Thursday, 30 March 2017

A Feast of Sorrows by Angela Slatter

A Feast of Sorrows by Angela Slatter is a collection of short stories, almost all of them reprints. Long-term followers of this blog will know that I am a big fan of Slatter's stories and I have previously read and reviewed The Bitterwood Bible and Other Recountings and Sourdough and Other Stories, both of which I loved. A Feast of Sorrows contains some stories from those two collections, which I haven't reviewed a second time, as well as stories new to me and stories not set in the same universe.

A Feast of Sorrows—Angela Slatter’s first U.S. collection—features twelve of the World Fantasy and British Fantasy Award-winning Australian author’s finest, darkest fairy tales, and adds two new novellas to her marvelous cauldron of fiction.

Stories peopled by women and girls—fearless, frightened, brave, bold, frail, and fantastical—who take the paths less traveled by, accept (and offer) poisoned apples, and embrace transformation in all its forms. Reminiscent of Angela Carter at her best, Slatter’s work is both timeless and fresh: fascinating new reflections from the enchanted mirrors of fairy tales and folklore.

Slatter's stories are always beautifully written and those included in this collection are no exception. I think, overall, I have preferred her "mosaic novel" volumes of stories, rather than those, like A Feast of Sorrows (or Black-Winged Angels), which are more thematically than literally linked. That doesn't stop the stories themselves from being gorgeous, of course, and I also suspect I would have enjoyed this volume more if all the stories had been new to me.

That said, I was delighted to learn, when reading the Afterword containing Slatter's notes on each story, that the last three stories in A Feast of Sorrows will form the opening of another mosaic novel, to be called The Tallow-Wife and Other Tales. Certainly something I'm looking forward to.

My notes on the individual stories, written as I read them and skipping most of those I'd read before:

  • "Dresses, three" — A tale of magical dresses, their maker, her son, and their wearer.

  • "Bluebeard’s Daughter" — A brew of fairytales. A poisoned Apple, a witch with a house made out of confectionery, and a girl too clever to be easily trapped.
  • "The Jacaranda Wife" — Similar in general ideas to a selkie story, but with a woman that comes from a jacaranda tree rather than a seal.

  • "Light as Mist, Heavy as Hope" — Rumplestiltskin, more or less. Read this one before, but reread it because I couldn't remember the ending. A tale of mother-daughter bonds.

"The Tallow-Wife" — A longer story that I think is set in the Bitterwood/Sourdough universe (or Angelia, as Theodora Goss dubs it in the introduction). I enjoyed the story about a wife and mother coming to terms/realisation with some of her life choices, but I didn't find the ending very satisfying as I have many of Slatter's same-world stories.

  • "What Shines Brightest Burns Most Fiercely" — To my delight, this story follows on with some of the characters from the previous one, "The Tallow-Wife", and improves it by association/continuation. It also gives a bit more insight into side characters as one gets a deserved comeuppance.
  • "Bearskin" — Another story linked with the previous two. An unfortunate tale about an unhappy child and his questionable fate.

As I keen saying, Slatter's stories are wonderful and I cannot recommend them enough to all fantasy fans. As far as collections of short stories to start with go, this one is a good a place as any and gives a reasonable cross-section of Slatter's work. As ever, I look forward to reading of Slatter's work as soon as I can get my hands on it.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: 2016, Prime Books
Series: Not really, but some stories are linked to others in other volumes.
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge

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