Cover Image: The Briar Book of the Dead

The Briar Book of the Dead

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Member Reviews

The Briar Book of the Dead is a novel set in Slatter's Sourdough universe, recently explored by her in All the Murmuring Bones and The Path of Thorns. I was very pleased to revisit this intricate and intriguing world, its society centring on the witches who keep everything going and protect everyone else while themselves being persecuted by a venal Church.

This is a world where details matter, where social structures and indeed social infrastructure matter, where people matter. I think The Briar Book of the Dead explores that even more than its predecessors did. The story's set in Silverton, a remote hill town where the Briar family of witches have some prominence, since their powers enable them to fend off the dark Leech Lords. This means they're granted some tolerance by the distant church - so long as they know their place.

But when did Slatter's witches ever know their place? Far from that, the Briars - a matriarchal clan who came to Silverton three hundred years before and rescued the town from decline - actually run the place, dealing with a myriad of administrative, economic and social questions as well as with the magical. Such work isn't easy, however, and we see Silverton at a troubled time when the titular Witch has died suddenly and her role been passed on for the first time in a generation, as has that of the Steward, the family who ensures all those things listed above go smoothly.

The story is told from the perspective of the new Steward, Ellie Briar, who's a bit of an embarrassment to the family because she has no witchcraft. What Ellie does have, unknown to anyone else, is a talent for speaking to - and for - the restless dead. This will be useful as the power of the Briars is tested to its limits. But it's a secret Ellie's determined to keep because the mere existence of ghosts in the town undermine's her family's mythology.

This was a magnificent story. Ellie is a fantastic mixture of the assured and competent - and the unsure. Being the only non-magical Briar means that while she may be loved, she's endlessly slighted by the others in unthinking ways. Despite recognising all the things that need to be done ahead of anyone else, grasping how awkward situations can be defused and simply remembering what's next, Ellie has developed a habit of deference. So when only she seems to see what's going wrong, only she takes it seriously and only she knows what needs to be done, a tension inevitably rises between her and the other women of the family.

That is made worse as Ellie fancies the new priest who's been sent to shake up the town - a sign perhaps that the distant Church is finally paying attention to this remote corner? - so she has to juggle personal feelings, family history and romantic inclinations to find a way through.

A fast-moving, enjoyable and positive (despite the dark things that happen) take on a fantasy world, this is a fun read and it was great to see mentions and hints about other storylines in this world, both those already in print and - dare I hope? - those still to come.

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This was my first foray into the Sourdough Universe and it’s safe to say I’m settling in for the long haul.

When I was little, I used to sneak out of my room late at night just so I could watch Ghost Whisperer with my mum. The Briar Book of the Dead takes so much of what I loved about that concept and weaves it into this incredible and expansive gothic fantasy world.

This could have leaned heavier into the horror elements, there was a great eerie sense of unease throughout the whole read and a few terrific moments that I won’t spoil but I would say it would be a good pick for fantasy readers who are looking to dip their toes into the horror genre.

I have so much I was planning to read this month but I may just be dropping all of it to explore this world further in the rest of Slatter’s works. My only wish is that we were blessed with more of Ellie and Sandor.

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This was a slow start for me - but once I got into it, I was thoroughly invested. I loved Ellie Briar and how she handled everything in Silverton as its non magical steward. There are a few points that I wish Slatter had elaborated on further, but overall this was a great read - and I was thrilled to discover that while this is not part of a series, Slatter does have a whole fantasy world built with characters popping in and out of the books!

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This book was fabulous. I didn't want this book to end! I couldn't get enough of it. The story line was great and I loved the writing style. 4 stars.
I just reviewed The Briar Book of the Dead by A. G. Slatter. #TheBriarBookoftheDead #NetGalley
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This book is amazing! Ellie, the main character, comes from a family of witches and is the first to not have any magic of her own. They rule over Silverton, protecting their people from the Darklands, while also being under strict supervision of the church. The Briar witches know of their story through tales, and Ellie may well discover that they may have been somewhat revised. Indeed, the Briars have a lot of secrets (and what was funny is that they were almost always the same).
This book follows Ellie in her day to day life and work at the same time as she tries to discover what is happening in Silverton. I don't know if the plot twist was predictable but I did guess it early on and wanted to scream at all the characters; I even felt relieved when they finally understood what was going on. The Briar Book of the Dead is full of love, secrets and grief, and I loved Ellie's path to understand that she's not less than her family just because she is not a witch.

