One of my guilty pleasures on social media is following authors who have great accounts, or who I’ve heard a lot of good stuff about, despite never reading their work. I love getting glimpses into their lives and their writing processes, and the odds of me finally reading their books increases quite a bit if I’m following them. A few weeks ago (okay, probably a month or two, by now), I saw a tweet by Hannah Moskowitz announcing that the e-book version of her novel A History of Glitter and Blood was on sale. Cut to me opening my e-reader app a few days ago and remembering said impulsive book purchase. And now, here I am, breaking my month-long book blog hiatus because I can’t not review this surprising gem of a book.
A History of Glitter and Blood is a story of war, friendship, romance, and mourning. It is about racial prejudice (quite literally, fairies against gnomes against tightropers) and the courage it takes to see beyond that. It’s nonchronological, winding, twisty, and written with such a particular and peculiar voice that I nearly stopped reading in the beginning, but I decided that I was too intrigued by the world and characters to give it up quite yet.
I’m so glad I kept reading.
The story takes place in the city of Ferrum, where we learn that gnomes and fairies once lived in an uneasy sort of truce where the goblins dwelled underground and did all the menial, backbreaking work that the fairies kept their hands clean of. In return, the fairies paid a sort of tax—they dropped meat and animals down into the tunnels, and occasionally, they also paid in lost limbs, parents, children, siblings… Yeah, goblins eat fairies in this book, and it’s the strangest dynamic, and it’s also kind of brilliant, the way Moskowitz explores this simultaneously gruesome and delicate bond between the two races. This tenuous balance is shattered as the city falls into war when a new race, called the tightropers, comes to Ferrum to liberate the fairies from the goblins.
We learn all of this through the lens of an unseen narrator, who is a fantastic character in their own right. I adore the way Moskowitz slowly integrates the narrator into the story, while simultaneously making me fall in love with all the other main characters: there’s Beckan, our protagonist, a fairy who welds and does her best to keep her friends from falling apart, Josha, Beckan’s best friend, who struggles to mourn the loss of the boy he loved, Scrap, a self-declared historian who insists that fiction stories and romances are garbage, and Cricket, Scrap’s cousin, the boy Josha loved, who was always full of music, and whose presence haunts the story.
Out of curiosity, I checked Goodreads to see what kind of reviews this book has gotten, and I found myself laughing when I saw so many people giving the book bad ratings because they described the book as messy, rambling, confusing, or chaotic. In a way, yes, this book is all of those things, but the narrator’s mode of storytelling is a very intentional choice by the author—the narrator is a character, after all, and it all comes together in a very emotionally charged and significant way that I don’t think Moskowitz could have achieved by writing this story in a typical manner.
Her characters are complicated people who keep secrets, make terrible mistakes, and try so hard to survive however they can. It makes perfect sense to me that someone living through a war and trying to work through grief, pain, and fear wouldn’t necessarily write a story that is chronological or easy. I wish I could go tap on the windows of every person who wrote a bad review on this book so I could convince them to give it another try.
What surprised and delighted me most about this book is the love and power of friendship at the core of the story. The gentle, quiet moments where we see the characters being goofy, tender, and supportive of each other are just as impactful, if not more so, than the moments of high tension and conflict. Those scenes remind me of Florence and the Machine’s new song “No Choir,” which you should totally listen to if you haven’t (especially after finishing this book).
To be loving and to find joy in the simple act of connecting with others is a revolutionary act—and that makes this book so very relevant in this fraught time we’re living in. I’m so happy I gave this glittery, messy book a chance.
Writer, reviewer, bookseller, book nerd extraordinaire. Fiction reader at Waxwing Magazine.