to have tried, even if you fail, even if you fall like a meteor forever. Better to have flamed in the darkness, to have inspired others, to have lived, than to have sat in the darkness, cursing the people who borrowed, but did not return, your candle.”

Rebecca Bushong-Taylor

“Magic, madam, is like wine and, if you are not used to it, it will make you drunk.” Susanna Clarke, “The Ladies of Grace Adieu”

Robert Coleman

The “Swords & Dark Magic” anthology reignited my passion for sword & sorcery. And for me the standout discovery in there was James Enge’s “The Singing Spear” which was my introduction to Morlock. The tale begins, “To drink until you vomit and then drink again is dull work. It requires no talent and won’t gain you fame or fortune. It’s usually followed by a deep dark unconsciousness though, so it had become Morlock Ambrosius’ favorite pastime.”


I read “Desdemona and the Deep” this past December. Cooney’s ebullient use of costume throughout stays with me. Her glee is infectious, and that’s a good and rare thing.


This is such a beautiful review! I always struggle to put my love for Cooney into words, so I take my hat off to you, sir! Genuinely a joy to read.

Is it too on the nose to claim Bone Swans as my favourite story collection??? Probably. In that case, I’ll go with The Fox’s Tower and Other Tales by Yoon Ha Lee!

“The dawn after the piano was buried, the unicorns’ ghosts rose out of the earth and circles the queens’ castle once, twice, thrice. Their hoofbeats played a percussion of thanks, and the silvery light from their horns formed a parade like a trail of starlight. Then they galloped into the sea and were gone.”

[…] at Black Gate, author Z.Z. Claybourne wrote a glowing evaluation of Dark Breakers, declaring the the book “an art deco mural under the guidance of Galadriel, Zora […]

[…] at Black Gate, author Z.Z. Claybourne wrote a glowing evaluation of Dark Breakers, declaring the the book “an art deco mural under the guidance of Galadriel, Zora […]

Nevenah Smith

My favorite short story collection is The Downstairs Room by Kate Wilhelm. I can’t at this moment conjure a line from it, but I still carry the feeling of the title story with me to this day.


Some favorite collections include Ted Chiang’s Exhalation, Her Smoke Rose Up Forever by James Tiptree, Jr., The Paper Menagerie by Ken Liu, Magic for Beginners by Kelly Link, and Birds of America by Lorrie Moore.


From Ken Liu’s Paper Menagerie: “There are no monsters. The monster is us.”

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