Book Review: Orfeia by Joanne M. Harris

Orfeia by Joanne M. Harris

Publisher: Gollancz

Publication date: 3 September 2020

Genre: Fantasy novella

Page count: 224 pages

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars


For the past few years, I find myself looking forward to the latest installment in Joanne M. Harris’ Child Ballad novellas. Lovely, atmospheric, and such a treat to read, Pocketful of Crows and The Blue Salt Road have complimented my autumn reading perfectly! The latest installment, Orfeia, is just as gorgeous as the others, but with a bit of a twist.

When you can find me an acre of land,
Every sage grows merry in time,
Between the ocean and the sand
Then will you be united again.
(Inspired by The Child Ballads 2 & 19)

So begins a beautiful and tragic quest as a heartbroken mother sets out to save her lost daughter, through the realms of the real, of dream, and even into the underworld itself.

But determination alone is not enough. For to save something precious, she must give up something precious, be it a song, a memory, or herfreedom itself . . .

Beautifully illustrated by Bonnie Helen Hawkins, this is a stunning and original modern fairytale.

While these novellas are all retellings of various Child Ballads, they each stand independently on their own, so there is no need to worry about reading the previous two books before diving into Orfeia. In fact, Orfeia is quite different from its predecessors, as this book takes place at least in part in the real world. It was a little strange to adjust to reading about the very real city of London (as well as its counterpart in the dream world) because I simply wasn’t expecting to see a familiar location, however she did a wonderful job of blending reality with fantasy and creating a story as lush and gorgeous as you would expect from her.

As wonderful as the fantasy setting and the story were, what really stood out to me is the deep character study of a grieving mother. Fay is a lonely, yet seemingly ordinary woman who is dealt the most tragic of blows when her 21-year-old daughter dies unexpectedly. Determined that her child is actually in the land of the fae, she will do anything to rescue her daughter and bring her back into our world. Orfeia is a deeply moving portrait of parental grief and the sacrifices a woman will make for her child, and it’s so fantastic.

Orfeia is a gorgeous addition to this series and I cannot recommend it more highly, although I would urge anyone who thinks they may struggle with the subject matter to approach with caution. Beautifully written and illustrated, this is absolutely a book that should be on your TBR for fall and winter reading.

Want to pick up a copy of Orfeia for yourself? You can find it at the following sites (affilate links):

Book Depository | Blackwells

Have you read Orfeia? What did you think? What about her other Child Ballad novellas? Let me know!

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