Toil and Trouble
This is going to be a little different from my normal reviews, since it's a book of short stories.
A book full of 15 different stories of women and witchcraft, I had a great time with a majority of these.
Starting at the top! Starsong was a fun little story to begin with, and I really enjoyed jumping straight in with a gay story. There was an excellent, if short, study on addiction and trauma, but I really wish authors would stop with the "tumblers" and "snack chats." It's not original, and it was annoying the first time I read it, not to mention the 17th. We get it, our parents don't understand technology, ahaha!
Afterbirth reminded me a lot of the VVitch, The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, and I, Tituba: Black Witch of Salem. Historical witches are very interesting to learn about, and the anti-semitism, the mysogyny, and the racism that goes into such trials is only more blatant the older you get. Afterbirth was also a great due to the unique storytelling aspect that bounced between a trial and what actually happened. Also: fuck Goodwife Prower.
The Heart in her Hands was great. I love the gays and I love stories about sticking it to bitches. This had both, with an added bonus of sticking it to homophobic bitches, which made it all that much better. Who doesn't want to run away into the autumn woods of a mountain to live out your cottagcore witch sapphic dreams??
Death in the Sawtooths is probably one of my favorite stories from this whole collection. I wanted so much more and I was so mad we only get this tidbit. If you liked this one, you should go watch someone/play Mortuary Assistant (I recommend Laurel or Jesterality) because it'd be right up your alley.
The Truth About Queenie was one that started off a streak of not-great stories. It wasn't that the story itself was bad, it just felt...unfinished. There was more to it, and we didn't get that 'more'. I think there should've been more meat in the middle, or at the end, so when it did end, I was satisfied. The story of unrequited teenage love is relatable, though, and I hope Queenie finds the right guy for herself.
The Moonapple Managerie feels like something I'd read in middle school, and it's not that that's bad, it's just that it desperately feels like it doesn't belong. A lot of these stories deal with mature content, and this was a sharp left turn to some children playing in the woods to put on a show. The story was rushed, there were too many characters, and it had very weird pacing. Honestly, this one was probably my least favorite.
The Legend of Stone Mary also felt middle grade, and it was also the last of the stories I disliked. The historical aspect is always fun, but I didn't like the message of "forgive the people that hate you," especially when those people killed you. The plotpoint about the witch hunters was highly annoying too, because it came out of absolutely nowhere.
The Ones Who Stayed reminded me that a lot of stories about witches are also stories of assault and regaining your power. It was heartbreaking, but the prose was so good. In terms of heirarchy, this one is probably my second favorite.
Divine the Stars surprised me, mostly because I've already read this story before. It was pleasantly surprising to come face-to-page with the origins of The Inheritance of Orquidea Divina. It was so interesting to see what changed between this story and the book I read.
Daughters of Baba Yaga was a delicious palate cleanser after the "forgive your enemies" spiel. The storytelling, the historical connections, the different magic systems... It was lovely, and I want more! I so wish some of these were made into full-length novels like Divine the Stars, because I would eat them right up.
The Well Witch gave me a lot of anxiety, which is how you know you've crafted a good story. I was rooting for Elsa the whole time and I was so worried something would happen to her. While I don't like the hella-open ending, I really hope she finds Zed and settles down into a new oasis.
Beware the Girls with Crooked Smiles was not my favorite, but it was still better than that three run earlier. I despise miscommunication plots, though, which was the core of this story. I do like the unreliable narrator, though, because it makes for an interesting point.
Love Spell was adorable, and I love, love, love the casual transgender representstion. It was subtle and beautifully handled. I also appreciate a positive example of the Church melding with witchcraft, because so often they're depicted at odds (and for good reason) but there are so many witches out there that are also Catholic or Christian. They deserve representation too.
The Gherin Girls hit hard I think because I'm the oldest of three girls. We might not have magical powers, but we can and do have our fair share of heartbreak. I also really appreciate that the ending is open, but it lets you know that they're going to be okay.
And finally, Why They Burn Us was such a good ending to this collection. Obsidian and Night broke my heart and desperately tried to piece it together again, and another open ending has me hoping that they made it against the odds. And I hope Blue gets to either roast that priest or pluck out his eyes, something. I also loved the subtle fact that they tried to take away the names of the women, but in the end it was the men that hurt them that remain nameless. It was a great detail.
Anyway. I had a wonderful tome with this book! Overall, the great stories outweighed the okay ones, and there were only a few okay ones.
Trigger warnings: drug use (implied, discussed), alcohol, addiction (discussed), grief, overdose, pregnancy, birth, death of a parent (multiple), death, injury/injury detail, homophobia, fire/fire injury, death rituals, infidelity, murder, rape (multiple, discussed but none on page), sexual assault, assault, suicide, emotional abuse, domestic abuse, car accident
Did I like? Mostly, yes
Recommend? Yes, especially for empowering stories of witches and witchcraft!