Rich and heady as honey mead, potent and earthy as great Scotch, the sublimely dark tales of Angela Slatter are an addictive delight. Take a sip and let the pleasant buzz enhance your world, or guzzle the lot and get drunk. The only hangover you might feel will be the disappointment of returning to the real world… and the hankering for more.
I first discovered Angela’s work in THE SPECTRAL BOOK OF HORROR STORIES, edited by the inimitable Mark Morris (whose novella ALBION FAY was one of the best things I read last year, and about which I’ll post in the future), her story ‘The October Wife’ had a very particular tone to it that I responded to. A very earthy take on magic and fairy tales that reminded me of Neil Gaiman in his Sandman stories, mixed with Angela Carter circa The Company Of Wolves. Indeed, of the way I processed the world when I was young – where the tangible reality of my day to day and the imaginative world through which I filtered it, bled together into something that made each one… more…
As ever when I find a new voice that excites me, I went on a spree.
Right now I think that Angela is one of the finest writers working in the world today. Master of the short story and novella – OF SORROW AN SUCH packs an incredible punch and is as good a place as any to start if you’ve not read her yet – her ‘collections’ SOURDOUGH & OTHER STORIES and THE BITTERWOOD BIBLE & OTHER RECOUNTINGS (Which won a World Fantasy Award) represent something much, much more…
Published in to die for editions by Tartarus Press, they are more than just ‘short story collections’. They are, by design, ‘novels in mosaic’. Each and every story a tile in a bigger picture, each and every story unique; but chosen and placed in careful sequence to compliment and juxtapose in such a manner that they enlarge upon the stories before and after them. Individually, the stories tell of characters and situations, of lives lived and loved and lost… but stepping back, we see the bigger picture. As in life, individual lives interact with others. A collection of individuals becomes a society; a community; and the totality of the mosaic becomes the story of a world. The cumulative effect is immersive, and sometimes overwhelming.
To delve into these books is to venture deep into the forest of classic fairy tale, but experience those primal, archetypal stories, with an emotional and psychological depth that is by turns, breathtaking, delightful, painful, shocking, hilarious and true. The stories enrapture and enlighten, embolden and hurt as only recognisably ‘real’ actions and emotions can: as G.K. Chesterton once said about Dragons, they are ‘more than true’.
Now Slatter has written a novel, and it’s something different again. A different form, a different shape, a different voice.
And I admit that, having felt so in sync with the narrative voice and world of her short fiction – SOURDOUGH and BITTERWOOD especially – it took me a few pages to adjust. As readers I think we get used to an author speaking in a certain way, we can’t help but bring expectations.
It took a few pages to stop seeing the words and fall into the story beyond. But when I did I fell hard. It was the tears that did it (no spoilers from me, you’ll understand when you read it)… why – to some – they taste so good, and how they aquire their flavour…
After that, with apologies to my family, it was like the old days. I disappeared.
Understand, that I’m a husband and father, and I have a day job. I no longer get the time to just curl up with a book and get lost whenever I feel like it (a four year old child is a merciless boss). As inveterate bibliophiles I don’t think my wife and I had ever realised just what a luxury that was until we had the spectacular child who demands that we live RIGHT HERE IN THIS WORLD NOW! A gift in it’s own way, but addictions die hard, and the times when we can let a book simply take us away from ourselves (lead us astray?) are rare, and come only when the pull of voice and narrative is so strong that we cannot resist.
This then is VIGIL. I was enjoying the book from page 1 – it’s the characters that get you first, oh, the characters! – but from page 21 the world outside disappeared. I took a vacation in Brisneyland, and I had a ball.
VIGIL is a contemporary set Urban Fantasy, told in 1st person by protagonist Verity Fassbinder, as such the language is looser, vernacular, it has the seeming simplicity that you might find in an Elmore Leonard or Joe Lansdale novel; a rhythm and flow that is as telling of character as what’s being said or done. It feels natural and effortless (which is fucking hard to do believe me, I’ve tried), so that the characters don’t know when they’re being poetic, but it means a stand out turn of phrase, an image or idea, lands all the harder. It’s unforced. You don’t see it coming. And more often than not in this kind of story it makes you catch your breath, gets your heart pumping, tightens the scalp or makes you snort on the bus so that everyone stares at you.
It also makes you love these characters. Feel as if you know them, because they’ve got no airs about them. Verity talks to you like you’re already a friend. A confident. And for all that she can be a grumpy cow, she’s still a charmer.
Maybe the greatest compliment that I can pay the book is that I wanted to read the sequel straight away, because I know that there’s one coming (it’s called CORPSELIGHT by the way). Already, I’m impatient. If this were a box set, I would have binged on it. I want to hang out with these characters, eating pancakes and syrup, having coffee and cake while they explain how they came to be so battered and scuffed, praying they let me in on their next job, to join their adventures.
I love Verity, our grumpy mixed race heroine (part Human part ‘Weyrd’) who’s main super powers (apart from freakish strength) are that she won’t keep her mouth shut and she WILL NOT LET IT LIE. What’s more, I think you will too. VIGIL is the start of what I hope will be a very long series. It’s published on 7th July by Jo Fletcher Books. Get in on the ground floor and act smug when the rest of the world catches on. This is going to be BIG.