Priya Sharma, Ormeshadow, Tor, 2019.
This coming-of-age novella very much reminded of The Arrival of Missives by Aliya Whiteley in that it takes place in rural England in the past and has slight, but pivotal, SFF elements. It is nonetheless very much its own story and an engrossing read.
Due to a change of fortune, Gideon and his parents have to leave Bath to go to live to his uncle's farm. But the gentle, scholarly boy discovers a rough and bleak world, while his father tells him stories of the Orme, a dragon who is sleeping beneath the family's land. Soon, tragedy will hit.
One of the most striking thing in Ormeshadow is how well Sharma has described the grimness of a small rural community in the past. Gideon's character provides a sharp contrast to this world in which he never really feels like belonging. Despite the fact that most characters are contemptible, Sharma nonetheless gives them subtle nuance that really add depth.
Since the story is told from Gideon's point of view, the first chapters show the understanding of a boy, which can make some aspects even more poignant.
I found the pace of the novella extremely well balanced. The first slow chapters bring us to the tipping point, then everything moves faster until the finale which gathers all the subtle threads the writer had weaved so far.
The fantasy elements are extremely subtle, and at some moments, you wonder if you'll only ever have these aspects at the edge. They tell of a much more rich world and Sharma includes them through stories told or lost knowledge. It gives a melancholic and poetic feel to the novella. On the other hand, the more epic finale reveals them, though the writer cheekily shifts her narrative point of view, giving it, again, the feel of a story told.
Ormeshadow is a great novella, which tells of folk tales and the brutal world in which they were born, of human nature and of our yearnings that may never be satisfied. It is a must read for whoever likes something that blurs the genres and the defining lines.
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All reviews are spoiler free unless explicitly stated otherwise.
I only review stories I have liked even if my opinion may be nuanced. It doesn't apply for the "Novels published before 1978" series of blog posts.
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