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A mix of dark fantasy with family drama is a brilliant combination of genre features that make this unique story that really stands out

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A.G. Slatter's "The Briar Book of the Dead" delivers a potent spell of dark fantasy and family drama. This standalone novel immerses readers in the Gothic town of Silverton, governed by the powerful Briar family of witches. Ellie, the only non-magical member of the family, finds herself thrust into a web of hidden truths and ancient secrets as a series of disturbing events shatters the town's fragile peace.

Slatter excels in weaving a chilling atmosphere, where whispers of the past intertwine with the present. The prose is beautifully crafted, painting vivid imagery and capturing the characters' complex emotions. The narrative unfolds through Ellie's perspective, offering a unique window into the challenges of feeling like an outsider within your own family.

The story boasts a compelling central mystery, laced with subtle hints and shocking revelations that keep you hooked. The exploration of family dynamics and the burden of past sins adds emotional depth and complexity.

However, the focus on secrets can occasionally feel overwhelming, leading to some slower moments in the middle section. There’s also an insistence on using complex/non-standard words, like “cicatrice”, when scar tissue would have worked just as well and been slightly easier to understand which I found broke the flow of reading.

Overall, this novel is a solid fantasy story with an intriguing premise. Blood magic is not something fantasy books tend to tackle, unless it is associated with a villainous character, which adds a unique angle to Slatter’s novel. Despite the slight pacing issues, "The Briar Book of the Dead" is a captivating read, particularly for fans of dark fantasy and gothic fiction. The intriguing plot, atmospheric setting, and well-developed characters will stay with you long after you turn the final page.

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I absolutely loved this book! I thought the exposition was interesting and I enjoyed the background introduction to the Briar witches of Siverton. As such, I didn’t feel the sluggishness that I often feel when starting a book. In a family full of magic, Ellie is the only member who has not manifested powers. I felt a kinship with Ellie Briar, the protagonist, being the black sheep of the family as well. I loved seeing Ellie’s growth as a woman while finding her place within her matriarchal family where magic is highly valued. Ellie is smart and found other ways outside of magic to make herself valuable to her community. There are touches of romance here and there, which has been a good break from all the spicy books I have been reading. It is far into the background which I appreciate because the focus is on Ellie’s journey and navigation of her family dynamics. Of course, there are many hurdles that she must overcome which are handled with so much strength and cunning. There are so many twists and turns that I was not expecting at all! As such, it was such a good mystery read. The writing, pacing, and storytelling was amazing! This is the first book I have read by A.G. Slatter, but it will certainly not be the last. I will be reading the other books she has already published. This was such a great read, and I highly recommend you read it!

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The Briar Book of the Dead by A.G. Slatter is set in the same universe as The Path of Thorns, All the Murmuring Bones and some of her short story collections. Each one can be read independently and in any order. In The Briar Book of the Dead, Slatter tells the story of the town of Silverton and the Briar family of witches that have run the town for generations. Using their magic, they have kept their citizens safe and healthy and helped the town prosper.

Ellie Briar is an anomaly in her family. Unlike her cousins, she was born without magic, and it’s a difference she feels throughout her life. Despite her lack of magic, she’s raised to take over as steward, to maintain the admin duties which include one of the most important tasks of all; ensuring that forged letters are sent to the church. She’s determined to prove she can do her job well, despite not having the magical abilities of her cousins, and when their grandmother dies suddenly, Ellie and her cousins are thrust into their roles earlier than expected.

It’s a challenging time for all of them, and things become even more chaotic for Ellie when a knock on the head at her grandmother’s funeral brings with it the ability to see the dead. It appears that the magicless Briar is not so magicless after all, and as the first speaker for the dead in over three hundred years, Ellie is in demand. This is all rather confusing for Ellie because everyone knows that Gilly Briar banished all the ghosts of Silverton… didn’t she?

As she tries to untangle the mysteries of the past, Ellie has the chaos of the present to contend with as well. There is unrest in town as secrets are revealed. Something else is going on in the outlier farms, and people are going missing. Trying to juggle everything along with her new responsibilities as steward and speaker of the dead, Ellie needs to work out who she can trust quickly before something terrible happens.

“Slatter writes witches like none other,” reads the quote on the front of the cover of The Briar Book of the Dead by A.G. Slatter from author Cassandra Knaw, and I couldn’t agree more. This was another great book from Slatter, and I was glued to every moment. The slower pace works well with the story, drawing out the suspense as she sprinkles mystery and suspense through like a pro. Mixing gothic horror with fantasy and thriller, Slatter has found a winning combination.

What I like about Slatter’s books is that she gives the reader just enough details to work out some or most of what is happening, enough to get the imagination pumping. By the time the big reveal comes around, you’re even more desperate to know what’s happening to see if you guessed right! Or, as was the case for me, to fill in the missing piece of the puzzle I had slowly been piecing together as I read.

