Ladies Night In #3 | Temporary Agency by Rachel Pollack
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Review | Of Sorrow and Such by Angela Slatter
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.
Review: Fiend by Peter Stenson
I can’t really think of a more appropriate way to start the Bout of Books 11 read-a-thon than to post a couple of reviews? I’m a bit behind, so please bear with me.
Stenson’s Fiend is about a guy Chase. He’s a junkie living in what’s basically a slum on the outskirts of the Twin Cities. His parents are from the burbs and haven’t really been equipped to help him in years. He and his best friend Typewriter have been binging and going on serious benders since Chase’s girlfriend dumped him and he fell off the wagon.
In the midst of a week long meth binge, the two see a little girl outside. She seems happy and is giggling. Then, the little girl rips out a dog’s throat, spots them, and heads towards the house. The two freak out. The little girl is breaking in and they want to believe it’s all just a halluciation. It’s worse. The world is ending.
Zombies have taken over. Only Chase, Typewriter, and a handful of junkies are left to try and survive.
Stenson is very dependent on his reader’s knowledge of the Twin Cities. He often mentions locations by name rather than giving in depth descripitions. This is a double edged sword. As a resident of the Cities, it was interesting to be able to know exactly where they were supposed to be. However, it also made descriptions stand out when they weren’t quite right. Additionally, Stenson describes locations that are wrong. Frogtown isn’t all rambler housing and isn’t as big as Stenson describes. West Seventh is a bit run down but isn’t junkie city, at least not as close to Grand Avenue as he mentions. The Groveland Tap isn’t really the kind of place that a lot of meth heads gravitate to. I’d also think that if I were a non-resident of the cities, I would have been a bit lost in the locations. It would have distracted me or been confusing.
I liked a lot of the supporting characters, especially Typewriter. The side characters are very well fleshed out. They’re sympathetic and believable. I thought that Stenson does a good job showing how they’re both kind of normal but also incapable or dealing with the things in their life that cause them stress or lead to chaos. They were well balanced.
Chase, the narrator, was a bit disappointing. He was pretty insightful when it came to his friends, but the narration doesn’t really show a lot about Chase’s past or his development. It’s clear and believable when showing how he can be abusive, manipulative, or running on survival mode. There are some moments of vulnerability, where Chase says things that hint at his past and who he feels he once was, but those moments didn’t resonate with me, largely because we don’t see who he thinks he was.
There were tons of zombies though. They were flesh worn and giggled. Pretty creepy. In the first twenty pages or so alone there are three attacks. Very fun.
I did like the ending quite a bit. It was fitting, but that’s all I’ll say.
I enjoyed the book. I just wish there had been a bit more to some of the characters. Also the location thing I think is going to screw some folks up. 3/5.
I got this book for free for an honest review off of bloggingforbooks.com
Spotlight on Graphic Novels: Boxers & Saints by Gene Luen Yang
Boxers & Saints is a duology that I’ve been wanting to get my hands on for a while now. It was surprising to me, then, when (1) my library had a copy, and (2) those copies were checked in at the same time. I didn’t even have to think twice. I snagged them off the shelf and checked them out. At the time, I was reading 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami and needed a bit of a relaxing read.
Boxers & Saints tell two different stories about the Boxer Rebellion in China. One follows a Boxer, a rebel leader fighting against the forceful Christian sects that had arrived and been spreading into inland and rural China. The other follows a girl who converts to Christianity at the time. The Boxer Rebellion was a very bloody and violent time in both Chinese and Catholic history. You can read more about it here.
-Yang works hard to show the way that religious doctrines clashed in the formation of the rebel group, the Righteous and Harmonious Fist, and how other existing religious/political factions paved the way for its development. On the down side, the story focuses far less on the group’s history than on the emotional responses that led to rural villagers joining the movement.
-Yang depicts the rigid way that missionaries at the time approached proselytization and how culture clashes fed into conditions for violence. He also shows how the Christian missionaries were used as resources and provided social goods for members of the community. Though Boxers largely depicts the more harsh aspects of the missionaries in China at the time, it also makes sure to humanize the individual who were part of the church, if only briefly. This makes the violence resonate.
-The story focuses on a young man who helps to form and lead the Righteous and Harmonious Fist. Yang makes a point of using this character as a means to show the sometimes self-interested developments in the movement.
-Yang talks alot about how the people came to believe themselves to be empowered by supranatural beings and entities, taking on the powers and personalities of existing Gods. This was interesting, but a bit unapproachable at times to someone not in the know. In Saints, Joan of Arc was invoked. That was a bit more approachable and poignant for me. I especially liked how the community leaders jumped on the idea of a young Chinese girl seeing and having a connection with Joan.
-I wish there had been more history involved. The history was in the story, but at times without context.
-The art was simple, but was able to convey nuance and humor.
Overall, there often wasn’t enough historical context for my taste. It made some of the story harder to follow than it needed to be. I gave the pair a 3.5. I liked the second installation, Saints, more. It had some interesting portrayals of the Church’s missionary work in China and was a bit more approachable.