Ormeshadow is the coming of age tale of Gideon Belman, whose father grew up on Ormesleep Farm. Orme is the old English word for worm or dragon, and in this case, it means dragon. Gideon’s father is forced to return to his childhood home and brings his family to the farm where his brother, Thomas, grudgingly welcomes them into his home. Sharma tells the story of Gideon’s coming of age through vignettes that ring true to memory. When we think back on the moments that have shaped us, they usually return to us in non-continuous narrative. This structure also allows Sharma to move throuthrough time as the story requires which again makes the coming of age story arc feel true to life.
Priya Sharma is a master of rendering imaginary worlds. Her worlds are so rich you feel like you’ve been there. Ormeshadow is no exception. The town of Ormeshadow formed itself in the shadow of a sleeping dragon as the undisputed Belman family lore goes. The dragon lay down to sleep after battling her family to rest under the care of the Belmans. This feature of land has a snout that extends into the sea and is riddled with secrets and hidden caves. The dragon lore, the family connection, and the disputes over the land give the story a deep richness. Sharma’s scenes of father regaling son reminded me of the interview she gave us last year, where she mentioned that her own father was a wonderful storyteller and that this was a formative part of her own coming of age as a writer. I have to give her a hat tip to one section of dragon lore that I read as a Hamlet style play-within-a-play sort of set up. This was a marvelous sleight of hand on her part that deserves the reader equivalent to a standing ovation.
My favorite thing about this story is the final crisis. I was not prepared for the violence that Sharma unleashed mostly because she masterfully lulled me into a false sense that I knew what this story was. I was delighted to be so surprised (perhaps I should not have been though, one doesn’t summon Hamlet to clue a reader into a happy ending). I don’t think it gives anything away to say that I find the violent ending amazing in that Sharma does something really interesting regarding revenge and heroes in stories. As readers, we always want our mistreated heroes to get justice. We love when a story balances the cruelty suffered with a comeuppance; but that isn’t how the real world works. Often what we think of as justice (like a retaliatory war or the prison industrial complex) thirsts for blood because it is actually revenge. In theory, revenge is satisfying, but it isn’t measured. It isn’t just. And, it never restores a balance. That moral quandary gives this novella a gravitas that it’s length does not.
That leads into one of the few weaknesses of Ormeshadow, that the denouement is too short. I would have liked to see the story zoom out a decade past the crisis so we could see what the real toll looks like for Gideon later. But that is also my own constant wish for Sharma’s work—I’m always asking for more. So that is my simple and greedy request, please may we have a sequel or another trip to this realm?
I am definitly encouraging you to read this book. You will be throughly entertained. Ormeshadow is available now for pre-order from your favorite bookseller or from mine.