The Briar Book of the Dead is a wonderful addition to Slatter’s growing universe, filled with multi-layered characters and rich prose. This deliciously dark and gothic novel is a must-read.

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The Briar Book of the Dead is a dark fantasy/mystery series that will leave you on your toes. The world building is what really got me. The small town setting on the edge of the Darklands was full or lore and witches and oh was it wonderful. This was an excellent read for fantasy and mystery lovers alike

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3.5 rounded up. The beginning of this started out pretty slowly. And the writing and wording was a little weird. I'm not sure how to explain it. It eventually did get better and then I was hooked. I did predict a couple things but it felt obvious as a fantasy reader.

It was interesting how the setting was confined to one little town, but it worked for the story. All the murmuring bones was a journey and so was this one in a different way. It was a journey of self discovery and of family and the past. Truths coming to fruition.

I enjoy Slatter's writing and find it easy to read. This was my second book by her and I have another to read on my shelf. I shall continue to dive into her stories and see where they take me.

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for the arc in exchange for an honest review.

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Having discovered Angela Slatter's Sourdough universe a few years ago (well into its existence) I quickly fell in love with the setting. Slatter has created some of my favourite dark fantasy novels of the last few years, and as such I was excited to dive back into that setting with her latest novel, The Briar Book of the Dead.

The story takes readers to the town of Silverton, where a family of witches, the Briars, watch over the town and help those that live there, despite their kind being hated by the church. The main reason why the Briars are allowed to continue existing is that Silverton is close to the border with the Darklands, an evil place inhabited by the evil Leechlords, and the Briars keep the border protected. Ellie Briar is one of the granddaughters of the two head witches of the family, but was born without any magic, something that sets her apart from the other women in her family. Because of her lack of magic Ellie struggles to be taken seriously, and is sometimes looked down on. However, when her grandmother dies, Ellie finds herself thrust into a new position, one that leads her to discover some shocking secrets of her family that have been carefully buried.

Compared to the last two books from Slatter, All the Murmuring Bones and The Path of Thorns, The Briar Book of the Dead felt like a much slower burn of a read. At least towards the beginning of the book. Things start kind of slowly, and it takes a good way into the main bulk of the book before the plot begins in full. However, this doesn't mean that the start of the book is bad by any means, as readers get to spend a lot of time with Ellie, seeing what her life if like, her relationships, and the town of Silverton itself. It helps to build this small corner of this world, and adds to the overall richness of the narrative, even if it does feel a bit like you're waiting around for things to start to begin with.

Once things begin in earnest, however, the book becomes very hard to put down. By that point you've become quite invested in Ellie and her story, and as such when the main plot ramps up you find yourself unable to stop reading. You've come to really care for Ellie and want to see her come out okay by the end. This is one of the things that I love about Slatter's books, she's able to writer incredibly engaging and realistic female protagonists that you keep wanting to read more of.

But, this is a book set within the Sourdough universe, and so despite the wonderful protagonist it's a book filled with dark subject matter, some that might test readers at times, especially when dealing with topics like miscarriage, suicide, and psychosis. Slatter doesn't shy away from making her world a cruel one, but never revels in that cruelty like some writers. Instead, it makes for a layered reading experience that will mean different things to different readers.

Overall, I had a wonderful time with The Briar Book of the Dead, and much like the other books in this world I'd happily recommend it to fans of the genre.

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The Briar Book of the Dead is a captivating and enthralling story surrounding a family of witches and the town they live in, but something is happening and change is on its way

Ellie, our main character, is a witch, who isn’t truly a witch - she has no powers/magic and feels left out from her early childhood. She’s a wonderful character to read about, and she had the motivations and ideals that made me root for her, and the way she was her own separate identity was so clear. All of the characters within the book were fleshed-out and didn’t feel one dimensional, they all had their faults and i found they were all complex characters that melded to create a dark and compelling fantasy story.

The world itself is immersive and i loved reading about it, it’s all set within an established community/town which meant that we learnt more about their lives as the story developed! There’s a slight gothic atmosphere, and all of the characters interact in realistic ways that just helped the story and world feel well balanced without the reader having info dumps. Being a world with witches, we see their magic grow with them, especially Ellie, and the differences in their magic was always interesting to read about.

There are two romances within the story, but neither are overpowering and both allow for the characters to be themselves without being chained to that relationship. One of the relationships is an already established queer romance, and whilst it is not a large part of the story, it’s sweet and i enjoyed the small moments that we did see them together. And for the one that develops within the book as we read, its not a central part to the story but i loved seeing them together and how they treated each other and found comfort!

