The Book Smugglers’ review of this novella made me curious when they posted it but it was only after I read one of their Book Smugglers Publishing fairy tale short stories (“The Mussel Eater”) that I realised I had heard the name Octavia Cade before. Once I made the connection from raving review to short story that I adored, it was a quick decision to buy the novella and give it a shot. My conclusion: The Book Smugglers continue to be a reliable source of amazing fiction and Octavia Cade is a name to watch out for!
Published by: Masque Books, 2015
Ebook: 82 pages
My rating: 8/10
First sentence: Among those who could accurately judge such things, it was generally acknowledged that Rosemary’s library was the finest of its kind in the entire archipelago.
In a world where experience is currency, Rosemary is the owner of a very special library—a library of memory, where scented coins transfer personal experience from one individual to another. When she trades away the sole memory of her grandmother’s final concerto, family opposition, in the form of her daughter Ruth, forces Rosemary to go on a quest to try and recover the lost coin. Yet having to trade away her own memories to get it back, how much of Rosemary will survive the exchange?
The thing I remembered most about “The Mussel Eater” was Octavia Cade’s tendency to write food porn – gorgeous, mouth-watering, brilliant food porn. She did similar things in Trading Rosemary, although not limiting herself to food but describing all sorts of vibrant memories and experiences.
Rosemary is the proud and happy owner of one of the most valuable libraries in the archipelago. Her coins, each containing a memory and scent, are worth more than you can imagine and will ensure her family’s future. Except Rosemary’s daughter, Ruth, spoiled little brat that she is, doesn’t want anything to do with the memory coins. This daughter is the reason Rosemary sets out on a journey to bring back the coin containing her grandmother’s requiem – which she had traded for another, very rare one. To appease Ruth and have some peace and quiet at home, Rosemary is willing to trade the coin she wants for the coin her daughter demands back.
The author eases her readers into this strange world in the first two chapters. We find out how the memory coins work, read descriptions of the most wonderful scents, and get glimpses of memories that somebody once treasured and someone else might not have cared for. Despite the very strange and scary idea of embedding your own memories into coins, which are then used as currency, I had no problem suspending my disbelief and simply falling into the story.
The bulk of the book tells of Rosemary’s journey to get that damned coin back. The man she traded it to is willing to give it back, but at a high cost. Rosemary must collect nine other coins. One condition of the deal is that Rosemary only use her own memories in exchange for these coins. So chapter after chapter, she hands over memories that range from melancholy to important to heart-breaking to (seemingly) less interesting. Trying to put a price on a personal experience seems like a silly, incredibly subjective thing to do but I’m sure one particular memory will shock other readers just as it shocked me. And what’s more, the question whether Rosemary is still Rosemary after giving away even one single memory. Memories are what makes us who we are (Anybody who has had a case of Alzheimer’s in the family knows just how true this is.) and while leaving one or two childhood memories may not seem like a big deal, it will inevitably change your personality. Maybe just a tiny bit, maybe a lot. Mulling this over in your head was a large part of my enjoyment of this novella.
Even more interesting than their “value” is how these memories slowly paint a picture of Rosemary as a person. On less than 100 pages, drawing a full character is not easy but Octavia Cade succeeds not only in making Rosemary come to life but even the side characters. Ruth – the daughter whom I despise – the people Rosemary trades with, they all feel so real and alive even though we only get to see them for the span of a few pages. It’s a remarkable feat that Cade pulls off without giving up some of her descriptions of smells and foods or the mood of a day by the sea. It goes to show just how powerful personal memories are. One single glimpse into an important moment of a life can be so very telling. I enjoyed how every memory evoked different feelings. Some where shocking, some lovely, others disconcerting. They all advanced the plot, however, and developed the characters.
I thought I had the ending all figured out. According to me, it could go one of two ways – I got half of it right, but I could’t have foreseen what comes after. The fact that it shattered my heart the way it did is yet more proof of Octavia Cade’s talent. Not only did I get attached to Rosemary as a character (even though she is mostly remote and somewhat cold) but to her coins as well. I didn’t want to give away a single of her memories and watched in horror as she had to give up other people’s memories.
I loved the style so much that I immediately bought Cade’s newer novella The Don’t Girls. Her ideas are original, her prose is gorgeous, she plays with my emotions as if I were her puppet – and I loved it! I’ll be watching closely for anything new she publishes. Maybe one day, I’ll even get a big, fat novel.
RATING: 8/10 – Excellent