Angela Slatter – Of Sorrow and Such

And my love for Angela Slatter is still growing. Some short story authors don’t do well with longer works and it was a real concern for me that this newly-discovered AMAZING writer would let me down with her Tor.com novella. But of course she didn’t. In fact, she excels at novella length, making me only more excited for her first novel coming next year.

of sorrows and suchOF SORROW AND SUCH
by Angela Slatter

Published by: Tor.com, 2015
Paperback: 160 pages
Standalone novella
My rating: 9,5/10

First sentence: Edda’s Meadow is a town like any other, smaller than some, larger than many.

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?

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This is something special. Patience Gideon is a well-known character from Angela Slatter’s short fiction. She appeared as a young girl in the story “Gallowberries” in Sourdough and Other Stories so I found it more than intriguing to see her as an older woman, just over 50, having an adopted daughter of her own. In a way, she mirrors her own childhood, with the big difference that her adopted daughter Gilly doesn’t have the slightest bit of magic in her.

Mistress Gideon is the one the people of Edda’s Meadow go to when something ails, when they want to terminate a pregnancy, when they wish to conceive a child, when the visiting doctor couldn’t help them. She is willing to help although always on her toes about what she reveals. She knows all too well what happens when people say the word “witch” out loud. It doesn’t even matter if you use magic or not, the pyre is built faster than you can say you’re innocent.

Mistress Gideon has enough to worry about, what with Gilly falling for the wrong man, travelling fellow witches hidden away in her cottage, and a man from her past visiting Edda’s Meadow. But when injured Flora Brautigan stumbles into Gideon’s cottage one night, a chain of events is set loose that will threaten Gideon’s life and that of anyone she holds dear. Especially considering Flora is quite unwilling to learn from her mistakes or give up her own comfort for the sake of saving others…

of sorrows and such

I cannot say enough how much I loved this story. It ties in nicely with Slatter’s short story collections but it also offers so many new things. You don’t have to have read Sourdough and Other Stories to enjoy Of Sorrow and Such. The stuff you need to know is mentioned by Mistress Gideon herself in the novella. But seeing her like this felt a little bit like coming home. Like meeting an old friend again after many years, noting how they’ve changed, how they’re still the same. Mistress Gideon is a heroine to root for. During the story, there are several moments when she faces a choice – some are pretty clearly labeled “good” and “bad”, but most are more grey-scale. Watching her throw her own promises overboard for the people she cares about was one of the most gratifying things about Of Sorrow and Such.

We both know what a burden she has taken on – indeed, the pair of us, for to save someone is to be responsible for their actions thereafter. If you help keep a person in the world, the good and ill they do is always partially yours.

But the one moment that brought tears to my eyes came toward the end. For fear of spoilers, I cannot say more, only that it was both refreshing and heartwarming to see women work together, helping each other, looking out for each other, even when they’re not close friends. The small-town mentality weeds out the sheep from the people who like to think for themselves and make their choices accordingly. Even side-characters who only appear for a short moment or two feel fully-fleshed out and believable. Especially the male character benefit from this. Some are more center stage while others appear constantly in the background, but it is precisely these quite background-types that I grew strangely fond of.

Lastly, Slatter’s prose continues to be gorgeous. Every word is chosen carefully for meaning and effect but while you’re reading it, you don’t even notice all the little hidden meanings you have taken in. A few pages later, you wonder how you came to know character X so well when she hasn’t really said very much. But that’s what Angela Slatter does. She paints a whole town in a few brush strokes and makes you feel as if you grew up in Edda’s Meadow yourself. Not a word is wasted, not a line misplaced. I wouldn’t be surprised if her skill with language earned her many more awards.

What made me especially happy was the rounded and fitting ending. Some writers seem to be scared of clear endings and leave everything open for the reader to imagine. I don’t mind a little ambiguity but I’d like to know at least a rough direction of where the characters are going after I’ve grown to love them. Angela Slatter found that balance effortlessly with her believable, wonderful (if not exactly happily ever after) ending to Of Sorrow and Such. There is enough room for speculation on the readers’ part, but there are somewhat clear paths painted for these characters, that leave us with hope and joy and sorrow and such.

MY RATING: 9,5/10 – Close to perfection!

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