This is a wonderful witchy story that does have mention of (only slightly) Christianity/religion and its impact on the witches which i thought was a nice touch as it allowed for a character to develop and give us a larger understanding of the world

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I'm gonna be honest, the thing that drew me in was the cover, the vibes are amazing. I think I've expected something else from this book but it turned out it was totally different but really great!

In this story we follow Ellie Briar, who is the first non-witch in a long time born in her family. The Briars run the town of Silverton, having been given the dispensation from the church in return for protecting the place from Leech Lords.

The start of this novel feels almost like a slice of life kind of book, where we follow Ellie taking care of different tasks required of her as a Steward to the most powerful Briar Witch. And the way I got invested in the action, even though it doesn't seem to follow any greater plot at the beginning, was really surprising to me. We really get to know our main character that grapples with the feeling of being lesser than her kin, and honestly that resonated with me and my struggling with anxiety when growing up and not being able to take care of everything that others seemed to deal with without any issues. We also get slowly immersed in the world and various mysteries and the lore. There were some surprising reveals and I was pretty shocked at where the story ended up taking us. Even though the story was at times creepy and dark, it somehow felt cozy. I got the feeling of watching some 80s movie when it, in some weird way, feels like home. It also had some maybe not so prominent, but still good, sense of humor throughout.

I don't think I want to write much more about it as I've felt my going pretty blind into the story was a perfect way to go. It was surprisingly emotional and really investing, even though it felt really different to the things I usually read. I think it might have had a similar atmosphere to my teen reads, but done in a more elaborate way. It also kind of reminds me of T. Kingfisher' books!

I'll for sure check the author's other works and eventually get a physical copy of this book! That's always a stamp of approval from me. 😅

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Thank you to The Publisher and Netgalley for an e arc. And to the Author for creating this story.

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I'm gonna be honest, the thing that drew me in was the cover, the vibes are amazing. I think I've expected something else from this book but it turned out it was totally different but really great!

In this story we follow Ellie Briar, who is the first non-witch in a long time born in her family. The Briars run the town of Silverton, having been given the dispensation from the church in return for protecting the place from Leech Lords.

The start of this novel feels almost like a slice of life kind of book, where we follow Ellie taking care of different tasks required of her as a Steward to the most powerful Briar Witch. And the way I got invested in the action, even though it doesn't seem to follow any greater plot at the beginning, was really surprising to me. We really get to know our main character that grapples with the feeling of being lesser than her kin, and honestly that resonated with me and my struggling with anxiety when growing up and not being able to take care of everything that others seemed to deal with without any issues. We also get slowly immersed in the world and various mysteries and the lore. There were some surprising reveals and I was pretty shocked at where the story ended up taking us. Even though the story was at times creepy and dark, it somehow felt cozy. I got the feeling of watching some 80s movie when it, in some weird way, feels like home. It also had some maybe not so prominent, but still good, sense of humor throughout.

I don't think I want to write much more about it as I've felt my going pretty blind into the story was a perfect way to go. It was surprisingly emotional and really investing, even though it felt really different to the things I usually read. I think it might have had a similar atmosphere to my teen reads, but done in a more elaborate way. It also kind of reminds me of T. Kingfisher' books!

I'll for sure check the author's other works and eventually get a physical copy of this book! That's always a stamp of approval from me. 😅

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Thank you to The Publisher and Netgalley for an e arc. And to the Author for creating this story.

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A.G Slatter is a master of building an ever present feeling of dread in her stories!!

If you haven't jumped into this authors Sourdough universe yet....what are you waiting for?! Each entry has been brilliantly woven into a tale that feels like a dark fairy tale from days past. The Briar Book of the Dead follows the same tone of the authors previous works. Her writing evokes a gloomy gothic world that is brimming with flawed and interesting characters. I did find this installment a bit slower in the beginning but readers who stick through the first qaurter of the book will be handsomely rewarded with and evocative and enticing tale!

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Thanks to Titan Books and Netgalley for the ARC.

