Well, here at STORGY we’ve been following the career of Priya Sharma with great attention and her collection All The Fabulous Beasts was a highlight of our recent reading – which let us just add went on to win the Shirley Jackson Award for singled-authored collection in 2018. So, when we heard that she’d upped the ante and gone and written a novella, we had to get ourselves a copy to review for you fine folks here.
Ormeshadow is quite different from All The Fabulous Beasts, and I mention this because it is different in the best of ways, Sharma appears to flourish with the shackles off and writing free from what is required from a genre book per se. Unshackling her creative juices seems to have had a freeing quality, enabling Sharma to concoct a broiling coming of age tale which loosely but integrally incorporates the myths and legends of dragons – but with a masters touch she subtly lays the lore into the foundations of Ormeshadow which create a beast of a book.
So, if you’re a fan of all things dark and mysterious please take note, this is a writer who is doing something a little different, incorporating a dark undertow to the story which is as deadly as anything that lurks in the dark; and boy does she hit the nail on the head, so much so, that she actually drives that nail and the hammer through the wood until she leaves a splintered wreckage on the floor.
Ormeshadow follows the life of Gideon Belman, a boy who finds himself uprooted from his life in Bath and relocated to Ormeshadow Farm with his mother and father – to join his uncle and auntie and their dysfunctional and overbearing family unit. Gideon doesn’t know what’s happened or why they’ve had to flee, and his learned father keeps hidden the secrets of their escape by regaling his son of the legend of the Orme – of a buried dragon that lays beneath the Orme, encased rock and moss, sleeping or waiting for its time to rise. The dragon waits and dreams of resentment, of revenge and of death. Gideon finds himself in a strange place, a place he doesn’t quite fit, growing up in a house that hates him. So, Gideon finds his comforts and a way to survive, in the Orme and the folklore that enraptures his very heart.
‘There were butterflies skewered in cases, beautiful things the size of a man’s hand, their iridescent wings marked with blind eyes for protection. Gideon had wanted to know why they were so dangerous that, even in death, they had to be contained. His father had laughed.’
Sharma’s prose in Ormeshadow is deep and rich, and at times, all consuming. It’s as if Sharma has created a storm on the page, contained it with words, sentences and paragraphs – you want to pull yourself away but it’s intoxicatingly, you are at her mercy and she doesn’t relent. Her prose is so strong and enrapturing that it’s like being tossed by an angry sea; it will consume you, bury you in a world that there is no escape from – detailing expertly of a time, place and lives that are so delicately examined and nurtured that it is beguiling. Sharma’s writing in Ormeshadow is so precious that you can’t look away for fear of missing the majesty of her work.
‘The fishermen were accustomed to death, it being one of their many bounties from the sea. Death was even in their swollen jumpers, each knitted to their own designs so their widows could identify their remains after a pounding by the waves.’
What makes this book so brilliant is Sharma’s characterisations, every person in this story serves a purpose, there is no room for driftwood. Each character, no matter how small their part, adds to the broiling drama that unfolds on the page, pulling the reader in, forcing us to discover, and dredge up the secrets of the Belman family. Secrets that Sharma delicately weaves throughout Ormeshadow – as if she were a seamstress working on a precious garment, each thread meticulously planned and executed, to give the story beats when it needs them and to stay silent when their is need for reflection, making it the most enchanting of reads. But as we all know… some secrets should remain secrets.
‘He seemed at great pains to be still, but his eyes were churning pools. Gideon expected him to spring up at any second.’
Sharma has created what I can only imagine will be one of the books of the year, it’s a tale that delves into folklore but is grounded in drama, of family circumstance, of loss and love and hope. It is in essence a coming of age tale, masterfully told with a beguiling style and execution that is is priceless. It will bring Sharma to a whole new audience, whilst still enrapturing her existing followers – but Ormeshadow in my opinion showcases a writer at their very best, and I firmly believe that it is Sharma’s magnum opus.
An enchanting magic lives in the pages of Ormeshadow and I urge you to discover this treasure of a book for yourselves – a resonant novella that is unforgettably brilliant and deeply moving.
Ormeshadow is published by Tor and is available here.
Priya Sharma is a doctor from the UK who also writes short fiction. Her work has appeared in Interzone, Black Static, Albedo one and Tor.com, among others. She’s been anthologised in various annual Best of anthologies by editors like Ellen Datlow, Paula Guran, Jonathan Strahan and Johnny Mains. Her story “Fabulous Beasts” was on the Shirley Jackson Award shortlist and won a British Fantasy Award.
More about her can be found at www.priyasharmafiction.wordpress.com
Reviewed by Ross Jeffery
Read our review of All The Fabulous Beasts here.
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