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A Human Stain

3.57  ·  Rating details ·  620 ratings  ·  146 reviews
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.
ebook, 37 pages
Published January 4th 2017 by
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3.57  · 
Rating details
 ·  620 ratings  ·  146 reviews

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May 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing

Under one of the beds she found a thin rib from a rack of lamb, riddled with tooth marks. Somewhere in the house was a dog. She’d have to take care to make friends with it.

i have gotten really REALLY bad about reviewing these free tor shorts. for the past few years, i have given myself the enjoyable task of reading one per week, but i've slacked on reviewing them and they have added up into an unapproachable, never-gonna-do-it numbe
Oct 11, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Read this story for free here.

The story was recommended to me by a friend who warned me to read it in the dark in a relaxing atmosphere. Oookaaayyy ... not creepy at all!

A young woman accompanies a friend to his family's residence in Bavaria to help take care of his nephew. However, as one can imagine from the title and indeed cover, there is something profoundly wrong and the reader, along with young helen, soon gets sucked into this creepy world where all is not as it first seemed.

I must say t
Edward Lorn
Lackluster inclusion mixed with some great horror imagery.

A HUMAN STAIN is a decent short story with a snail's pace of an opening followed by just enough chills to keep me interested to the end. Certain elements seemed like nothing more than the checking of a box, by which I mean, the gay character's development never went beyond surface level, but at least they were included... I guess? I would have liked to see more than "she thinks so-and-so is attractive, and this one time at band camp her f
Leo Robertson
Apr 03, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In my litmag perusals (due another best-of-stories list asap!) one of my favourite discoveries was Kelly Robson. She got her first story published at forty-seven, and has written about being a late bloomer here:

Now her work is quickly getting picked up and celebrated by the top outlets today, including this horror story, published by Tor! It's awesome that she represents so many reassuring messages about life: you can start at any time; it's difficult to w
Oct 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Winner of the 2017 Nebula Award for Best Novelette.

A very creepy read, perfect for Spooktober.


Bärchen offers his friend Helen to join him for the summer at his family home in Bavaria and to pay her for teaching his orphaned nephew English. Having nothing left but debts in Paris, Helen accepts his offer and joins him on his journey to Germany.

Bärchen’s childhood home turns out to be something like a castle, set on the edge of lake Meresee, hemmed in tight by the Bavaria
So, quick take on this one. It's definitely creepy. Kelly Robson sets off right away by building tension, and it keeps you guessing for a good half of the story. When the actual cause of all this tension broke through the story though, I kind of lost interest. I don't know what I was expecting. Honestly. Still, the twist here was just a little too odd for me to wrap my mind around. Be warned that this is a bit gory, which should be evident by the title but I figured I'd put a warning out. Overal ...more
May 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
Salt caves are to die for...

Unsettling, creepy, and gruesome - Kelly Robson is one to watch. Her mind is full of monsters.
Rachel (Kalanadi)
Feb 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: short-fiction
Wonderfully written and really creeped me out with just hints and a few images. I don't enjoy reading scary stories but this was on my awards season reading list, and I'm always happy to read more by Robson.
Well, now, this is proper scary. And quite disturbing. Recommended for Halloween read. Available for free here:
Nov 20, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: yr-2019
A must read after you read the story (actually I recommend you read it first): Ten Questions with Kelly Robson About “A Human Stain” Jan 22 2019 by Richard Thomas

I tore through the novelette. She writes very well and kept it suspenseful. But all is not clear by the end which seriously effects my enjoyment and my interest in reading anymore by this author.

The Q&A linked above explains so much. That information, so crucial to the stor
Cathy (cathepsut)
Very strange story. Creepy, a little disgusting. Odd. Not quite sure what the point of this Gothic tale was supposed to be.

Can be read for free here:
Jan 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
This was a super creepy short horror story where you think you know where it's going, and then you don't.

At first, it's all "Yay! Representation in turn-of-the-century Europe" and then things start getting weirder and weirder...

Maybe this should be 5 stars for me because it left such an impression.

Don't read spoilers. I'm impressed.
Tracey the Lizard Queen
2.75 stars

I really wanted to like this. Like, really really like it. But I found it very flat. I think I would have enjoyed it more if it was longer, maybe I would have more of an opportunity to get to 'know' the characters.

I can't tell if its just me or if my lack of enjoyment is a reflection on the quality of writing. So please don't take my word for it.
I spotted this one being promoted on twitter and just had to read it for the cover alone. :P

Really, that cover is just sooooo creepy. *shivers* Especially now that I read the book and know who that is/what that represents.

The books starts off quite nice, with our MC getting to a castle/house in the middle of the mountains/in the middle of nowhere. She has nothing, nothing to lose, and her friend takes her to take care of his nephew for him. To teach him English, to teach him some stuff before
Oct 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
This was short and super creepy, the perfect October read! 🎃🦇🕸

You can read it here.

