Review of Of Sorrow and Such by Angela Slatter (Tor.com, October 13, 2015)
This is a fantasy tale centered on the experiences of witches and female werecreatures in the small town called Edda’s Meadow. The setting is a traditional fantasy tech level and along with that comes the disdain of the men of the town who think they should be in charge and have the right to order the women in their lives about.
Patience is the town healer whose workaday life is completely disrupted by the arrival of a witch on the run from a grief-crazed churchman. A woman whose hand has been chopped off appears at the door in the dark of the morning and only the visiting witch can do anything to help. The woman and her cousin are shifters and so came to the local witch for help. They have been using an old mill on the edge of town to shift and someone discovered them. Some of the shifters get arrested and Patience’s adopted daughter Gilly gets caught up too because she was watching them. By the end of the tale several people are dead and Patience is on the run again.
The female characters in the story all fall within a realistic range of personalities for a town: some strong, some weak, and some only strong when highly motivated. The women all have their own ways of dealing with the opposite sex. It was refreshing to see such a realistic variety of females in a low-tech setting. The men are also varied but most appear to be abusive, unfaithful, or idiots. The men are mainly background characters and villains and so are not as highly developed as the female characters. The magic in the setting appears to be nature-based; the skills to use it can be taught, but only those with a gift for it can learn. The explanations given for the potions and poisons Patience makes and the method used to attach the shifter’s hand all appear consistent with the magic “rules” for the setting.
Patience is on the “wrong side of fifty” in this story so there are certainly many more tales from her past and future which could be told. Some of the minor witches and shifters would also make interesting characters for other stories. It would be nice to see a more balanced view of some of the male characters, as the only ones who are not villains make only brief walk-on appearances. There were not many happy couples of any sort to be found in the story, so would have been good to have a bit more romance in there. Not everyone has a happy relationship, but when you see none for any of the characters then something is obviously out of whack with the setting. A strong female lead should not be at the expense of the other characters having some depth.
This is a feminist fantasy centered on female characters in a setting with an interesting magical system. It is a completely character centered book with no quest, or travel and very little romance. Your Humble Reviewers would give further works in this setting a shot, but overall we found the setting to not be very visual and everyone but Patience to be cardboard. We like a more gender-balanced take on things, because too much man-hate is as bad as having only decorative females!