Priya Sharma’s 2019 Ormeshadow is a standalone gothic fantasy novella.
Gideon Belman had a happy enough life in Bath. This ended when his father John uprooted the family to return to Ormeshadow, to once more take up running his half of Ormesleep Farm.
In John’s absence, John’s brother Thomas has overseen the whole farm. Thomas has a clear vision of how his prodigal brother’s return should play out: as unpleasantly as possible.
Gideon’s uncle is a cold, cruel, domineering man. His wife is meek and timid, while his sons are brutes in training. It’s not a pleasant household for young Gideon, who had been raised in a gentle, scholarly household.
The one bright note in Gideon’s life: the stories Gideon’s father tells him. Ormesleep hides an ancient secret. This is where one of the last dragons took refuge, where she is sleeping to this day. Some day, no doubt, she will wake. Perhaps even in Gideon’s day (though that doesn’t seem likely).
Even this meagre comfort is taken from Gideon when John kills himself. Gideon blames himself for not preventing the suicide. There is no comfort from his uncle’s family: they wish him only misery. Uncle Thomas is determined to crush Gideon. No school for the bright young man, only backbreaking hard labor on the farm.
Uncle Thomas will one day discover how far is too far.
This may sound like a bleak and depressing novel … and it is. Not much good happens to poor Gideon once his family moves home. There are secrets other than dragons at Ormesleep and none of them are pleasant. There are good people in this book, but they are victims. It’s brutes and victims all the way down.
Sharma’s prose effectively limns the nastiness of this world.
Very much not my thing. But if there are readers out there who have wondered what Thomas Hardy novels would have been like had they contained more dragons and less hope, they may find this book to their taste.