In a world where Faerie magic is feared and human magic is carefully controlled, Rae and her family are keeping a dangerous secret. When a Faerie lord comes from the capital to buy horses, will they be able to hide Nisa’s talents from him – and hide him from their superstitious neighbours?
This is almost domestic fantasy, tightly focused on three close-knit sisters and their well-guarded secret. Khanani has a solid grasp of traditional tropes; so we have eldest sister Nisa with magic talents, wise sister Rae with the club foot, and headstrong young Bean who can only cook potatoes. Their parents are benevolent therefore minor characters in the story.
We are never told what Nisa is capable of, but I loved the hints embedded in the tale: you can taste her touch in food she has cooked, and Stonemane can smell her needlework in the embroidery on the curtains. It only slowly becomes apparent that her talents are much more than these homely touches suggest.
While there’s an obvious shell here about hiding who and what we are, judging our neighbours and fearing the unknown (although I’m not going to judge anyone for fearing faeries – so you bloody well should), the beating heart of the story is about self-perception, self-worth and unconditional love. Rae loves her sisters, but doesn’t value herself because of her deformed foot – her armour against a world that whispers about ‘the cripple’ is full of spikes on the inside. Her realisation that she is loved and valued by others just the way she is made my heart glow and my eyes prickle.
I often pick up bite-sized books as a way of getting a taste of an author’s prose and storytelling style. On the back of this elegant novella, I’m looking forward to sinking my teeth into some of Intisar Khanani’s long-form work.
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