Angela Slatter's The Bitterwood Bible and Other Recountings was published by Tartarus Press in September 2014.
Information about Angela Slatter:
Angela Slatter is a writer based in Brisbane, Australia. Primarily working in the field of speculative fiction, she has focused on short stories since deciding to pursue writing in 2005, when she undertook a Graduate Diploma in Creative Writing. Since then she has completed a number of short stories, many of which were included in her two compilations, Sourdough and Other Stories (2010) and The Girl With No Hands and Other Tales (2010).
Click here to visit the author's official website.
Information about The Bitterwood Bible and Other Recountings:
Welcome back to the magic and pathos of Angela Slatter's exquisitely imagined tales.
The Bitterwood Bible and Other Recountings returns to the world of Sourdough and Other Stories (Tartarus, 2010), introducing readers to the tales that came before. Stories where coffin-makers work hard to keep the dead beneath; where a plague maiden steals away the children of an ungrateful village; where poison girls are schooled in the art of assassination; where pirates disappear from the seas; where families and the ties that bind them can both ruin and resurrect and where books carry forth fairy tales, forbidden knowledge and dangerous secrets.
The Bitterwood Bible and Other Recountings is enhanced by eighty-six pen-and-ink illustrations by artist Kathleen Jennings.
A REVIEW OF ANGELA SLATTER'S THE BITTERWOOD BIBLE AND OTHER RECOUNTINGS
Angela Slatter's The Bitterwood Bible and Other Recountings was a pleasant surprise for me, because it's an excellent collection of dark fantasy stories and dark fairy-tale-like stories for adults. As a long time fan of the darker and literary side of speculative fiction I can mention that this collection is a unique and rewarding reading experience to those who love literary dark fantasy stories.
Because I was deeply impressed by the author's stories and her writing style, I have to mention that I'm compelled to use superlatives in this review. The use of superlatives is warranted when writing about this collection, because it's difficult to find similar kind of beautifully written short story collections. I was so impressed by this collection that I read it twice before I began to write this review.
The Bitterwood Bible and Other Recountings is a World Fantasy Award 2015 nominee for the best short story collection. In my opinion, it deserves to be a nominee for this prestigious award, because it's one of the best and most original fantasy short story collections published during the recent years (the beautifully written and atmospheric stories set it apart from its contemporaries).
In The Bitterwood Bible and Other Recountings, Angela Slatter returns to the world of Sourdough and Other Stories (Tartarus Press, 2010). This collection is a prequel to Sourdough and Other Stories, but it can be read as a standalone collection. I haven't had an opportunity to read Sourdough and Other Stories yet, so I can't say anything about it and how the stories in this collection are connected to its contents, but I'm sure that readers who are familiar with it will enjoy this collection.
Depending on the reader, The Bitterwood Bible and Other Recountings can be classified either as a short story collection or as a mosaic novel, because the stories are connected to each other in interesting ways. All of the stories are set in the same world and some of them feature overlapping characters.
This collection contains the following thirteen stories:
- 'The Coffin-Maker's Daughter'
- 'The Maiden in the Ice'
- 'The Badger Bride'
- 'The Burnt Moon'
- 'By My Voice I Shall Be Known'
- 'The Undone and the Divine'
- 'The Night Stair'
- 'Now, All Pirates are Gone'
- 'St Dymphna's School for Poison Girls'
- 'The Bitterwood Bible'
- 'Terrible as an Army with Banners'
- 'By the Weeping Gate'
- 'Spells for Coming Forth by Daylight'
If you think of yourself as a fan of dark fantasy and literary fiction, you should read these stories as soon as possible, because you owe it to yourself to read them. These stories offer a unique reading experience to readers who want quality, style and substance from their dark fantasy stories.
Here's more information about the stories and my thoughts about them:
'The Coffin-Maker's Daughter':
- A beautifully written story about a spurned Hepsibah Ballantyne who's the only coffin-maker in Great Glimmerton.
- This story contains many elements that together form a stunning display of imagination and stylish storytelling.
'The Maiden in the Ice':
- A story about Rikke who finds a young woman in the ice at the lake.
- An excellent story with a fairy-tale-like atmosphere.
'The Badger Bride':
- A story about Gytha who is a copyist working on an ancient and mysterious book. While working on the book, Gytha notices that a badger is outside in the snow and rescues him.
- This is a strong and beautifully told fantasy story with a seducingly dark atmosphere.
- This story was originally published in Strange Tales IV (Tartarus Press, 2014).
'The Burnt Moon':
- A story about Hafwen who lives in Southarp. Hafwen is considered to be a witch.
- This is a memorable story about witchcraft, fire and rats.
- This story alone is proof of Angela Slatter's writing skills, because she writes fluently about what kind of cruelties happen to Hafwen.
'By My Voice I Shall Be Known':
- A perfectly told story about unfaithful love and terrifying vengeance.
