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Small Miracles

Small Miracles

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P.S. There is another SPFBO book in the same genre as Small Miracles that I read and found much more enjoyable and that is Envy by Tim Beeden.If you liked Small Miracles then you should definetely give Envy a go.. I count myself amongst the fortunate to have discovered Olivia Atwater's work a few short years ago and she remains with each new tale, one of my favorite modern authors. Whether the story is framed in darkness or light, her signature whimsical tone never allows it to drift too far into either direction. The narrative is always fun, even when danger is at hand.

This is NOT a review of that book. Yet unavoidably, there will be comparisons between “SmallMiracles” by Atwater, and that seminal work by Gaiman and Pratchett.Gadriel is a fun and interesting character, and a flawed one as you might expect from a fallen angel. At first, I found it weird that everyone took it in stride when one moment he appeared male, then female, without asking questions much, then again, who are we to question how others want to appear? Ultimately, I liked that Holly, her niece and everyone else around them just accepted Gadriel as they are. Which is one of the messages of this book, although probably not the main one. Still.

I have provided an honest review of this book –“Small Miracles” by author Olivia Atwater – below for purposes of the Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off (SPFBO) Number 8 competition, in which this book is one of ten finalists. Before We Go Blog (where I am one of the judges) is assigned the book, along with the other 9 judging blogs, to help determine which one of 10 books will emerge as the SPFBO 8 Champion. This is NOT a review of that book. Yet unavoidably, there will be comparisons between “Small Miracles” by Atwater, and that seminal work by Gaiman and Pratchett. Small Miracles by Olivia Atwater is a fun, cozy, and simply delightful read. The story follows Gadriel, a former guardian angel who has become the fallen angel of petty temptations. The guardian angel boss has a job for Gadriel, however. Holly Harker is a little too sinless and could use some petty temptations. Of course, not everything is at it seems. The endearing, smart, yet somewhat naive and slightly fumbling and flawed Gadriel was a wonderful main character. Once she finds out she’s out of her depth in provoking Holly to acquiesce to sin, she resorts to something different, but Holly’s intractability also leads to Gadriel and Holly forming a great relationship, as they get to know one another better. If Good Omens was a rom-com and put less emphasis on David Tennant and… I mean Aziraphale and Crowley, it would be close to Small Miracles. Or the other way round. I guess one is better than the other? Perhaps? Gaiman and Pratchett vs Olivia Atwater? This was not supposed to be a difficult choice. There are many favourite parts of the book I could list, but one of them is the casual treatment of gender fluidity and queerness. As Steve Jobs would have said, It Just Works; effortless, unforced, and wonderful.And while this is indeed a less heavy book than “Good Omens” (featuring such portentous figures as the Anitchrist and the four “bikers” of the Apocalypse) the ominous character Wormwood – an inexperienced devil whose mandate is to tempt humans to hell – from C.S. Lewis’s “Screwtape Letters”, appears in “SmallMiracles”, to provide an antagonist, if there is one, for the book. Ten Thousand Stitches". Publishers Weekly. May 6, 2022. Archived from the original on March 5, 2023 . Retrieved March 5, 2023. Small Miracles has often been described as “cosy” fantasy; what do you make of the rise of this subgenre recently, what do you think is driving its popularity? In this world, which is essentially just our own + confirmed angels, sin and good deeds are measured in a way that reminds me a tad of The Good Place. When you sin you get negative points, and when you do something righteous or selfless/good, you gain some points. Chocolate is technically considered a sin, although Gadriel thinks that’s an injustice and has been fighting for centuries about it. Anywho, Gadriel accepts the mission since it will set her square with the angel, which as I understand has been outstanding for quite some time and they’re happy to be rid of the debt. What they hadn’t anticipated is how hard it would be to get Holly to sin. Gadriel is a fallen angle who specializes in petty temptations. They’re not trying to bring down humanity, they just want to make sure we’re enjoying it sufficiently. They’re still a “fallen” angel, though, so they were surprised when their sibling, Barachiel, shows up and WANTS them to try and tempt a human into sinning. Just a little bit of sinning. This human, Holly, has lived such a joyless life that even the “good” angels are like, okay, wtf, that woman needs some happiness, STAT.

