Review: Of Sorrow and Such by Angela Slatter

Of Sorrow and Such

Mistress Gideon is a witch. The people of Eddas Meadow, the village where she lives, either don’t care or choose not to see it. Mistress Gideon is simply the woman who heals them, who helps them, who greases the wheels of the village’s quiet little society.

Until one night, a woman visits Mistress Gideon. Her visitor is bleeding to death. Her visitor shares Mistress Gideon’s secret. And her visitor is bringing chaos with her. To save a life is to take responsibility for every future action in that life.

But what if the person you save is dangerous?

Especially to you?

Slatter’s work moves with the same quiet, confident awareness as her lead character. Eddas Meadow is sketched out for us in the first few pages with a combination of affection and sarcasm that neatly defines the tone for the rest of the novella. Mistress Gideon lives in the village but she’s not of the village and she can see everything the other residents choose not to. That gives her emotional distance if not physical and it also means she can see the village, and by extension society, for what it is; a polite lie we all tell ourselves to keep the peace. It’s a remarkable, contemporary approach to fantasy that sidesteps any romanticism and makes the book instantly immediate, relatable and real.

And that immediacy is what makes Mistress Gideon’s visitor, Flora Brautigan, all the more dangerous. A young shapeshifter caught out in the open, Flora is badly wounded and runs to Mistress Gideon for aid. She gets it, and not just from Gideon either. The witch runs an unofficial safehouse for her sisters and Selke, her houseguest is a vital part of the lifesaving operation. Selke and Gideon are old fashioned witches; calm, measured, careful. Flora is nothing of the sort; loud where Gideon is quiet, brash where she’s calm and stupid where Mistress Gideon is very, very clever.

There are multiple conflicts folded around one another here. The tension of the survivor versus the would-be anarchist, the tension between young and old and most interestingly between the past and the future. Gideon’s own past is tragic in an unusually horrifying way and it’s clear that’s scarred her. Flora has none of the same experience and doesn’t care. She’s convinced she can take on the world. Gideon knows neither of them can. She also knows it won’t matter.

That leads to the second conflict, between expectation and fact. Time and again, Gideon escapes by being what she is, not what she’s expected to be. The war the witches fight is clever and subtle and calm, based on years of accumulated experience and reputation. Compared to that, Flora is a brick through a window. Brutally unsubtle and short term where Gideon’s plans are years long. It’s a fascinating clash of styles especially as it forces Gideon to face up to the third and most important conflict in the book; the war for the heart of her adopted daughter.

Slatter’s characters are all expertly explored but Gideon and Gilly are the two that haunt the book. Gideon is a survivor, an abandoned daughter, a woman not used to sharing her life. Gilly wants to share not just her life but her talents and the book’s most desperately poignant sections explore the fact Gilly is non-magical in a magical family. Their conflicts are also what binds the two women to one another; family, obligation, youth and experience. In addition it’s what powers the second half of the book as Gideon realizes that not only her saving Flora but an earlier choice is coming back to haunt her. How she deals with it, survives, and more, is subtle, humane and affecting. Eddas Meadow remembers its own, even those who aren’t quite the same as the others.

Of Sorrow and Such is one of the most careful, gentle stories in the line to date. It’s also the one with the sharpest teeth. Read it and discover why Mistress Gideon is both a survivor and much, much more.

Of Sorrow and Such is available from Amazon UK here and Amazon US here.

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