Book Report: A History of Blood and Glitter

Published September 21, 2017 by Iphis of Scyros

Wow.  This is…I have no words for what this is.  No single words, that is.  I should be able to string together a lot of them to give some vague idea of what this is.

One thing I can say simply, though, is that I sure picked a doozy to finish up the challenge with!  This was my pick for the last remaining challenge, #14, “Read a book about war.”

So, let’s start with a simple idea of what this book is about.  It’s about a war in the fairy city of Ferrum, though the fairies aren’t fighting it:  the gnomes and the tightropers are.  Now, before I get to answering the question you’re undoubtedly asking yourself (i.e. “what the heck is a tightroper?”) let me first dispel a few misconceptions you’re undoubtedly harboring.  First off, that image you’ve got in your mind right now of Tinkerbell?  Wipe it out.  These fairies have no wings, naturally grow glitter in their skin (which flakes off like dandruff), and they’re immortal.  So immortal, in fact, that they can never really die, and are fully capable of feeling any bits of them that become detached from their bodies (including that oft-falling glitter!) and even controlling those bits, if they’re large enough.  So at the start of the book, the heroine Beckan takes her father with her everywhere, because he’s just an eye and an ear in a jar.  And as to those gnomes, if you’re thinking of saccharine little garden statues with pointy hats and long beards, forget them.  Forever.  These gnomes are more like a cross between Tolkienian dwarves and Gollum, only with pointier teeth and long mole-claws for digging.  And they love to eat fairy; nothing is more nourishing to a gnome than fairies, and even a small mouthful will support them for weeks.  As to the tightropers…we never get a very clear description (because our very unreliable narrator already knows what they are and what they look like) but they seem to be very spindly people with a spider-like ability to produce “ropes” out of their mouths.  (And yes, I know that’s not where the webbing comes out of a spider.)

As you may guess from that description, this book is set in a very unusual and rather disturbing world.

Anyway, the book is about a war between the tightropers who simply arrived in Ferrum one day and the gnomes living beneath the city.   The tightropers claim they’re there to “liberate” the fairies from the “tyranny” of the gnomes, but they don’t halt their war for a minute when every fairy in the city decides to vacate the premises apart from Beckan, Josha, Scrap and Cricket, four teenage fairies who — at the start of the war — are the only four non-maimed fairies in Ferrum.  By the time of the ceasefire a year later (which comes at the start of the book, btw, so I’m not spoiling anything), only Beckan remains undamaged; Josha and Scrap have been maimed (though I can’t remember, off-hand, what happened to Josha, so it was probably a few lost toes) and Cricket has been eaten.  Technically, most of the real focus of the story takes place immediately after the ceasefire, but we get a lot of flashbacks to during the year-long war, and a ceasefire is very different from a proper truce.

The narration is 99% in a third person narration, guessing at what’s going on in the head of whatever character it’s following around.  Usually that’s Beckan, but sometimes it follows other characters.  There are occasionally bits and pieces of other books “pasted” in, inky smears, and even “photographs” taped into the book.  And once in a while you get things like this:

(Throw away all of that.  Start the book here.)

(Which was the start of Chapter 4, btw.)  Or this:

What the f*** is going on?  The paper’s crumpling up and I can keep it straight and more later.  Okay, I shouldn’t even be out of bed.  I need to remember to take this part out.  This is ridiculous.  F*** f*** f*** what’s wrong with me, I should be doing this in order.  This is bad.  I think.  I think this is bad.  Okay, I’m putting this down.  More later.  (Did that last bit really happen?  Did she really smile?)  More later.

(And no, the book is not censored.  But I don’t use strong language on this blog — unlike in my real life! — so I censored the quote, because, well, because.)  I actually saw someone in a Goodreads review quote one of the passages like these (though a different one than either of these two) and assumed that there was no editor, and that these were Hannah Moskowitz’s notes to herself.

I suppose you could think that, if you were an idiot.

Because it’s very obvious that these moments are the true voice of our narrator, coming out from hiding behind the third person, and scribbling things in their own voice for a rare change of pace.  Honestly, for a while there, I felt like it was a little detective game to figure out which character was writing this stuff down.  Then I figured it out about the same time that the real plot started dragging me in with gnome teeth and tightroper ropes.

I’m not sure why I thought this was YA/MG, though.  The narrative — which is in present tense in the “present” and past tense in the flashbacks — may be relatively simplistically phrased, but between the swearing, the grisly death and dismemberment (mostly only grisly conceptually), and the prostitution (Beckan, Scrap and Cricket all turned tricks during the war to support themselves), it’s definitely not for younger readers.  At least, I certainly wouldn’t recommend it to anyone under the age of 16 or so.  Though maybe that’s about where MG starts?