I admit, Small Miracles was one of the books in our batch that instantly caught my attention. When I reached the “fallen angel” part in the blurb, I was sold. Mentioning angels is a sure way to perk up my attention. I’ve never read Olivia Atwater‘s books before, although I’ve heard a lot about Half a Soul and intended to read it at some point. While the Fantasy-Hive is not participating in this year’s Self-Publishing Fantasy Blog Off (SPFBO) – the eighth such event – we do have some overlap with people who are, which is how I got a recommendation to take a look at Small Miracles, a SPFBO8 finalist chosen by the Queen’s Book Asylum blog. I’m an American and even I noticed some inaccurate British terminology. I just don’t get why this had to be set in London — the story could’ve easily worked in NYC or Toronto. Again: this doesn’t personally bother me but I know it’s a dealbreaker for some folks. It wasn’t egregious but definitely present. It requires considerable skill to write a book that isn't actively a chore to read. A bunch more to write a book that can be swiftly devoured with zero indigestion. Yet, true to her advanced sin metrics, Holly proves remarkably incorruptible, despite Gadriel’s initial efforts to inveigle Holly to live a little, and treat herself to some of the better things life has to offer. So Gadriel is forced to up his/her game, and use small miracles to achieve his/her ends.I am currently working on a Victorian faerie tale, however, which I’m very excited about! Now that I’m writing in the Victorian era, I get to explore the gothic genre, which is a bit darker. I still have some whimsy and some humour in the book, but I also get to flavour it more like a ghost story, and add a bit more gallows humour to it. The characters are allowed to be a bit more flawed, and the atmosphere feels more dangerous. This first Victorian faerie tale takes a lot of inspiration from the movie Labyrinth —so if you had a thing for David Bowie in eyeliner taunting the young heroine, this one might be for you. This one is very likely to appeal to anyone looking for a cozy, low-stakes comfort read. The characters are well constructed and the book is well-paced while being short. It pressed almost all the right buttons for me and I’m glad it got assigned to me to review. I think this is my favorite book from this year’s SPFBO.

Were Pratchett alive, I dare to hope he’d agree with my rating, if he read the book, which according to Atwater, is somewhat of a homage to his “Good Omens”. The angelic beings’ gender fluidity is an interesting touch with a consistent explanation within the story. The human characters accept this pretty much at face value with Holly simply noting “I don’t mean to be insulting… it’s just that… weren’t you a woman before.” Holly’s open-mindedness is refreshing, particularly in the contemporary context.Associating virtue with misery and sin with enjoyment might take old fashioned weight loss messaging a little too far or too simplistically into the moral domain. However, it makes for an interesting set-up as Gadriel finds the simple challenge has some surprising complications. It also means that each chapter opens, like a Bridget Jones diary entry, with a helpful running score of Holly Harker’s cumulative sin metric. (She starts on “-932” sin points – positively brimming with virtue). Whimsy and satire is employed in highly effective fashion by Atwater to convey some fairly stark and challenging themes in the book. Love, loss, grief, death, forgiveness, redemption, family. Atwater shows a very deft hand in handling these issues. As Gadriel digs deeper into the secret of Holly’s virtue, Holly’s teenage niece Ella puts in an appearance and this draws Gadriel into some school based shenanigans. I do enjoy seeing how different authors present the realities of school life, the stresses and squabbles and the staff room politics, and Atwater delivers a credible depiction of a somewhat dysfunctional school, not least in the image of the school disco “The disco was in full swing…The swirling lights highlighted an empty, yawning gap between tables where no one dared to dance.”

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