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?
Angela Slatter is one of my favourite authors, an absolute master fantasist. Her collections Sourdough and Bitterwood are among my all-time favourite collections ever, and this novella is set in the same world. You don’t have to have read those collections to enjoy this book though – it’s an entirely standalone story with gorgeous prose, fabulous characters and a dark, grim plot.
Slatter does a great job of evoking the cunning woman in the patriarchal society trope, but breathes entirely new life into what could easily be old and stale ideas. Her women are powerful, but not entirely nice. They’re often selfish survivors driven to questionable actions. The men are not simply moustache-twirling bad guys, but complex and complicated characters with equally difficult lives. All of these things are expertly woven into a dark and spellbinding plot.
The story does start slowly, but it builds in intensity, particularly from the middle onwards. The slowness is never boring, though, because Slatter’s work is simply a joy to read. Beautiful prose, tight dialogue and evocative description abound. And if you haven’t read her collections of short fiction, I highly recommend you do, for all the same reasons as those above and more.
And again, this is a story which proves the value of the novella length, perfect for this tale. I can’t recommend this one highly enough. (And there are lots of novellas in the Tor line, either out now or forthcoming, that demand attention.)