A Feast of Sorrows 🙌 Book Review

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Written by Thelonia

A Feast of Sorrows is a wonderfully gothic take on fairy tales that brings back stories that are familiar to aficionados of the genre as well as introduces a few new ones to delight the Angela Carter fan inside.

There are 14 stories in all, a few of which play on older fairy tales, like “Dresses, three” with Donkey Skin, or “Light as Mist, Heavy as Hope” with Rumpelstiltskin, while some play on new characters, many of which are more reminiscent of the older Grimm stories than anything newer (or by Disney).

The standouts for me are “By the Weeping Gate,” in which a family of sisters run a brothel under the watchful eye of their mother (who is also their madam), only for one to be courted by a man whose motives for one of the girls may be more sinister than it originally seemed (and it already seemed sinister), and “By My Voice I Shall Be Known,” in which a woman, betrayed by her former lover (in a particularly brutal and gruesome way), takes to methodically sabotaging his new life, culminating in a disfigured bride, mermaids, and an uncertain future.

Despite the stories’ variability in terms of class and general surroundings the women find themselves in, all the stories very clearly take place in the same universe as each other; a detail which once it gets revealed is consistently referenced, to a point where you might find yourself feeling as if you’re in a history class with a teacher who’s desperately trying to make you learn.  

The stories are linked not only in location, and occasionally, in characters, but also in tropes. The narrators are overwhelmingly female, and on the occasion where they are not (such as in “Dresses Three”), they are still at the heart of the stories. These women overwhelmingly find themselves being attacked or destroyed (physically or emotionally) by men. This is again, not universal, but it is a common enough thread that you might come out from reading A Feast of Sorrows a bit distrusting of men in general for a bit.

Though the stories manage to hold a cohesive tone (despite the varying degrees of gore and violence in them), that can also be a bit of a drawback. I don’t know if it’s because of the order the stories are in or a lack of editing oversight (many of these stories are taken from previous Angela Slatter, but they do seem to be lumped in a bit; the earlier stories have similar leitmotifs (like the incestuous fathers) that become apparent overall only because they are all told one after the other, only for that theme to disappear in later stories. It’s strange because overall the stories are diverse and interesting, but the grouping of stories that share characteristics means it becomes easy to spot these similarities.

Despite sometimes seeming a bit repetitive, A Feast of Sorrows is an excellent book for when you want to look at some new takes on a well-loved genre, or when you want to feed your sense of justice. For it is injustice of the world and cutting out their own little bit of revenge that drives these morbid heroines. And while we might not always like where the revenge goes, there is something deeply satisfying in these little snippets of a world so unlike and yet so like our own.

A Feast of Sorrows is available on book distributors online.

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