Welcome to the beautiful magic, restless passion and exquisite horror of Angela Slatter’s impeccably imagined tales.
In the cathedral-city of Lodellan and its uneasy hinterland, babies are fashioned from bread, dolls are given souls and wishes granted may be soon regretted. There are ghosts who dream, men whose wings have been clipped and trolls who long for something other. Love, loss and life are elegantly dissected in Slatter’s earthy yet poetic prose.
As Rob Shearman says in his Introduction: ‘Sourdough and Other Stories manages to be grand and ambitious and worldbuilding-but also as intimate and focused as all good short fiction should be . . . The joy of Angela Slatter’s book is that she’s given us a set of fairy tales that are at once both new and fresh, and yet feel as old as storytelling itself.’
Contains: ‘Introduction’ by Robert Shearman, ‘The Shadow Tree’, ‘Gallowberries’, ‘Little Radish’, ‘Dibblespin’, ‘The Navigator’, ‘The Angel Wood’, ‘Ash’, ‘The Story of Ink’, ‘Lost Things’, ‘A Good Husband’, ‘A Porcelain Soul’, ‘The Bones Remember Everything’, ‘Sourdough’, ‘Sister, Sister’, ‘Lavender and Lychgates’, ‘Under the Mountain, ‘Afterword’ by Jeff VanderMeer.
About the Author:
Angela Slatter is a Brisbane-based writer of speculative fiction (that’s in Australia, by the way). Over the years she’s done many things in order to avoid being a writer, including administering an MBA program and studying law – it’s hard to say which was worse. But now she’s given all that up and embraced the writerly and all it entails (poverty, depression, rejection, talking to herself, living on two-minute noodles and generally being an inveterate liar).
For some reason, she has a Masters (Research) in Creative Writing, which produced Black-Winged Angels, a short story collection of reloaded fairytales. In order to further avoid reality, she is now studying (very slowly) for a PhD in Creative Writing. During her daylight hours, she works at a writers’ centre. She has been known to occasionally teach creative writing at Queensland University of Technology. At night, she stalks the darker recesses of her (and other people’s) minds, flensing knives in hand. Except, you know, when she’s not.
Hello Ghouls and Boils,
It please me to no end to be presenting yet another phantastic book from Tartarus Press. For the benefit of those who are not long time readers of She Never Slept, I shall take a moment and wax poetic on the virtues of this wonderful small press.
Tartarus is a small publishing house based in the UK who publishes fiction from the past and present that “All evoke a sense of wonder or the supernatural in beautiful, exciting prose.” To say that that Tartarus Press‘s books are elegant would be a simplification. If there were a heaven for books surely the books from this press would be Angels of the highest order. Their pages are silky smooth and are a delight to turn. The spines are strong and the sewn binding will assure the books longevity. The smell should be bottled and sold separately (Yes, I am admittedly a book sniffer!). When I talk about the virtues of physical books versus PDFs/eBooks I just pull one of Tartarus Press’s books from my shelf and soon the defender of the eBook is charmed and their opinion is forever changed. Fine book artisans are a rarity these days, so I am thankful for this wonderful small press.
They are inspirational and I hope someday people will look on Double Feature Press’s books with at least half as much awe and respect. It is not just the exterior of their books that are amazing. What is printed on the pages is always profound. I have yet to be disappointed with a book I have received from them. That leads us to the reason we are here today. Let us get to the review of Sourdough! Enjoy, my fiends!
Sarah L. Covert
I opened the package from Tartarus Press the moment it arrived. I knew that I would be compelled to read this little gem right away. So, I took off the dust cover – a habit I picked up after the scary incident of the water spill this Summer – and gasped with awe. Stephen J. Clark‘s stunning image is etched into the hard cover in glorious silver, gold, and brass tones (see picture above). I didn’t think Tartarus could outdo themselves, but they did! I know, I know, you can’t judge a book by its cover… but it was quite stunning.
I immediately dove in and was instantly spellbound by Angela’s poetic and haunting prose. In the introduction Robert Shearman notes that Angela has “…given us a set of fairy tales that are at once both new and fresh, and yet feel as old as storytelling itself.” He really hits the nail on the head with this statement. As I read each of these wonderfully woven stories I was stricken with a feeling of familiarity, yet somehow I also felt as if I was walking down an untrodden mystical path.
Because of the nature of short stories and my non-spoiler stance on reviews, I will not talk in depth about each of the stories but mainly speak of the piece as a whole. Angela Slatter has a way of drawing you into a story with ease and grace. Her characterization and eye for detail and imagery is on par with the great classic authors. It is easy to draw a comparison the Brothers Grimm when you first begin reading this book, but when you read further you come to the understanding that there is no other work like this. Sourdough and Other Stories may pull on the same strings as the other masters of dark fairytales did, but she puts her own unique spin on things.
I will talk briefly about two stories that struck me – but fear not, they will be spoiler free!
The first tale that would haunt me long after I put the book down was “The Shadow Tree“. This is the story that opens the book. A mysterious woman who takes care of the royal children (as well as providing potions to those who needed them and taking care of the King in other ways) is the protagonist of this story. The royal children were spoiled and quite nasty to their caretaker. The only way she could get them to pay her mind was by telling them stories. Her tales had a way of charming them. Then one night they took her stories to heart and their fate was sealed. Though this story was one of the shorter ones it did a wonderful job of setting the tone for the book.
My favorite tale (and it was quite difficult to chose one) was “Little Radish“. This is the story of Rapunzel (which means little radish, she is named so for her mother’s love for the root vegetable) and her tower. I know what you must be thinking, but this is no way the same tale. Rapunzel loved silence and solitude. She sought out a way to be alone. All of her life she dreamt of a tower where she could find this peace. Then one day, when she was old enough, she set out to find the tower from her dreams. She meets a “wise woman” who tells her of a secret invisible tower and how to uncloak it. Rapunzel was very happy there for a long while, until the day she met a handsome young man and then did not desire the silence any longer. The story takes some interesting dark turns thereafter and the ending had a haunting beauty that led to tear drops wetting my cheecks.
Witchcraft is one of the central themes in this interconnected book. We see both the bright and dark sides of the Wise Women of old. As a modern eclectic witch, I enjoyed Angela’s witchy stories a good deal. Unlike most dark fiction where one assumes the witch is evil, her stories often beg the question “What is evil?”. She explores the idea that the world is not black and white. Her playground is very often in the gray areas.
Angela’s dark folk tales shine a light on the paths we do not dare travel and let’s us safely glimpse the strange, horrific, and often beautiful otherworld. This cohesive collection bleeds together and each story weaves in and out of each other creating a vivid time and place for us to explore. This well-crafted book is much more than a mere collection of stories. Together these stories makeup an enchanted world – one that you feel a part of. I have already read this book twice, and I do not doubt that I will read it again. Someday, when I have a child, I shall read it to them on dark and stormy nights. I look forward to reading more from this stunning writer. I would recommend this book to anyone who likes dark fiction, fairytales, strange tales, elegant horror, or anyone who likes stories with strong women protagonists and good characterization. This book and author receive my highest compliments and an easy 5 out of 5. Bravo, Angela!
Sarah L. Covert, Creator/Editor/Reviewer