Review written & published for Criticalwrit.com
I have to admit it, I really like witches. There’s something that I really enjoy about witchcraft and it’s how authors portray it beyond the horrifying wicked depictions fraught with political and moral implications that we usually see in mainstream medias. Witches are a complicated subject at the intersection of cultural and religious imperialism, aggressive and misogynistic gender politics, and antisemitism. While there aren’t many books that expand on this particular subject, I’m always curious to see how authors go beyond these traditional images. So needless to say, I was thrilled when Less Than Three Press approved my request for an advanced review copy in exchange for an honest review on Netgalley.
Muriel vas Veldina and Enne Datchery have a somewhat complicated relationship. They’ve lived together for eight years now, two witches well known for their skills at restoring old books and grimoires. They used to love each other deeply, and they both care for their shared live-in apprentice as they would their daughter, but something snapped some time ago, and it’s safe to say there’s nothing but hostility between them now. They’ve drifted apart, and distance turned into hatred, but neither of them has had the will to end it definitely yet. One day, an insufferable employee of the High Circle lands on their doorstep and tasks them with a job they would be unwise to refuse : to restore and repair an old grimoire that doesn’t have a name. And when said grimoire is stolen before they can even begin to work on it, they’re going to have to work together to take it back.
Glove of Satin, Glove of Bone by Rachel White takes romance from the opposite angle— Both characters already know each other, and their romance is a thing of the past. Now Muriel and Enne have only bickering and mean words for each other. Theirs is a sad relationship, where pride, lack of communication and prejudice have become so great that they formed a seemingly uncrossable rift between them. Their couple seemed doomed to break apart, and the link between the witches is all but ready to snap as we meet them. I felt really sad for those two. As we progress through the story, it’s obvious they still care for each other, and if only they were to admit it to each other and to themselves, they would realize that their flame isn’t dead just yet. But they lost their path somewhere along the way, and the events unfolding in the book will prove decisive for their shared (or separate) future.
While I initially needed some time to adapt to Muriel and Enne’s uncommon relationship (at least when it comes to romance), I quickly grew to love the pair. They’re both wonderful, caring persons, but they’re both imperfect and flawed, just like real people are. Enne is stern, studious and brutally honest, to the point of rudeness. She’s also not always in tune with the emotions of others, which can sometimes lead her to hurt those around her inadvertently. Muriel is more outgoing and naive but she’s judgmental, quick to react harshly, and her past as a wicked witch still weighs on her. And of course, neither of them is short on misplaced pride. Despite those flaws, both are caring persons and their love for their apprentice Kylia is obvious— it’s quite clear that she’s the link that makes the whole family stand.
White is good at the 'show, don’t tell' rule and she doesn’t say much on the universe before us, to the point that I was originally a bit miffed at Muriel and Enne’s insistence that thirty years old is “ancient” and “near-death already”, before I realized that it’s probably because people don’t live quite as long as we do nowadays. The time period is never really explained, and White doesn’t spend much time describing our surroundings, but she does leave clues here and there that allow us to infer on how this fantasy world works. And needless to say, I want more. I don’t know if White wants to expand the universe she’s created here, but I do hope she will write more— I would especially enjoy a prequel where our protagonists meet and fall in love and where Muriel reflects on her vulnerabilities and on wickedness.
Still, the book is short— too short, and while I enjoyed its total 53, 000 words length, I felt the story could have been stronger with more work on the plot and on the setting. Indeed, the weak point of the book definitely seems to be its plot, particularly towards the end where important confrontations are brought by simplistic twists. The behavior of our main villain is careless and puzzling towards the end, and to be honest she doesn’t seem to have much motivation beyond having power in order to have power. Sure, it’s often the underlying goal of many villains, but I’d have wanted something more, if at least to make her more believable.
Thus Glove of Satin, Glove of Bone by Rachel White is a good read, but it feels like a tentative step in a new direction, something I suspect it is since this is, to my knowledge, her first published full-length F/F work of fiction. Beyond a sweet romance between two relatable protagonists, it looks like a sketch of an interesting world that has yet to be fleshed out, and it really left me still hungry for more. As it stands, it is a good book, but I still feel it misses the opportunity to be a great book. Still, I’ll keep an eye on Rachel White’s next forays into F/F fiction, and hopefully, for a sequel.