cover image The Bitterwood Bible and Other Recountings

The Bitterwood Bible and Other Recountings

Angela Slatter. Tartarus (, $65 (280p) ISBN 978-1-905784-65-3

Although set in a fantasy world full of sorcery and enchantments, the 13 expertly wrought stories in this short-fiction collection feature characters driven by the all-too-human motives of revenge and frustration with the miserable circumstances of their lives. In "The Coffin-Maker's Daughter," a woman spurned by the daughter of the house whose dead patriarch she is burying stealthily sows the seeds of her next job. "By My Voice I Shall Be Known" concerns a wronged lover who saves the essence of her nightmares to force a hideous fate upon the woman who supplanted her. Perhaps the story that best conveys the sense of a weird world in thrall to the dark side of human nature is "St. Dymphna's School for Poison Girls," about an academy where young girls are trained as assassins to kill on their wedding nights grooms from families who wronged their own decades%E2%80%94and even centuries%E2%80%94before. Slatter (Sourdough and Other Stories) has written these stories like somber fairy tales, humanizing the traditional nobles, stepparents, witches, and common folk with vulnerabilities of the flesh and spirit, and she unites them through allusions to characters and events across the stories into a loosely woven tapestry that maps a world that exists both geographically and psychologically. Her complex characters, employing the deceptions and subterfuges that they must in order to survive, express how, bearing out the observation of one such character, "we make our tales as we must, constructing our stories to hold us together." The text includes 86 illustrations by Kathleen Jennings. (Sept.)