Review: The Gilda Stories by Jewelle L. Gomez

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I first heard of The Gilda Stories from a Tor article a friend linked. I don’t usually read vampire books as I don’t like vampires as a trope very much (or urban fantasy as a subgenre), but it’s one of this year’s r/Fantasy Bingo squares and the concept seemed interesting enough.

“Each time I thought taking a stand, fighting a war would bring the solution to the demons that haunted us. Each time I thought slavery or fanaticism could be banished from the earth with a law or a battle. Each time I’ve been wrong.”

The story follows Gilda from her escape from a slave plantation in 1850 up to 2050 – each chapter takes place a few decades in the future. It’s pure slice of life, focused on how the vampires live, how they take blood, their relationships with humans, who do they decide to accept into their families. What I found unusual is that everybody is content to live their lives quietly – they avoid violence, try to leave something in return, and there’s no immortal who’d want to, say, take over the world or help mortals in some grand way. Perhaps this is more realistic. And the afterword where the author explains her worldbuilding choices is excellent.

Regardless: the approach to vampires was interesting and subversive, but sadly I didn’t enjoy it at all. The narration is incredibly distant and I struggled to connect with the story or the characters. This is something that often happens with older books – I was surprised it was published only in 1991. It felt like watching the characters from a mountain, or a hazy dream. I don’t think it’s bad per se (I’m particular about prose), but I definitely prefer a closer, more modern approach. Especially with slice of life.

Enjoyment: 2.5/5
Execution: 4/5

Recommended to: those who can tolerate distant narration and want a new take on vampires, fans of intersectional books
Not recommended to: those who prefer more modern prose, content warning: on-screen rape

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