Published by Chronicle Books on August 4, 2015
Pages: 280 pages
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Sixteen-year-old Beckan and her friends are the only fairies brave enough to stay in Ferrum when war breaks out. Now there is tension between the immortal fairies, the subterranean gnomes, and the mysterious tightropers who arrived to liberate the fairies.
But when Beckan's clan is forced to venture into the gnome underworld to survive, they find themselves tentatively forming unlikely friendships and making sacrifices they couldn't have imagined. As danger mounts, Beckan finds herself caught between her loyalty to her friends, her desire for peace, and a love she never expected.
This stunning, lyrical fantasy is a powerful exploration of what makes a family, what justifies a war, and what it means to truly love.
I’m not entirely sure how I feel about Hannah Moskowitz’s new book, A History of Glitter and Blood. It is a really weird book, you all, and I don’t mean that in a bad way. It was not entirely to my liking and I still can’t stop thinking about it? Books about fairies are not my thing, and thinking about unreliable narrators reminds me of how much I disliked We Were Liars, but hey, I picked this one up because the cover was pretty and Moskowitz writes queer-centric fiction. If you like weird books and fairies and unreliable narrators and thinking about how history’s written, you’ll probably like this, though. I suspect it’ll be a polarizing read.
Why is it weird? Well. There are fairies. Who are covered in glitter. And gnomes who eat fairies, despite disliking the taste of glitter. (And most fairies are missing some body parts as a result. Our heroine, Beckan, only has her father’s tooth, eye, and ear in a jar – but he’s still alive!) And there’s a war on between the tightropers and the gnomes for control of the fairy city, Ferrum. Our heroes – four fairies who have mostly not been gnawed on by gnomes – decide to stick it out in Ferrum though the rest of the fairies flee to safety, and they end up having to prostitute themselves out to the gnomes to survive the war, and maybe one of these fairies kills the gnome king. (This all happens before the action of the book starts, so … not super spoilery, but yes, it is a really dark book.)
Also, and this delighted me, there are a number of illustrations and archival evidence because A History of Glitter and Blood is … an attempt at writing a history. Fairly early on in the book, it becomes clear that the book is just one character’s chronicle of events – and it’s clear, too, that it isn’t one that’s authoritative or all-encompassing, as much as our historian wants it to be. What emerges is this one fairy’s attempt to gain control and understanding of differently unruly events – war, falling in love, whatever – through writing a history and, IMO, it ends up being a pretty interesting premise for a novel. (Also, I did actually get a kick out of some of the illustrations – some of which depict the anatomical differences between gnomes, fairies, tightropers, and wolves, which our narrator has a thing for).
What I liked most about this book were the relationships between the main characters, which is good, because relationships (not action) are the primary focus of this novel. Beckan’s our lead, but there is a pretty significant supporting cast that is comprised of three other fairies, two gnomes, and a tightroper, and man, watching all those relationships play out was delightful. Especially because these relationships sometimes unfold in non-normative ways? (As a queer reader, I loved the fluidity of characters’ desires in this book – everything’s happening along a spectrum, and there’s no attempt to define anyone or pin anything down. I am 100% okay with this!) Along these lines, Beckan’s friendship with the other three fairies – Scrap, Cricket, and Josha – was just super wonderful to me. Cricket and Josha are in love, but they’re all also teenage fairies, and all a little bit in love with each other, and all bound differently to one another, and they come to think of themselves as a pack. And found families are one of my favorite things to read about, so I liked reading about the complexities of their relationship.
I also liked the way that this complexity extended to the fairies’ relationship with Rig and Tier, two gnomes who also end up becoming part of this found family (in spite of the fact that gnomes just want to eat fairies View Spoiler » AND THEY DO eat Beckan’s toe when they’re starving, ahhhh « Hide Spoiler) because they’re also committed to envisioning a different future for themselves. View Spoiler » And they make this future happen! All parties involved – our tiny band of fairies, gnomes, and a tightroper – basically give up on their respective societies / governments and take to the wild to live in a commune together, where they are all happy and in love with each other. It’s a hell of an ending for a young adult novel, and I mean that in a good way. « Hide Spoiler
However, despite all of these things, I wanted more from this book – more on the world-building and background to the events of the story, certainly, because I felt like I was mostly puzzling things out along the way. I particularly wanted more information on the different sorts of beings in this book – fairies, tightropers, and gnomes – because understanding the histories between them would have made the relationships that end up forming between them more significant to me. Additionally, in terms of the story’s background, I just didn’t understand characters’ motivations at points; for example, it was difficult for me to understand why Beckan, Cricket, Josha, and Scrap make the decision to fight it out in Terran anyway (when the rest of the fairies flee) because there wasn’t enough that explained their attachment to it for me. (Why not go? Why are you here risking being eaten? I know it’s your city and you feel a responsibility for it, but I don’t entirely get why). But, on the other hand, it’s one person’s account of an event, and is imperfect and partial as a result. So I get it? But I wanted more.
I’ll say also that the book made me uncomfortable in places. That’s not always a bad thing, but it was definitely a part of my reading experience here. Basically, there were moments where the power dynamics in some relationships seemed kind of screwy to me. View Spoiler »The fairies’ relationship to the gnomes is pretty upsetting – basically imagine something out of Wells’s The Time Machine, where the gnomes are an underclass who live underground and whose labor sustains the fairies. The fairies live above ground and are invested in their own racial superiority, and occasionally get eaten by some gnomes. This whole system doesn’t really get built up enough for my liking, and the ways it affects Beckan’s relationship with Rig and Tier is something I wanted to be thought through more. Particularly how these power dynamics affect Beckan’s sexual relationship with both characters? Something to think about. « Hide Spoiler
I’m still not sure whether I’d recommend this or not, or whether I should try something else by Moskowitz. Has anyone else read A History of Glitter and Blood? If so, what’d you think? I suspect feelings about this are going to be all over the place.
An advance copy was provided by the publisher for this review.