1. a very small quantity of something; a slight trace, as of a particular taste or flavor
Sunday Soupçons is where I scribble mini-reviews for books I don’t have the brainspace/eloquence/smarts to write about in depth – or if I just don’t have anything interesting to say beyond I LIKED IT AND YOU SHOULD READ IT TOO!
Two pretty different books this week!In the Heart of Hidden Things by Kit Whitfield
Representation: Neurodiverse MC, neurodiverse secondary characters
The inhabitants of the village of Gyrford live mostly in harmony with their neighbours in the Forest, and that is in large part down to the fairy-smiths, Jedediah, his son Matthew and grandson Johnny, for only fairy-smiths can intercede with the People when a problem arises - like when one of the fae - who, in fairness, does looks a lot like a thornbush with a blackberry for a head - is dug up and transplanted by someone who didn't know any better and is now determined to wreak vengeance on anyone it can.
That's not the only problem, for there's a skinflint landlord determined to sell the mill and kick out the family who've run it for untold generations. And a young boy who was clearly damaged by the People at birth is spending most of his time trying to get into the Forest, which is forbidden territory for all but a very few men.
There's even a rumour that Black Hal has been seen running - fire strikes from the great hound's heels, they said, and his eyes are the red of coals.
So one way or another, the Smiths have got a lot on their plate, and a lot of people depending on them . . .
I loved both Whitfield’s previous books, especially In Great Waters, her historical fantasy that worked mermaids into the royal houses of Europe. In the Heart of Hidden Things is a much smaller-scale story, revolving around one village family and the county they look after, but I read the entire book in a day, which should tell you all you need to know about my ability to put it down!
It’s a very easy-to-read book, which is impressive because Whitfield touches on some heavy topics and lets us see plenty of very human moments that make us want to flinch on the characters’ behalves. But it never feels heavy or overdone. I’ll admit, I was disappointed at first – I thought In the Heart of Hidden Things would reimagine the Fae as Whitfield’s earlier books reimagined werewolves and mermaids, and that’s not the case; the Fae (or simply the People, which is how they’re usually referred to in the book, it being rude and unwise to call the Fae’s attention by using the F word) here are quite traditional, depicted much as they are in the folklore of the British Isles – but the smaller, ‘common’ Fae, rather than the cold, graceful immortals with kings and queens and courts.
But Whitfield embraces the sheer wacky weirdness of the Fae wholeheartedly, which made me feel better. And really, this is much more a book about human people than the People, and once I made that adjustment in my expectations, Hidden Things and I got on fine. I absolutely adored John, the faerie-smith-in-training with his grand sense of pride, and his father, Matthew, and grandfather, Jedidiah – practising faerie-smiths – were both wonderful characters as well. The book mainly revolves around these three, and the small and not-so-small ‘adventures’ they face in the course of doing their jobs. Matthew’s wife is another quite fabulous character – I don’t know if we’d be friends in real life, but she delighted me in the book – really everyone, bar the ‘villains’, were wonderfully-drawn characters.
I loved how the faerie smiths were in many ways outside the hierarchy of power among humans, and how they used that position to protect normal people from the rich. Honestly there was more of that going on than protecting people from the People, which I had no objection to. I also really liked the careful exploration of people who were ‘touched’ – what we’d now call neurodiverse – and the different attitudes people had towards those who were Different. (Spoiler: everyone we like thought kindness and live-and-let-live was the correct response, which, correct!)
A less weighty book than I was expecting, but still a really great read!Aspects by John M. Ford
Representation: Secondary BIPOC characters, minor F/F
"The best writer in America, bar none."—Robert Jordan
At last, the final work of John M. Ford—one of the greatest SF and fantasy authors of his time.
Enter the halls of Parliament with Varic, Coron of the Corvaric Coast.
Visit Strange House with the Archmage Birch.
Explore the mountains of Lady Longlight alongside the Palion Silvern, Sorcerer.
In the years before his unexpected death, John M. Ford wrote a novel of fantasy and magic unlike any other. Politics and abdicated kings, swords and sorcerous machine guns, divination and ancient empires—finally, Aspects is here.
“A great writer who is really fucking brilliant.”—Neil Gaiman
The first thing you need to know is that Aspects is not a finished novel. It cuts off one page into chapter 8. Poor Ford died before it could be completed… And it was published as-is.
I would have less mixed feelings about this if there was anyway to know, from picking up the book, that it’s incomplete. But there isn’t; the book’s description only states that Aspects is being published posthumously. I presumed that meant it was finished before he died, or maybe completed after his death by another writer, like Diana Wynne Jones’ Islands of Chaldea.
But no. And… I don’t think that’s very cool. I think it should have stated in the description that it was unfinished. I’m not very impressed with the decision to not make that immediately clear to a potential reader.
That being said, this is one of the most exquisite, beautiful books I’ve ever read, and I’m devastated that there isn’t more. Apparently it was meant to be the start of a series, and we don’t even have the whole first book, and that hurts so much. Part of me wishes they hadn’t published it – it feels cruel to dangle such an incredible might-have-been before us! – but I’m not surprised that they did. If there was ever a book that was so perfect it needed to be shared, even incomplete, then Aspects is that book.
It’s rich and slow and gorgeous, a book to be savoured rather than devoured. I’m glad I got to read it. But I’ll be mourning that could-have-been for a very long time.
What have you been reading this week?