Welcome to the Semi-Finals stage of SPFBO 8! As you know, we already cut 25 books from our batch of 30 and announced our semi-finalists. Check out our SPFBO 8 Phase 1 page for more info! In the next few weeks, we’ll post group reviews of each semi-finalist, then we’ll reveal our finalist towards the middle of October.
Our 1st SPFBO 8 semi-finalist review is Small Miracles by Olivia Atwater. We won’t be adding our ratings just yet (we’ll update this post later) to keep the race to the finalist spot interesting. The order of the reviews within a post will be the following: first will be the person who picked the book as a semi-finalist, and then the others in alphabetical order.
So, without further ado, let’s take a closer look at our 1st semi-finalist!
|Series: N/A||Genre: Fantasy|
|Date of Publishing: May 6th, 2022||Publisher: self-published|
A little bit of sin is good for the soul.
Gadriel, the fallen angel of petty temptations, has a bit of a gambling debt. Fortunately, her angelic bookie is happy to let her pay off her debts by doing what she does best: All Gadriel has to do is tempt miserably sinless mortal Holly Harker to do a few nice things for herself.
What should be a cakewalk of a job soon runs into several roadblocks, however, as Miss Harker politely refuses every attempt at temptation from Gadriel the woman, Gadriel the man, and Gadriel the adorable fluffy kitten. When even chocolate fails to move Gadriel’s target, the ex-guardian angel begins to suspect she’s been conned. But Gadriel still remembers her previous job… and where petty temptations fail, small miracles might yet prevail.
Olivia Atwater explores love, grief, and the very last bit of chocolate in this sweet modern fantasy, full of wit and heart. Pick up Small Miracles, and enjoy a heavenly faerie tale from the author of Half a Soul.
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.
This book focuses on Gadriel (not to be mistaken for Gabriel), a fallen angel of petty temptations, who has strong views on chocolate not being a sin. As a favor for their heavenly sibling, Barachiel, Gadriel agrees to tempt Holly Harker to sin some, which sounds simple enough, but we know things are never simple. As Gadriel tries to figure out what is going on, they get to discover some long-lost parts of themselves.
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.
Being set in modern-day London, there isn’t much worldbuilding per se, and a lot of that happens in footnotes. Some might find that insufficient or annoying, personally, I enjoyed the added tidbits and religious references.
Small Miracles is a short book with 250 pages that can be easily read in a day or over a weekend. What I found refreshing about it is that it has a bit of a slice-of-life feel to it. The conflicts are small scale, there is no world-threatening big baddy, no imminent war on the horizon. It’s about the life of a family who knew grief and has no idea how to mend the gap between them. It’s about love and friendship and self-discovery and acceptance of others. In short, it’s a book that pushes all the right buttons for me.
Small Miracles is a quirky, cosy tale capering outside conventional fantasy roads. It’s not a story about the world’s fate, and it doesn’t deal in the customary high stakes, or rather, it does deal in high stakes somehow but turns them all inside, towards the very core of its characters.
It pairs well with readers who enjoy their fantasy bordering contemporary and romance, a good cocktail of enough elements of all these genres that it’d fully satisfy a fan. I personally find myself drifting from that persona, and too much focus on romance in my fantasy tends to weary me, which happened in some parts.
But if you’re like me, don’t be discouraged. As it borrows some character tropes, mythology and a hearty amount of sarcasm from Good Omens, Olivia Atwater’s Small Miracles delights with its eccentric characters, explorations of gender expression, and magic system based on the reward and penalty of sins and virtues.
While it uses mythological themes commonly associated with good and evil (heavenly angels, fallen angels, and terrifying personifications of hellish deities), it never attempts to unequivocally define them.
In fact, one of the best things about this book is how it manages to blur such lines, taking the reader through a journey into the most intimate parts of its protagonists. Through their uncertainty, laughter, and sorrow, it becomes a story all of its own, with a little too much worldbuilding going on in the footnotes instead of in narrative for my liking, but that’s on personal preference.
Everything about it is small, and though it’s a bit inevitable that such a word will spring to mind only its negative connotations, Small Miracles does a great job of reminding the reader that the greatest pleasures nestle within the smallest of things.
Welp. I did not expect this.
I’ve been juuuuust about to check out Atwater’s work very soon for a while (a year), so when Small Miracles turned out to be one of Queen’s Book Asylum team’s semifinalists, I was like, okay fine, might be nice to read something shorter. You Won’t Believe What Happened Next: one of the best books I’ve read this year.
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.
I tried to find flaws in this book, because I’m being A Critic and what A Critic does is flaw-finding. (I think. I haven’t been A Critic for long.) The only thing I wasn’t so fond of was the counting of sin-points in the footnotes – it gets old after a while and I couldn’t skip it, because some of the footnotes were actually important and contained real sentences. I could only find out by checking all of them, often disappointed with another “-1 for this” or “+0.5 for that.” I’m sure it would work better as a paperback, but e-books and footnotes generally don’t go well together.
This is an outstanding book for fans of humorous fantasy. Olivia Atwater has a new fan in me and I want more. Disclaimer: I am not friends with the author. I wish I were, though.
Small Miracles was such an interesting read for me because the main ingredient that I normally don’t especially enjoy in a book, this one has permeating throughout it. I’m not usually a huge fan of snarky, humorous, and overly witty fantasy. And yet, for some reason this book kept me turning the pages to find out how the story played out. I think this is a testament to the quality of writing that Olivia Atwater has brought forth in this utterly charming novel. It was also incredibly easy for me to connect with a lot of these characters as they are written so well and are all really intriguing in their own respects. Definitely a different take on the usual faerie tale story that I found both completely fresh and unique, to say the least. Small Miracles is a book that makes you think about things from so many different perspectives and does it in such a lighthearted way that you can’t help but be caught under its spell. I enjoyed my time with this book and will most certainly check out more by this author going forward. I would recommend it to anyone looking for a solid cozy fantasy tale with a good dose of humor to curl up with on the fast-approaching crisp fall evenings.
As you may have probably noticed, given my semi-finalist nomination, I prefer my books gritty and dark. So, where other readers may be put off by an overly violent synopsis, one that describes the book as a ‘sweet modern fantasy’ immediately sets my genre bias alarms ringing. But, on starting Small Miracles, I found myself settling in very, very quickly.
It’s immediately reminiscent of Good Omens in terms of the angelic/demonic theme and the interactions between the two main ethereal characters. While Good Omens is listed as a major influence, and that influence is very evident, Small Miracles does more than enough to set itself apart and shine on its own merits.
The plot isn’t epic in a world-defining sense; it’s very close to its characters and focuses more on the invisible battles which people fight on a daily basis, such as grief, loss, family, and anger. Small Miracle’s characters don’t wield swords; instead, they learn to use words to disarm and de-shield, slowly working their way through thick layers of emotional armour.
All of the characters feel unique, and it really is a delight to see them grow and develop so organically within what is a relatively constraining page count.
Despite the themes of grief and loss, everything about Small Miracles is so cozy, warm, and joyous, with an extremely comforting twee, almost cottage-core aspect. The humour is subtle but on the nose and never once fell flat, the writing style is both sumptuous and smooth, making for an unputdownable read.
Small Miracles is a fantastic book and one a great many people will enjoy, it’s perfect as a palate cleanser or a pick-me-up. If ever you need an emotional cream and marshmallow-topped mug of cocoa, this’ll be just the ticket.
For more SPFBO content, please visit our SPFBO 8 Phase 1 page!