Missing body parts were nothing to cry about and nothing to take too seriously. Ferrum (the oldest fairy city, the living, gasping legend) was nine square miles of cracked cobblestone and iron scaffolding and playgrounds and libraries and was hardly a hazardous space, all in all, so the chunks of fairy that ended up in gnome stomachs were reasonable collateral damage. They were conveniently located around the waterways and farmlands, and they had gnomes to drive their buses and sweep their streets. Sometimes some fairy limbs had to be sacrificed to keep all that. Call it a tax.
—A History of Glitter and Blood, Hannah Moskowitz
- Fairies are immortal, but not impervious to harm—if a fairy loses a limb, she will still live forever, but without that limb. She’ll still be able to feel the limb—the actual physical limb—as well as any damage done to it.
- Fairies are covered in glitter and shed constantly, leaving pieces of themselves behind them wherever they go. They feel it when someone walks on their trail.
- Fairy females don’t reproduce; the population only grows when male fairies mate with the females of other species.
When war breaks out in Ferrum—when the tightropers come from above to liberate the fairies from the gnome menace below—the entire fairy population heads for the hills. The only fairies who stay behind are Beckan and her three friends. As the war grinds on, three of the four of them start going underground, turning tricks for the gnomes in exchange for food and money. And then the gnomes and the tightropers call a cease-fire, which is where our story begins. Well, sort of.
A History of Glitter and Blood is a chronicle of a war and its aftermath, but it’s also a story about friendship, family, love, and loss. It deals with racism—overt and ingrained; based in hatred and based in long-standing, unthinking prejudice—and it deals with social class, and it deals with gender roles. It’s about the importance of story, and the process of trying to tell a story; it’s about the importance of knowing the identity, motivation, and ultimate goal of the entity framing a narrative, and it’s about how all histories are colored by the perceptions and perspectives of those who are documenting them. A history of Ferrum as written by fairies is going to be entirely different story than a history of Ferrum as written by gnomes, for instance—and for that reason, this book is so, so relevant to the ongoing conversations about race and history and injustice and storyteller bias in the wake of Ferguson, Baltimore, Charleston.
It features a wonderfully diverse cast in terms of race and sexual orientation and disability, and it works as an urban fantasy, as a war story, as a love story, as a meditation on the act of writing itself. It deals with sex work, with sex as a physical act versus sex as an expression of love; it deals with the difference between justice and political expediency; it deals with the idea of immortality and the maturity that might or might not come along with it; it deals with grief and survivor’s guilt and guilt, full stop. The worldbuilding—for the most part, it seems like Another Place Entirely, but once in a while, there are details that will make you wonder—the characterization, and the overall vision are all strong and rich and impressive and original.
It’s not an easy read. At all. At first, it feels discordant and confusing and scattered—but stick with it, and it will reward your patience. As it becomes clear who is writing the story—and why—everything eventually comes together, and the difficult beginning not only makes sense, but becomes a part of one of the bravest, most well-crafted voices that I’ve read in a long, long time. There’s so much in it to discuss and to explore, and I very much hope that it finds its audience.
In addition to running a library in rural Maine, Leila Roy blogs at Bookshelves of Doom, is a contributor at Book Riot, hangs out on Twitter a lot—possibly too much—and watches a shocking amount of television. Her cat is a murderer.