One of the biggest unforeseen benefits of ramping up review cadence and outreach on The Warbler is the opportunity I’ve had to read so many different works by authors of whom I hadn’t heard, in formats outside the long-form epic fantasies I long favored.
Through this new, widened lens, I’ve (re)discovered that novellas are wonderful things.
Angela Slatter’s Of Sorrow and Such is one such thing of wonder. Slatter is an award-winning Australian author—a doctor of creative writing—with an impressive list of published short fiction, flash fiction, and anthologies in her CV. Of Sorrow and Such is published by Tor’s new imprint dedicated to short fiction, Tor.com Publishing.
Of Sorrow and Such occupies that special space in speculative fiction, wherein a fantastical, dystopian, or utopian setting is a vehicle for the expression of raw human experiences. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a great story in it, but the novella deals with hard, human truths that reach beyond the fiction and into the everyday lives of many of its readers.
There’s mesmerizing rhythm and poetry in the way Slatter writes. Patience Gideon, the story’s protagonist-who evidently features in a number of other works by Slatter—has a way of observing the world which both enriches it and robs it of its color. She sees through the manifold lens of her many hardships: The difficulty of being a woman in a medieval-ish society; of being a witch among superstitious villagers; of raising an orphaned girl as her daughter; of maintaining anonymity in plain sight.
In a society that sees women as little more than chattel and burns women with magic at the stake, privacy and secrecy are paramount to survival. So when a village woman arrives at Patience’s door, holding up her severely injured sister, and reveals herself as a shapeshifter, things get complicated. We are tested alongside Patience and by her, when she and the other characters in the novella do things that disturb us, or leave us feeling weak, having no idea what we’d do in her stead.
Fantasy often glorifies the magically-gifted, and Of Sorrow and Such is another great example where this isn’t the case. Witches, in Slatter’s world, are just like us, but with more to fear. I’ll leave you with a sentence I found particularly good from the novella, from which the name of the story is derived.
“My girl, my darling girl, don’t wish for what I’ve got—a witch’s life is made of sorrow and such. Be happy you’ve a chance at something else.”
Tor.com publishing’s catalog of novellas has intrigued me for a few weeks now, and reading Of Sorrow and Such makes me want to head to their site and pick up a number of other novellas. The joy of reading a satisfying story in an hour or two is intoxicating. I highly recommend reading Of Sorrow and Such, and checking out the rest of the Tor.com catalog.