The Only Harmless Great Thing

May 4, 2018 at 5:00 pm (Reads) (, , , )

The Only Harmless Great Thing RD3The Only Harmless Great Thing by Brooke Bolander

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I’m a bit of a sucker for a Tor.com novella. For a while there, I was trying to read all of them, but they’ve released so many of them over the past few years that it’s hard to keep up with them all. I hold out for the ones that get the most buzz, and The Only Harmless Great Thing is one of those novellas.

It’s an odd book, because it takes two historical events — the Radium Girls and the electrocution of Topsy the elephant — and mashes them together. It works remarkably well, but in order to put the two events together, it means that Bolander has the elephants replace the Radium Girls in the factories. It struck me as very odd, and I had a hard time accepting that elephants, of all creatures, would do this kind of work. Bolander makes the elephants intelligent enough for sentience and communication (they communicate with humans through a rudimentary sign language), but still, it was a little too strange for me to accept.

Beyond that, though, the story is excellent. Bolander has a lyrical style that makes the words leap off the page, and she brings amazing life to her characters (human and otherwise), and she makes the reader feel for all of them. It helps that she brings together two tragic stories, predisposing us to be sympathetic to them, but her language makes everything more vivid. Bolander juggles three different stories, in three different timelines, and while one of them felt a little out of place, it served a purpose to the other two.

The buzz this novella is getting is deserved. It’s a well-written story, with realistic characters, and real emotion. I’d recommend it to anyone who likes speculative fiction, or even historical fiction. It’s just going to require a leap of faith with how the author uses the elephants here.

Started: March 3, 2018
Finished: March 3, 2018

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