“Normally, she'd bleed to death in my front room for I can't assist. I have no power over this sort of life or death, and even if I could stem such bleeding, my magic is not of that kind. I'd have not choice but to apologise as she died, then hide her body, bury or burn her. Only a fool would go to the constable and report such a demise; he'd ask, first and foremost, why did she come to me for aid? What in you called to such a woman? It wouldn't take long for tales to circulate, for I've no doubt whoever did this found her up to no good. A constable, even one as dim-witted and well-disposed towards me as Haddon Maundy, could make connections that would do no good at all. Better she be thought lost and innocent, and thus mourned. Or run away and loathed in the usual fashion. Better that than she drag me down with her. But this night, oh this night, Flora Brautigan is lucky beyond all measure. This night I can help her.
“Gilly,” I say, “rouse Selke, and fast.”
-From Of Sorrow and Such.
Patience Gideon is a witch. She lives on the outskirts of the village of Edda's Meadow, eking out a living selling herbs to the villagers. The people of the village have burned witches in the past so Patience knows how important it is to be discreet and always have an exit strategy in place. However, when an injured young shape shifter comes to Patience for help she is exposed and faces death by fire if she refuses to give up her fellow witches.
Of Sorrow and Such is a stand alone novella by the author of the collections The Bitterwood Bible and Sourdough and Other Stories, though it features Patience and Selke, both of whom appear in earlier stories. It's a beautifully written story with a dark plot that centers around the lives of women on the fringes of society; the witches, Selke and Patience, Patience's adopted daughter Gilly, the shapeshifter women and the pastor's barren, unwanted wife. All these women do what they need to to survive and find themselves questioning what they owe one another when their lives are threatened. Patience is clever, brave and chilling in her practicality, as a witch should be.
The magic in the story, from enchanted undead wolves to magical clay with a life of its own, is wonderfully imaginative and makes the reader wonder what other fantastic creatures and spells may be found in the world Patience inhabits.
Of Sorrow and Such is a beautifully atmospheric, gripping, page turner of a novella. I must now go back and read Angela Slatter's entire back catalogue.