Angela Slatter has quickly become an auto-read author for me, her books are able to immediately transport you to a different place and time and wrap you in a warm blanket......all the while surrounding you with magic and ghosts!! I had such an enjoyable time reading this story and it flew by much too quickly and I could easily have stayed in this world and with its characters for much longer. The Briar witches live in and protect the small, isolated town of Silverton while also helping the citizens to administrate all aspects of their lives to make sure everyone is taken care of equitably. This arrangement has worked well for all involved until the untimely passing of the head Briar Witch and a new generation has to quickly adapt to taking control. The tale centers on Ellie Briar, who has not shown any of the powers her cousins have and has had to accept that the role she will play is not at all what she had wanted as a child. Until a fateful accident reveals a special gift that sets her on a path that will change the lives of everyone in her family and many of the town's residents, sometimes with deadly effect.
Angela always does such a brilliant job of making you feel like you know the place and characters right from the start. She creates a world full of magic that you feel could really exist and characters who are flawed and don't always make the best decisions, and then they have to accept the consequences of those decisions. The story also explores the themes of religion trying to control and determine what women are able to do, which certainly hits home right now. It's also full of family secrets and the price that younger generations have to pay when those secrets begin to come to light. If you are a fan of atmospheric stories with gothic vibes, mysterious happenings and chats with the dead, this story is definitely for you!!

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Summary

I had the delight of reading A. G. Slatter’s recent gothic fantasy The Briar Book of the Dead.

Set in the same fantasy world as the Sourdough series of Slatter’s other works and her novels All The Murmuring Bones, The Path of a Thorns, The Briar Book of the Dead focuses on the town of Silverton and the surrounding regions which are protected and ruled by the Briar lineage of witches. The protagonist is Ellie Briar, the first witch with seemingly no magical powers born to her family but raised with the expectation to take on the stewardship role and support her cousin Audra when she becomes the next Briar Witch. Both motherless after a plague struck the town and took most of the inhabitants with it, Ellie and Audra have been raised by their grandmother and great-aunt, both trained to ascend to Stewardship and Briar Witch when their elders eventually pass.

Events happen much faster than Ellie or Audra had expected and soon Ellie and Audra take their positions in guiding the town of Silverton and in negotiations with the Church. This last point is thrown into chaos when a god-hound or priest arrives in Silverton for the first time in decades. The new priest is accepting of the Briar Witches and their role in the community of Silverton and seems unlikely to cause the devastation they had anticipated. At her grandmother’s funeral, Ellie hits her head and the red price that all Briar Witches pay for the use of magic – the give and take of power – is finally paid. Ellie is suddenly aware of the ghosts that Silverton apparently doesn’t have. She soon discovers webs of lies and half-truths told to protect the Briar Witches and the past misdeeds of their ancestors. Ellie Brair becomes the speaker for the Dead and the only witch able to see the ghosts and let them address whatever issues hold them to the world of the living still. Keeping this magical power that has no record in their family a secret, Ellie soon starts uncovering darker aspects of Silverton and the power of the red price that must be paid for all magic works. Awful deceptions and cruelties are revealed and Ellie struggles to keep the balance within the Briar Witches and Silverton and its inhabitants.

Review

Slatter writes with an engaging style that immediately draws the reader into this gothic fantasy world where deceptions and lies become like spiderwebs thick in an abandoned room. The unraveling of the history and truth of the Briar Witches lineage is masterfully done with skill and precise timing that keeps the story fresh and intriguing. The characters are each unique with their own voices clearly presented and the overall storytelling is spellbinding.

Conclusion

Highly recommended read for fans of Slatter’s Sourdough works, novels and for readers who enjoy reimagined gothic fairy tales, history and folklore reworked and a highly engaging dark fantasy novel. A must read!

** This is my personal opinion and does not reflect any judging decisions **

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A delightfully gothic, witchy fairytale, The Briar Book of the Dead is self-contained within A.G. Slatter’s Sourdough universe.

As other reviewers have noted, the pacing is slow in the first quarter or so of the novel. The world of Silverton is deep and layered, and Ellie—the first magic-less born into her matriarchal family of witches for generations—is an immediately relatable protagonist. The oomph of the story did not come until later, but once it did I was hooked.
The mythology is also pleasantly complex, and the finer details do not need to be understood to grasp to appreciate the full worldbuilding.

Ellie Briar grows from a sympathetic character to one that is incredibly hardworking, compassionate, and self-driven. Her relationships with her family members are complex but brimming with affection, and they only twist and flower as the narrative progresses. I rooted and rooted for her, especially as the stakes—and her abilities—steadily increased. Themes of friendship, community, isolation, and feminism further endeared her to me as interspersed fables and parallels to the real world added intricacies.

The Briar Book of the Dead is a dark, flowing fantasy that features believably flawed characters, religious and magical tensions, hints of romance, and the allure of identity and power.

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As most of the author‘s books this also starts out as a bit of a slow burn but then picks up the pace. I love the gothic vibes in Slatter‘s books - general elements of the uncanny are mixed perfectly with creepy folklore and create a deliciously sinister atmosphere. Really enjoyed reading this one on a cold and stormy winter’s night.

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