The Briar Book of the Dead is the latest novel from World Fantasy Award-winning author A.G. Slatter. Set in the same world as her earlier novels All the Murmuring Bones and The Path of Thorns, The Briar Book of the Dead is a standalone fantasy novel that can be enjoyed independently. Although it is a safe bet that if you like those novels from Slatter, you will enjoy this one, too. I went into The Briar Book of the Dead without prior experience of Slatter’s work and enjoyed reading this gothic tale, with all its thorny twists and turns. Slatter is an author whose work I look forward to exploring her ‘Sourdough’ universe further after this first taste.
In The Briar Book of the Dead, we meet the witches of the Briar family. Custodians of a small town called Silverton, the Briars protect the inhabitants with their magic – escaping the usual punishment of burning for their craft. The novel’s protagonist is Ellie Briar, the first non-witch born to the family in centuries. Although she has no magic and has tried to make herself useful to her magical kin, she is sneered at and overlooked by them. This treatment has been internalised by Ellie, who constantly strives to prove her worth, whilst always feeling like a failure. That is until Ellie inadvertently discovers a long forgotten supernatural gift and finds herself part of a dark and devastating plan.
I am so surprised that I have not read A.G. Slatter before picking up The Briar Book of the Dead. Her rich writing and gothic style are features I greatly appreciate and enjoy in my reading, and this novel ticks the same sort of boxes that authors such as T. Kingfisher do. So, her writing was a delightful discovery for me! Although The Briar Book of the Dead’s pacing starts slowly, this truly immerses the reader before Slatter picks the pace up. By which point, we know all the characters and have begun to see how these women interact with each other and the society of Silverton. The Briar witches were fascinating characters and my favourite part of The Briar Book of the Dead.
There is a dark nature to The Briar Book of the Dead, and not just from the blood magic used by the Briar witches – early on in the novel, there is a stillborn baby, postnatal psychosis, and a death by suicide. These and other psychologically dark issues are handled sensitively by Slatter. Still, it is from them that the novel’s darkness stems rather than bursts of vivid and explicit violent acts. The Briar Book of the Dead also has hope. We see how the community rallies and helps one another in the aftermath and how Ellie and the other Briar women try to repair the damage wrought by these traumatic events.
I wholeheartedly recommend The Briar Book of the Dead if you enjoy well-written gothic stories with witches and dark magic. Thank you very much to A.G. Slatter and the team over at Titan for sending me a copy.