A Feast of Sorrows – Angela Slatter

“My father did not know that my mother knew about his other wives, but she did.”

I’ve said it before, but the book world does seem rather overflowing these days with retellings of fairy tales, or fairy tale-esque stories. Luckily the latter category is far more interesting, and is largely where this book falls.

As the title suggests, these are rather downbeat stories. And gruesome! I know the original Grimm tales etc were far more brutal than the versions we tend to hear, but even at that this collection is dark – definitely not for children, with rape, betrayal, abandonment, murder – all the usual and more – going on! That said, there’s something satisfying when an evil sister or cheating husband gets their comeuppance, and that happens in a few of these stories.

I wasn’t massively impressed to start with – my first thought was rather that Ursula Vernon aka T.Kingfisher does this kind of thing far better, particularly as I’ve read her retelling of the Blackbeard story so recently and I think I prefer it to the version presented here, even though it’s got a nice twist.

However, after a slightly bumpy start I really started to enjoy A Feast of Sorrows, and settled into the rhythm of the author’s voice. The work becomes more original, but always with those dark and less-than-happy overtones. Another commonality to the stories – even before they start referencing each other in a shared universe kind of a way I largely liked – is that all of the leading cast are female. I don’t think I’d wholly spotted that until I was done, but indeed, this is a book of strong female characters with nicely three-dimensional personalities – hurrah!

By the end of the collection I was thoroughly enjoying it, although the cross references to each other made it feel a bit like I was reading an episodic novel more than a collection of short stories – which is good and not great at the same time. It does mean that some of the tales blur into one another for me, so I’m not sure I have a favourite. Perhaps the wonderfully titled St Dymphna’s School for Poison Girls, which includes knowledge-stealing and assassination and some wonderfully nasty teachers!

Recommended? Yes indeed, although maybe not if you’re in need of cheering up!

NetGalley eARC: 299 pages / 14 short stories
First published: 4th October 2016
Series: short stories
Read from 3rd-10th September 2016

My rating: 7/10

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