Feb 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
What the heck did I just read.
Oct 17, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: short-stories, horror
Ganador del Nebula a mejor relato en 2017. Es interesante y está muy bien escrito pero tal vez sea por el tema me ha dejado un poco frío.
J. Boo
May 16, 2017 rated it did not like it
People I like, whose views I respect, keep enthusiastically recommending free Tor shorts, so I, to whom "free" is like heroin to a junkie, will download them, read them, and wonder if my computer is infected with a very specific virus, one with an advanced AI that corrupts the plots of Tor shorts as they arrive on my computer. (*)

A Human Stain was no exception. Everyone's actions are nonsensical -- both the monster and the human sides. There's no reason for characters to do X or Y except that th
Snickt Snackt
Jan 11, 2017 rated it it was ok
I like Gothic Horror, the cover drew me, the premise seemed intriguing; I should have loved this by all accounts. The prose was aiight at the start, very reminiscent of the genre, but once you hit the halfway mark the transitions and revelations become very ham-handed and jarring. I am supposed to feel horrified by the end, creeped out, but all I was left with at the end was a disappointing "...what?" because there was no build up to it. The ending was rather expected, and the blurring of lines ...more
The Grim Reader
Jan 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Dark, gruesome and great!

Fantastic short story available to read for free at It is ugly and deeply unsettling horror. Very good indeed.
Belinda Lewis
Jan 09, 2017 rated it really liked it
That is some hella fresh water Innsmouthesque creepiness.
Oct 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
The short story can be found here

This was recommended to me by Mike. Thanks for the nightmares Mike, I'll never look at a kid's teeth braces the same way again. Or salt. Or a lake.

This is from an anthology edited by Ellen Datlow and is a great introduction to the types of stories she includes in her exceptionally good anthologies. If you find this too.....disturbing, don't read anything else Datlow chooses.

I'll be looking for more Kelly Robson though...
Serene  Morticia
May 22, 2018 rated it it was ok
This story started off very well but the climax was pretty flat... I had to reread the last chapter to make sense of what was actually happening because the author lacked clarity. I fully appreciate that it is simply a novelette but it still left much to be desired. I feel it was supposed to finish with suspense but I feel too many aspects were left unexplained for the ending to feel totally satisfying.

Still, I enjoyed it and I will definitely be looking out for this author in the future. To be
I really enjoyed the setting on this and the weird twisty tale. I honestly expected one thing and got something else, but I'm not mad about it at all. It was more original than I thought it would be.
Stephanie Wytovich
Jan 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A beautiful, grotesque novelette that swept me up in its arms from beginning to end. Highly recommend.
Paul  Perry
This is a delicious slice of Gothic weird horror fiction from Ms Robson, wherein a rather outre young Englishwoman is rescued from her Bohemian poverty in Victorian Paris by one of her louche friends. He employs her as governess for his orphaned nephew, at a remote Bavarian Schloss. Robson's writing is sublime, the language pitched perfectly for the mood and setting, and the horror nicely grotesque.

(view spoiler)
Feb 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
A very disturbing take on "The Turn of the Screw" set into my favorite kind of scenery - a Bavarian castle. This retelling has no ghosts, but far worse things. It's full of tension, and keeps you guessing until the very end, and then some more. Genuinely creepy. I wonder what kind of monster would Kelly Robson create if she tried her hand at a longer form.
Oct 30, 2018 rated it liked it
Having heard so much praise about it I was surprised that it was....ok.
It has some suspense and I liked the ending but I doubt I will even remember it for long.
Maybe it was just too short for me but it just didn't blow me away. The writing style was quit simple and it didn't deliver anything I haven't read before in a kind of similar way.
It tells a decent story in a decent way and it was fun to read once.
However (minor nitpick), being from Germany it distracted me a lot that one of the characte
Danielle N
I am still weighing in on this mentally. There is certainly a nice amount of intrigue and sinisterness established within minutes of beginning A Human Stain. Between a well thought out cover and the application of subtle yet eerie hints provided, I was prepared for a frightful encounter.

The author writing’s easily painted a quick story full of haunting elements and a touch of LGBT that I appreciated. Unfortunately, I found myself losing interest as the story took an unexpected and extremely odd
This story.

places left elbow on desk. leans forward. places hand on forehead. stares blankly at computer screen.

Where should I even begin?

WTF. That's the only appropriate description I have for this story. I dislike using that kind of language in a public forum, even when it's abbreviated, but that is exactly how I felt. In fact I actually said that out loud after reading the last page, because what the heck was that?? Then something happened...

Over a period of three days... and I'd even started
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This Q&A with the author explains so much 3 3 Feb 17, 2019 03:37AM  

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Like you, I'm a passionate reader. I spent most of my teenage years either hanging out at the drugstore waiting for new issues of Asimov's Science Fiction magazine, or when I was in the city, lurking in the SF and Fantasy section of the bookstore. This was pre-Internet and since there were no bookstores in my town and the library was pretty bare, good books -- the kind that made my heart sing -- w ...more
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“One lone tear streaked over the rose of her cheek and dropped to her collar, staining the cotton dark. Helen” 1 likes
“he held tight to a squirming grub the size of his head. His fingers pierced its flesh; the wounds dripped clear fluid. Its eyes were dark spots behind a veil of skin. Its tiny, toothless maw opened and closed in agony. “Brother,” Peter said. He raised the grub to his lips and opened his mouth. Helen” 0 likes
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