In looking over the Goodreads reviews briefly as I was getting the cover image for this post (yes, once again I didn’t read the reviews first) I saw a lot of disparity.  A lot of people really hated it, for the opening they felt was weak, for the minimalist world building, for the back-and-forthing through time and tense, and…well, actually, those seemed to be their main complaints.  Other people absolutely loved it.  Honestly, I think the main difference between them is that the ones who hated it didn’t keep going long enough to adjust their thinking to novel’s mode, and the ones who loved it had persevered and finished it.

I, personally, didn’t think the opening was weak.  I thought what we were told was intriguing, and I wanted to know what had happened in the war we had briefly jumped over.  I found the world building exciting, because it gave us just enough hints to let us imagine all sorts of things that might fill in the gaps, only to shatter some of our guesses, while allowing others to float along as possibilities.  In both these cases, I think that comes down to what you want from your reading material.  If you want a book that spells everything out, you’re probably going to be very frustrated by this.  Personally, I like having gaps I get to fill in myself, because — and let’s be honest here — I would fill them in anyway, even if they weren’t there, because I like to engage with the material like that.  (That is, after all, one of the reasons I am repeatedly drawn to the notion of writing fanfic.)  Another complaint people had was the lack of physical descriptions, especially of people, and again that didn’t bother me because I don’t think visually — in fact, my mind usually tends to glaze over when I see long descriptions, especially of people, because I just can’t process them at all, and only grab hold of a few really key concepts to give me what little mental image I need/can generate.  So, again, that comes down to what you need from a book.  As to the time jumps, if your entire past history of reading books has been things that were 100% chronological, you have a sadly limited repertoire.  The tense switches were a bit weird, yes, but they make sense once you learn the situation in which it’s being written down, and they honestly didn’t bother me as much as I might have expected.  (Then again, I once wrote an entire history of the Trojan War that swapped tenses frequently (especially if the narrator-du-chapter died at the end of the chapter) so maybe I’ve become desensitized to it.)

So, am I saying I liked it?

Uh…I’m not sure, honestly.  This book goes from lackadaisical to very intense (and back again) quite quickly, and even its most utopian moments exist in a chilling shadow of horrible bloodshed.

It’s very much the picture of what war is, particularly war from the point of view of those not out on the battlefields.

If this was a WWII novel, the setting would be Paris, pre- and post-German occupation, and our leads would be Parisians who didn’t follow their families in fleeing the city.  (I don’t think it’s appropriate to follow the comparison any further than that, though, as this is a very different, more complex type of war.)

It can’t compare to my two favorite works of fiction on the subject of war — Slaughterhouse Five and The Iliad — but it’s a real experience, and I don’t regret having read it.  (Though I may never look at those little garden gnome statues the same way again…)  As to whether or not I’d recommend it to anyone else, I’d say that if you have the patience to get past the book’s eccentricities, you should probably give it a try, but if you think they’d annoy you, it’s probably best to find something else to read.  It’s certainly left me very curious to try some of the author’s other, non-bloodshed-related works.  (I’d like to avoid war and horrible death for a while.  Which might be easier if I wasn’t doing my class work this semester on classical antiquity…)

And I am finished with the Read Harder Challenge 2017!  Woo hoo!

I’m also almost finished with the first book I’ve read for class this semester (I’ve been putting off writing this book report because it was going to be so hard to write), so I’ll probably post a report on that soon.  And I need to pick something new to read for fun.  Banned Book Week starts this weekend; I wonder if there are any banned books on my TBR list?

Despite my earlier hopes, I don’t think I’ll be trying to do last year’s Read Harder Challenge in the time remaining this year.  If I wasn’t taking this class, I could probably do it, or at least make a good dent in it, but this is going to be very reading intensive (but it’s interesting reading, so that’s cool), and I don’t want to strain myself trying to fit in all that extraneous stuff.  (Goodness knows, there’s enough other stuff running demands on my time.)  Also, once the Sparkler membership from the Kickstarter goes through, I’m gonna be up to my ears in the past four years of that, so…yeah.  I might start trying to cross off various of the 2016 or 2015 challenges as I go along for the rest of the year, not trying to complete either challenge right away.  Or I might not.  Who knows?

4 comments on “Book Report: A History of Blood and Glitter

    • It’s definitely really something, but…yeah, I don’t know if I want to say “go on and give it a try!” or not. It’s a powerful book in places, creepy in others, and yet in other places it’s sort of frustrating how little seems to be going on, when it feels like the characters’ whole lives ought to be subsumed in the chaos all around them. But that’s probably very much what it’s like to be a civilian in a city under military occupation, which I assume was the point.

      Not the most fun reading experience of the year, that’s for sure. (That would be “The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue” or the Charm of Magpies series. Um, if I’m not counting graphic novels…) But it’s not the least fun, either, so…it’s like the only way it can be summed up is to say that it’s too complicated to categorize.


  • Comments are closed.

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