Paula Guran Reviews The Tallow-Wife and Other Tales by Angela Slat­ter

The Tallow-Wife and Other Tales, Angela Slat­ter (Tarturus 978-1-912586-24-0, £40.00, 452pp, hc) March 2021. Cover by Kathleen Jennings.

We are barely into 2021 and Angela Slatter is already having quite a year. A novel (All the Murmuring Bones as A.G. Slatter) and a collection of microfiction (Red New Day and Other Microfictions) were both reviewed here last month. Add The Tallow-Wife and Other Tales to the list. It is a gorgeous new mosaic collection of tales (with illustrations by Kathleen Jennings) of the world Slatter previously explored in collections Sourdough and Other Stories and The Bitterwood Bible and Other Recountings, novella Of Sorrow and Such, and the aforementioned novel. Only four of its twelve stories have been previously published. Slatter’s Lodellan (and its fictional environs) is vaguely Victorian, sometimes a bit Irish, a somehow-familiar “other.” It’s a comfortable place (as most are) for those with the means to buy comfort – not that many do. And – just as in the real world – whatever one may possess is always in danger of being lost. There are forces at play, though, that exceed the bounds of our reality. Strange things walk by day and night, eldritch influences take flight, specters and spirits make their displeasures or whims known. Witchcraft is not tolerated, yet it most certainly exists and can be helpful. Sorcery is just as often a salvation as it is a curse. Secrets abound, as do bargains. The architecture is rich, somewhat Gothic, and embellished with the rich­est of materials. Ancient ruins abound. The sea is a power unto itself. Mirrors can be a mode of travel. Grief is common, and life is bittersweet. Women are often victims but are also formidable. Choices must be made, costs must be paid. Paths are never straight. It is all flavored with bits of myth, legend, fairytale, and folklore that we “know,” which here take new twists and shadings. Each story stands alone, a gleaming gem to enjoy individually, but they also fit together to become an even richer treasure. Helen Marshall assures us in her beautiful and apt introduction:

Although Lodellan may lie on the far side of yesterday, a land that never was, in reading this book you may just discover something true about the world. And if you’re lucky – if you’re patient and wise and fair and fierce – maybe it will be enough to set you free.

She speaks the truth.

Angela Slatter is a dark enchantress and her exquisite stories are likely to steal your soul (or at least your enthralled attention). The Tallow-Wife and Other Tales will also compel you to read or re-read the previous entries in this fantastic mythos. The only negative is that the collection is limited to 350 print copies. Luckily, ebook versions are available.

Paula Guran has edited more than 40 science fiction, fantasy, and horror anthologies and more than 50 novels and collections featuring the same. She’s reviewed and written articles for dozens of publications. She lives in Akron OH, near enough to her grandchildren to frequently be indulgent.

This review and more like it in the April 2021 issue of Locus.

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