I feel bad admitting it but I’ve never really felt that much interest in reading short stories. I always felt that they couldn’t ever really have enough content to be able to get into them properly. Sourdough and Other Stories by Angela Slatter has now changed my mind. Sourdough and Other Stories is a book of 16 short stories all set in the fantasy kingdom of Lodellan. Reminiscent of the fairy tales that we grew up with, they are dark and beautifully haunting.
I have tried to write this a few times and have discovered that I find it quite hard to review short stories! I think a lot of the enjoyment of this book comes from discovering the details, intricacies and links for yourself. So I’m going to try my best to review the book as a whole rather than story by story and keep this as spoiler free as possible.
Each story is narrated from the point of view of a girl living somewhere within the Kingdom. Throughout the book, you will meet daughters, friends and neighbours of main characters from the stories that have come previously. I loved this element. It made all the characters feel so much more real and it meant that they could carry on developing past their own tales. It was also oddly reassuring (although there are times when this turns out to be heartbreaking) to occasionally meet a character again and find out how things had gone for them after their own story had ended. These re-occurrences are not always obvious though and so it feels extra satisfying when you make the connection and realise that this side character is someone that you spent time with previously.
As you read each tale, it feels like a map is slowly being built up inside your head and as things start to connect, you start to feel like you really know the world – there is a sense of familiarity with the places that makes reading this book even more enjoyable. Every so often you will also come across themes from other well known fairy stories. The main ones I noticed where Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel and The Robber Bridegroom but there might be more that I didn’t pick up on. I also noticed some similarities to Sleeping Beauty which were twisted into a very interesting way.
With regards to the characters themselves, nothing is clear cut. Characters that you like and find yourself attached to will quite often do very morally wrong things, and yet this doesn’t very often change your opinion of them. At least, it didn’t for me. If anything, it made them seem more real. Quite often, you can actually sympathise with the characters and understand why they did what they did, even though you will probably think it was wrong! Even the women that do some of the worst things though are not without their good sides. Many of them come across as deeply caring and protective and likeable. My personal favourites where Ella and Bitsy. There are a couple of the narrators who do seem to purely be good. Yet sadly this doesn’t stop bad things happening to them. There is quite a strong theme of bitter-sweetness running throughout the book and I think this is one of the things that makes it so powerful. You hope that everything will turn out well in the end and that they will get a Happily Ever After, but you know deep down that even if they are happy for a while, they will still have troubles later on because that is how life works!
Each of these stories could be picked out and read on their own and be enjoyable but as a collection they become something much bigger and truly remarkable. I personally never thought I would be able to get so attached to a world and set of characters through short stories and yet I did, completely and utterly. There were times when I felt incredibly affected by what happened to the women in these stories; acts of betrayal deeply stung me, I mourned the deaths and celebrated when things turned out well. Now that I have finished the book, I find myself missing the characters and the places and am very much looking forward to when I can get a copy of The Bitterwood Bible so I can return and learn more about this remarkable world.