Friday, 6 November 2015

Of Sorrow and Such by Angela Slatter

Of Sorrow and Such by Angela Slatter is a novella released as part of Tor.com's new novella line. It's set in the same world as The Bitterwood Bible and Other Recountings and Sourdough and Other Stories, two collections that have either won awards or been shortlisted. However, that doesn't mean you have to have read anything else to enjoy this book. Of Sorrow and Such stands quite nicely alone.

Mistress Gideon is a witch. The locals of Edda's Meadow, if they suspect it of her, say nary a word-Gideon has been good to them, and it's always better to keep on her good side. Just in case.

When a foolish young shapeshifter goes against the wishes of her pack, and gets herself very publicly caught, the authorities find it impossible to deny the existence of the supernatural in their midst any longer; Gideon and her like are captured, bound for torture and a fiery end.

Should Gideon give up her sisters in return for a quick death? Or can she turn the situation to her advantage?

This novella is about an older woman living alone with a teenage adopted daughter, who dispenses herbal medicine to the residents of her village. It's mostly women that come to her or people with urgent problems who can't wait for the "real" (i.e. male) doctor's next visit. There is a lot of social commentary on how women are treated patriarchal societies when they don't have any power. And also how they're treated when they do, inconveniently, dare to have power. Because the main character, Patience, is a witch and spends a lot of her time looking out for both disadvantaged women and fellow witches. She's not a nice person, but she is a practical one, which is part of her charm. I quite liked her and her philosophy of doing what was needed. I haven't read Sourdough and Other Stories, yet, so this was my first introduction to her.

Of Sorrow and Such starts off by setting the scene, which can make it feel a bit slow, but Slatter's writing is so lovely that it's a consistently very readable story. It does pick up in the second half, however, and I had difficulty putting it down at that point (despite my desperate need for sleep).

I quite enjoyed this novella and it definitely makes me want to get around to Sourdough sooner rather than later (not sure that will be possible, alas). I highly recommend this story to fans of Slatter's other stories and to fans of fantasy generally. It's a little bit dark, but it's definitely not horror.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: October 2015, Tor.com (available from ebook shops rather than on their website)
Series: Set in the same world as The Bitterwood Bible and Sourdough and Other Stories, but stands alone fine
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge

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