Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Sourdough and Other Stories by Angela Slatter

Sourdough and Other Stories by Angela Slatter is a collection of linked short stories — or a mosaic novel — similar to The Bitterwood Bible and Other Recountings, but written earlier and set later in the same world.

Welcome to the beautiful magic, restless passion and exquisite horror of Angela Slatter's impeccably imagined tales.

In the cathedral-city of Lodellan and its uneasy hinterland, babies are fashioned from bread, dolls are given souls and wishes granted may be soon regretted. There are ghosts who dream, men whose wings have been clipped and trolls who long for something other. Love, loss and life are elegantly dissected in Slatter's earthy yet poetic prose.

As Rob Shearman says in his Introduction: 'Sourdough and Other Stories manages to be grand and ambitious and worldbuilding-but also as intimate and focused as all good short fiction should be . . . The joy of Angela Slatter's book is that she's given us a set of fairy tales that are at once both new and fresh, and yet feel as old as storytelling itself.'

As always with Slatter's work, the writing in this book is gorgeous and the stories women-centric. I have to admit, I read it over the course of a several weeks so I lost some sense of continuity. As a result, towards the end I found myself flicking back to earlier stories trying to remember who that character with the familiar name was. I suspect this is partly to blame for my feeling that the stories are a bit less deliberately linked than those in The Bitterwood Bible and Other Recountings. That said, I also think Slatter's writing has improved in the interim.

Nevertheless, Sourdough and Other Stories was a wonderful read. I loved... too many of the stories to list them all. There were only one or two that I didn't absolutely love and, looking over the list now, only one I don't immediately recall from what I wrote about it straight after reading. Overall, a memorable collection that I highly recommend to all fantasy fans. As always, some brief thoughts on each story are below.

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The Shadow Tree — A woman with a secret and knowledge of herbs punishes bratty royal children, tempting them with fairytales.

Gallowberries — A young witch dealing with losing her mother and finding a substitute. Took me until the end to realise the familiarity of the characters was from a link with the novella Of Sorrow and Such.

Little Radish — An unexpected Repunzel retelling. Really, there was no part of this story that I saw coming.

Dibblespin — Told from the point of view of the daughter of a troll-woman, partly about her half sister and mostly about the strange goings on in their forest and the nearby town.

The Navigator — A different kind of story to those preceding it. Set at sea, featuring a siren who has lost his wings and the one who loves him. A different take on sirens than others I've read.

The Angel Wood — A teenage girl meets her family legacy in a story that put me in mind of the Green Man (but on a smaller scale, maybe).

Ash — A short story of a witch and her revenge. I like how prone to vengeance so many of Slatter's characters turn out to be.

The Story of Ink — A story of a precocious eleven year old and the questionable task she's been set by her master. An unexpected ending which I'm sure is significant but which I don't immediately know what to make of. More part of a whole than a standalone story.

Lost Things — Surprisingly a kind of direct sequel to the previous story. I don't think the two stories should be read separately.

A Good Husband — A story about a water sprite and a woman who sort her help. A story of cleverness and domestic violence, and the jaded sprite's response.

A Porcelain Soul — The story of a girl about to graduate from a doll-making academy. But they don't make ordinary dolls, but rather infuse them with their souls to animate them. Things go wrong when the girls are working on their final projects. Definitely one of my favourite stories in this collection.

The Bones Remember Everything — I saw echoes of a few different fairytales in this one, but none that it was particularly based on (as far as my limited knowledge goes). Not sure what to make of it overall. A bit dire, in a good way as far as story telling goes. A familiar name makes an appearance in the historical backstory section.

Sourdough — A story about a young bread maker. Once I started reading, I was reminded of another story (by a different author) which turned out quite differently. That coloured my reading somewhat but this was still a good, solid, Slatter yarn.

Sister, Sister — A little bit of what happens after the fairytale, when things aren't quite just happily ever after and another fairytale intrudes. Featuring a fallen princess, a troll-wife and chosen family. I quite enjoyed this story as well.

Lavender and Lychgates — A story directly linked with "Sourdough", telling a later part of the same family's story. I was surprised at how many connections there were in this one... One of my favourite stories in this collection.

Under the Mountain — Another sequel, this time to "Sister, Sister", following the daughter's story. I'm not sure I can say more about it without spoilers. An unsettling note to end the collection on.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: 2010, Tatarus Press
Series: Sort of? Same world as The Bitterwood Bible and Other Recountings, also the novella Of Sorrow and Such
Format read: ePub
Source: Purchased from publisher
Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge

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