Review: A Feast of Sorrows by Angela Slatter

“Here” she says, “have an apple.”

Yeah, right. As if I know nothing about stepmothers. As if I know nothing about apples.

~From Bluebeard's Daughter.

Trigger warning: The stories in this book contain mentions of rape, incest, child abuse, miscarriage and infant loss.

I've really enjoyed all of Angela Slatter's work so far so I couldn't resist this collection of short stories. They are fairy tales of the old fashioned sort where terrible things can happen and there isn't always a happy ending, at least not for everyone. Some are feminist re-tellings of familiar stories, while others are entirely original. Most of them intertwine with other stories in the collection, being set in the same place but at a different time or featuring some of the same characters. They all center on women, who come from all walks of life and have different strengths and failings. Some of my favourites from this collection were:

Bluebeard's daughter

A retelling of Bluebeard mixed with Hansel and Gretel. This one was more comic in tone than most of the collection, though blackly so.

The Jacaranda Wife

I loved the imagery in this one. The Jacaranda is transplanted to Australia, beautiful and able to survive here but not quite belonging, like the unearthly bride in this story.

Light as Mist, Heavy as Hope

This one features Rumplestiltskin as a pedophile, and the triumph of the bond between mother and daughter over evil. It reminded me a little of the film Maleficent.

The Coffin Maker's Daughter

Hepsibah Ballantyne makes coffins while being heckled by the ghost of her father, to whom she used to be apprenticed. It's a story of cunning, love and betrayal. It also contains a lesbian character.

St Dymphna's School for Poison Girls

The title of this one appealed to me a lot, as did the concept. It's about a finishing school for girls who are being raised to carry out missions of revenge on the enemies of their wealthy families and a religious order whose goal is to collect and archive all human knowledge for its own sake. This one also features Hepsibah Ballantyne from The Coffin Maker's Daughter.

By My Voice I shall be known

This one is a retelling of the little mermaid which manages to be even darker than the Hans Christian Anderson version, with the girl in the story seeking the revenge the little Mermaid decided against, but it is also melancholy and beautiful.

The recurrence of certain characters in multiple stories was a bit distracting at times, and I think it might work better if I had read those stories at different times in different books, so that it felt like I were checking back in on a friend I hadn't seen in a while, they way I feel when I read new books in the Bordertown series. On the other hand, reading this volume is a quick and easy way to get your Angela Slatter fix. She has a fresh voice and is a master craftswoman when it comes to creating an atmosphere. A Feast of Sorrows is a strong collection without any disappointing stories. I adore fairy tales and I found this book a lot of fun.

Published: October 2016

Rated: ★★ ★ ★ ☆

Disclaimer: I was given a complimentary copy of this book by Diamond Book Distributors via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

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