- This dark story is excellent in every possible way, because the author writes unflinchingly about a woman who uses dark magic to avenge what has happened to her.
- In my opinion, this story alone is proof of the author's writing skills.
'The Undone and the Divine':
- In this story, the daughter of the woman who had a part in the downfall of Southarp visits Southarp.
- The author writes fluently about how the daughter deals with different things.
'The Night Stair':
- An unconventional vampire story about Adlisa who is the day-daughter for the Lord and the Lady. Adlisa tries to seek revenge, but suddenly she notices that her whole life has changed.
- This is one of the best and most original vampire stories I've ever read, because it's a refreshingly different kind of a vision about vampires.
'Now, All Pirates are Gone':
- A beautifully bittersweet and compelling story about Maude, her pirate ship and her crew.
- The author writes fascinatingly about what has happened to the pirates and how they have met their fates.
'St Dymphna's School for Poison Girls':
- A brilliantly dark story about a school in which girls are trained to murder people who have wronged their families.
- This is one of the finest and most captivating stories in this collection.
'The Bitterwood Bible':
- This is a tale of what happens to Murciana when she does what her master tells her to do.
- This story offers an interesting glimpse into the origins of the Bitterwood Bible, which is a book full of different kinds of spells.
'Terrible as an Army with Banners':
- A beautifully written recounting of the last days of the Citadel at Cwen's Reach, which has been a home for the Little Sisters of Florian.
- This is one of the best stories in this collection, because the author writes well about what happens to the Citadel and how it is devastated.
'By the Weeping Gate':
- A memorable story about a family of prostitutes, a young woman called Nel and the mysterious Viceroy.
- This is a brilliant retelling of 'The Robber Bridegroom', which is an old German fairy tale collected by the Brothers Grimm.
'Spells for Coming Forth by Daylight':
- This story continues the story of Nel who appeared in the previous story.- Nel searches for the mysterious and dangerous Viceroy.
- This is an atmospheric story with an excellent ending.
'The Coffin-Maker’s Daughter' is a beautifully written story about Hepsibah Ballantyne who's a coffin-maker. She is haunted by her father and yearns for Lucette D'Aguillar whose father has died. The author writes well about Hepsibah's feelings and work, because she delivers a story that has a beautifully dark atmosphere and a disturbing ending. Death and lust go captivatingly hand in hand in this story, because the author tells of Hepsibah's lustful feelings towards Lucette and how far she will go to have her.
'The Maiden in the Ice' is a dark fairy tale about Rikke who finds a young woman in the ice at the lake. When the young woman's body melts she seems to be alive again and Rikke begins to follow her. What Rikke finds out about the young woman's existence is strange, but she keeps it a secret. When the young woman is abused, she wreaks vengeance upon the villagers and steals their children. This story has one of the best endings I've ever seen in fantasy stories, because the ending is beautifully bittersweet. I think that many readers will most likely think of the old saying "you reap what you sow" when they reach the end of this story.
It was fascinating to read 'The Badger Bride', because it's a story about Gytha who copies books. Gytha finds herself copying a book that turns out to be a grimoire, a book of the craft that contains powerful spells. When she is working on the book, she rescues a badger and forms a relationship with him. This beautifully written fantasy story impressed me, because it has everything I hope to find in compelling and original adult fantasy. It's one of the best stories I've read this year.
'By My Voice I Shall Be Known' is a dark and touching story about love and vengeance. In this story, a woman who has been forsaken for another woman uses dark magic to avenge what has happened to her. It was captivating to read about what the woman did and how she felt about the happenings in her life. The rusalky added fascinating eeriness to this story.
'The Night Stair' is an exceptionally good and original vampire story. I've read many vampire stories and I can say that this story is among the best I've ever read, because it's wholly different from other stories. Reading about Adlisa's life and experiences among the undead Lord and the Lady was fascinating, because Adlisa seeked revenge only to find out that her whole life has changed in a radical way. The relationship between the Lord and the Lady was thrillingly twisted, because they played games with each other in a perverse way.
I was impressed by 'St Dymphna's School for Poison Girls', because it's a story about a school for girls who receive training in how to murder people. The girls learn how to deliver death to people who have wronged their families. The author writes about the school, the girls and their training in a fascinating way and lures her readers into a world of family honour and murder. This story gradually builds up into a powerful tale that seduces readers with its darkness and strangeness.
I enjoyed reading 'The Bitterwood Bible', because it tells of the origins of the ancient book full of spells. Reading about Murciana and her life was rewarding, because this story sheds light on many interesting things.
'Terrible as an Army with Banners' is one of the best stories in this collection, because it tells of the devastation of the Citadel at Cwen's Reach. The author writes captivatingly about the happenings from the point of view of Goda who writes a letter to her sister. In her letter, she tells of what has happened to the Citadel so that the knowledge of its downfall shall not perish. It was fascinating for me to read about how books were removed from the Citadel and how valuable tomes were destroyed in order to prevent them from getting into wrong hands.
