of sorrows and such

Review | Of Sorrow and Such by Angela Slatter

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It’s the perfect season to pick up Of Sorrow and Such. Slatter’s newest novella, released by Tor.com Publishing taps into the classic witch story.

Of Sorrow and Such airs more on the side of The Crucible than The Craft. The story follows Ms. Patience Gideon, an herbalist and healer in a small village. For the past decade her life has been quiet. The town tolerates her and her adoptive daughter, Gilly, is well-loved. While the townspeople suspect her of more dangerous goings-on than a healer might otherwise have, there’s no doctor in the town and Patience is needed.

But, Patience has dark secrets, and her small family is about to be thrust into danger.

The story’s best feature is its tone. It draws on classic witch stories for its atmosphere, and blends it with an updated sense of humor and subject. The story is clear: there’s a sinister aspect to the villagers Patience lives with, but that is due almost as much to their own hypocrisy and affect as it is to anything inherently evil or suspicious about Patience. Patience may be helping women with unwanted pregnancies and abusive husbands, but she’s far from the only person meddling in the affairs of the village and certainly not the most vindictive.

The story sits at 104 pages, including cover, title, copyright, and author bio pages. It’s very short. The story itself only takes place over a few days, and the plot is paced fine. The problem I had is the background. Patience’s interactions with the villagers and the increased danger to her and Gilly lead to the reveal of some of Patience’s darkest secrets. The background of her secrets is a bit lacking and the reveals don’t really shed much light onto who Patience is or how she came to do some of the things she’s done. The bulk of the story creates a solid picture of who Patience is. She’s likeable, but tough and a bit jaded. The reveals could have added more, but the way they were executed left me wondering why so many were needed.

The side characters, however, are perfectly timed and developed for the story. Their lives and personalities are well developed, understandable, and to the point. The twists in their behavior were lightly hinted at, but still impactful.

The story examines complicated relationships between family members and neighbors. It asks who you can trust and then pushes its characters to their breaking points. The relationships Slatter examines are one of the true high-points of the novella. In particular, I enjoyed the relationship between Patience and Gilly, who, though they love each other, have very different ideas of what makes for a good life and what they want for their futures.

Slatter’s story has witches, were-people, and necromancy. It pits neighbor against neighbor in desperate attempts to protect oneself. Overall, if you’re looking to get into a witchy mood for Halloween, Of Sorrows and Such is primed to help you out.

From Angela Slatter’s Website:

Angela Slatter is the author of The Girl with No Hands and Other Tales, Sourdough and Other Stories, The Bitterwood Bible and Other Recountings, and Black-Winged Angels, as well as Midnight and Moonshine and The Female Factory (both with Lisa L. Hannett). She has won five Aurealis Awards, one British Fantasy Award, been a finalist for the Norma K. Hemming Award, and a finalist the World Fantasy Award twice (for Sourdough and Bitterwood).
Her novellas, Of Sorrow and Such (from Tor.com), and Ripper (in the Stephen Jones anthology Horrorology, from Jo Fletcher Books) will be released in October 2015.
Angela’s urban fantasy novel, Vigil (based on the short story “Brisneyland by Night”), will be released by Jo Fletcher Books in 2016, and the sequel, Corpselight, in 2017. She is represented by Ian Drury of the literary agency Sheil Land.

I received a copy of Of Sorrows and Such for free in exchange for an honest review.