You can actually just read this one yourself if you want to, here!
It’s another one where the verdict is mostly just “I liked it”, so it’s going to be another short one. It kind of nags at me that I can always write reams about things that I don’t like or that don’t click with me, but anything that I really enjoy mostly just gets an uncomplicated thumbs up. It’s not as though I don’t know what I like or that I’m a negative person. I just don’t have much interest in deconstructing it; it feels too much like explaining a joke. Some things can only be truly appreciated and enjoyed by experiencing them. Also, these posts are just for me to record my thoughts on the books and stories I read – I don’t really like thinking of them as “reviews” for that reason. I want to be free to love something, and free to not like something everyone else loves, without feeling like I’m waving my opinions authoritatively in someone’s face or trying to convince other people to share my view. That’s why they’re here on this blog and not on Goodreads or Amazon, too*.
Not really a surprise that it’s good; Ursula Vernon is also the highly feted T. Kingfisher (whose work I haven’t read but have heard enough raves about that I’m fairly certain it is up my alley).
The Tomato Thief takes place in a universe Vernon has written in before (in her Jackalope Wives story), but if you haven’t read it yet (as I haven’t) it doesn’t interfere with understanding or enjoyment – the events are obliquely referenced as past shenanigans that the protagonist was involved in, and can be read as pure flavour.
It’s a novelette, which is one of those particular story lengths that only speculative fiction seems to bother with, between 7,500 and 17,500 words, which is pretty long for a short story but extremely short for a novel, but it fills its space in a Tardis-like manner, feeling complete and, dare I say it, a little rangy even. It’s comfortable and takes its time, but doesn’t waste it. It is, in short, the length it needed to be (which is nice about those arbitrary spec fic length delineations, because you don’t have to chop a story or pad a story unreasonably).
The protagonist is an old woman, Grandma Harken, which I admit did make me think suspiciously about those old Tumblr posts that still do the rounds, about “someone should write a story where…” and essentially come up with a whole premise but can’t be bothered to write the thing out, and garner hundreds of reblogs begging someone to write the thing or promising that they will write the thing, etc. But Grandma Harken owes more to Granny Weatherwax, which is the kind of debt that enriches us all.
The desert, and life therein, are lushly evoked. Grandma Harken is practical and capable but not irritatingly so (it probably says a lot about me as a person that there is a level of competence I find irritating), and the myths and folklore Vernon draws from/is broadly inspired by are recognisable but not belaboured, mostly just allowed to be themselves. If you know, you get a little smug satisfaction, and if not, I assume you get to enjoy the story regardless.
So there you have it. I liked it, and you can also read it if you are so inclined!
*Other reasons I don’t review on those sites include the fact that a) I feel like I’ve already done enough for Bezos by giving him my literal money and all the purchase history data he can scrape, and b) I don’t really like the idea of authors being able to easily find what I write? I know it sounds stupid, but it just feels like pressure.