Anybody who’s reading my reviews knows that I adore unconventional books. Literature is not a fixed medium; it’s fluid, changeable, always evolving. For that reason, I adored reading A History of Glitter and Blood. Set in the fae city of Ferrum during a three-way war that claims to be a liberation when it’s really an occupation, History follows a pack of young faeries who stayed behind.
The first thing to know about History going in is that it’s not a happy book. It’s not the gloom-and-doom of grimdark literature, and it has an unwavering belief that good things are possible – but at the same time, it is about war, and not the glorious or simple wars that usually fill fantasy literature. There are guns in this Faerieland, and child prostitutes, and prisoners of war. There’s also racism, present enough to be a moral or a message, woven in deftly enough to avoid being a hamhanded allegory for the Real World.
The second, too, is that History is gloriously, gloriously queer. Every character is de-facto bisexual, and while the term never comes up in the book, it’s because it doesn’t need to; love and sex in Ferrum really do know no gender. The most present queer relationship is Joshua and his lost love Cricket, but it shows up in a lot of ways. Even better, History takes the concept of a found family and embraces it with a powerful enthusiasm. ‘Love’ as in friendship and ‘love’ as in romance are used pretty much interchangeably, neither of them ranked above the other.
Finally, History is a glorious exercise in metafiction. The author stumbles, starts over, gets sidetracked. They paste parts of other books into their work. They slip in and out of third person, swearing at the page. It’s jarring at first, and then by the end, it’s such a fundamental part of the novel’s structure that it’s hard to say goodbye to the writer.
If there’s anything I didn’t like about the novel, it would be the way it moves back and forth in the timeline. I probably would have been fine with it if there was more indication of where in the timeline we were at any given point, but sometimes it takes a few sentences to realize where you are. However, I appreciate how it’s meant to add to the disorientation and heaviness of the novel.
I don’t do starred reviews, but I can say that reading History was like discovering something new. It’s horrifying, it’s bleak, it’s beautiful, and it’s a masterpiece.
Trigger warnings for this book include: rape/sexual assault, character death, cannibalism/flesh consumption, body horror and mutilation, (fantasy) racism, misogyny and underage sex/sex work.
PS: If like me, you liked A History of Glitter and Blood and its unconventional take on war, you may also enjoy An Inheritance of Ashes by Leah Bobet! Both books look at war from another perspective, and put it into a fantasy/speculative fiction setting to explore its consequences on everyday, normal people who are forced into new roles by conflict. Inheritance has different (and fewer) trigger warnings, including pregnancy and abuse, but I think the two make very good companion novels to each other.