'Spells for Coming Forth by Daylight' brings this collection to a close with style as well as excellence. It's a beautifully written story about Nel's determined search for the mysterious and dangerous Viceroy who has murdered many women. This story wraps up many things and features familiar characters (Hepsibah Ballantyne etc) from the previous stories.
When I read 'Spells for Coming Forth by Daylight', I noticed that its title features a nod to the Egyptian Book of the Dead, because the translation of its original Egyptian name is "Book of Coming Forth by Day". This was interesting, because references to the Egyptian Book of the Dead are rare in modern fantasy stories (at this moment I only recall seeing this book mentioned in Showtime's dark fantasy TV series Penny Deadful).
In my opinion, these stories have a lot in common with the old fairy tales written by the Brothers Grimm, because they're dark and exquisitely beautiful stories. They're wonderfully dark and seducing fairy tales for adults who love the darker side of fantasy fiction and enjoy reading literary prose. It isn't often that speculative fiction readers have an opportunity read something as good as this, because Angela Slatter has a distinct sense of darkness and style that separates her from other authors and puts her into a class of her own. Her way of writing about the happenings and the characters is truly amazing and mesmerising.
One of reasons why I love this collection is that Angela Slatter doesn't resort to cheap and common tricks to entertain her readers. She trusts that her readers are intelligent and want to mesmerised by beautifully told stories.
I was amazed at the complex characterisation, because the author has created intriguing characters who are driven by human emotions and feelings. Love, loss, fear, regret and vengeance are important parts of their lives and have an impact on how they deal with different situations and things. They all live and try to survive in a beautifully strange world where magic is real. I found it fascinating that the author revealed bits and pieces of some of the characters' lives throughout the collection (it was enjoyable and rewarding to read about the characters' lives and fates).
The worldbuilding is intricate and exquisite. Angela Slatter has created a fantastical world that feels natural, realistic and believable. Her fantasy world is inhabited by different kinds of people who deal with many things from ordinary life and enchantments to dark magic and sorcery. It's a beautiful yet terrifying world where bad things can happen to people. The author breathes life into her fantasy world by creating an enchanting - and at times chilling - atmosphere that captures the reader's heart and mind.
Angela Slatter has an exceptional skill of creating immersive and addictive stories. She weaves spellbinding stories that are so compelling that you find yourself wholly immersed in their strange world and forget the passing of time for a while. When you read these stories, you'll feel like you're reading about a real world that truly exists and has its own customs, traditions and superstitions.
It's great that the author has infused her stories with intriguing folkloric and mythological elements. She writes spellbindingly about the Erl-King, his daughter and the shadow trees that are doorways to the underground kingdom of the Erl-King.
The author writes beautiful and evocative literary prose that shines with nuances and impresses readers with its eloquence. She's clearly one of the most talented writers of literary prose ever to grace the field of speculative fiction, because the literary merits of her stories are remarkably superior to many other stories.
The stories in this collection are intriguingly connected to each other. When you read all of them, you'll notice how certain names and characters appear in different stories and how the happenings relate to one another. I think that many readers will be pleasantly surprised by how these stories are connected and what is revealed about the happenings and the characters, because the stories form an impressive and vivid vision of a fictional world.
It's interesting that books play an important part in this collection, because some of the stories center around books and forbidden knowledge contained in them. The descriptions of these books and the places where they are kept are enchanting.
This book contains beautiful and detailed pen-and-ink illustrations by Kathleen Jennings (there's something wonderfully old-fashioned about these illustrations). They will please readers who appreciate fine art and beautiful illustrations. I'll also mention that the illustration on the cover of the hardcover edition looks gorgeous. It's great that the publisher has invested time into creating this kind of a beautiful book, because there are many readers who love well-created books.
The introduction by Stephen Jones and the afterword by Lisa L. Hannett are interesting and worth reading.
I give The Bitterwood Bible and Other Recountings full five stars on the scale from one to five stars. In my opinion, it deserves all the praise it gets, because the quality of the prose and the charming darkness of the stories is something to behold. It's a stunning and unique short story collection.
This was the first time that I read a short story collection by Angela Slatter, but it won't be the last time, because I enjoyed her stories. I intend to read her previous short story collections (Sourdough and Other Stories and The Girl With No Hands and Other Tales) as soon as possible.
Angela Slatter's The Bitterwood Bible and Other Recountings is a short story collection of exceptional beauty, grace and style. It should be part of everybody's speculative fiction collection, because it's difficult to find better and more beautiful dark fantasy fiction. If you love eloquent literary prose, beautifully written stories and dark fantasy, please read this collection immediately. I can guarantee that you won't regret reading it - in fact, you'll be wondering why you haven't read it sooner.
Very highly recommended!