I often complain about how rare it is to have a book, TV show, or film be driven by relationships between women. Stories seem to me to be primarily driven by relationships between men or between men and women. Often there’s only one woman in the story in the first place, or, if there’s more than one, they never meet. When relationships between women are seen, they are often framed in the context of each woman’s relationship to a man who knows them both (for instance, a wife and her mother-in-law); or the women are portrayed competitors.
To me, that doesn’t reflect the real world, where my relationships with women are as varied and complex as the women I know. Sometimes people say I’m reading the “wrong kind” of books, that there’s plenty of what I want in women’s fiction. While that’s true to a degree—I read women’s fiction too—I love category fiction. SF/F, horror/UF, mystery/suspense/thriller are my go-tos. And if there’s room in those stories for all kinds of male relationships, there’s room for all kinds of female relationships too.
Which is part of why Of Sorrow and Such by Angela Slatter made me so happy. In this slim volume of fantasy there are a wealth of women’s relationships, which both spoke to me and propelled the story.
Patience’s relationship with her daughter touched me most deeply. Patience and I are of an age and we both have daughters on the cusp of adulthood. Mine is 19 and attending university, compared to Patience’s Gilly, who is 16 and trying to figure out what comes next in her life. Patience’s worries about Gilly are so familiar—she’s attracted to the wrong boy; she yearns to be different without realizing that can make her a target; she’s oblivious to danger that seems obvious to the older woman.
I winced when Patience tried to force her daughter to spend time with a more suitable young man—that never works! The two argue in that special, painful way that I’ve experienced both as a daughter and as a mother. In those fights each participant knows exactly how to hurt the other most; the topic doesn’t matter, but the chance to wound definitely does.
When Patience is threatened, their ties outweigh their differences. Without hesitation, Gilly stands at her mother’s side…and Patience finds that she can release Gilly to find her own path.
A hedgewitch, Patience lives in a world where her powers must be concealed lest she be burned. She lives slightly apart from her fellow townspeople, both literally and figuratively. Other than her daughter, she holds everyone at arm’s length—or thinks she does, not fully seeing the web of connections between her and her patients. She’s surprised when other women endanger themselves to help her.
I was not. The women in Of Sorrow and Such are bound to each other by shared responsibility and shared secrets, by loyalty and gratitude, by love and passion. They see each other, warts and all, and when trouble rises, they support and help each other.
In other words, they’re real.
Melissa Singer is an editor at Tor Books.