Domnall and the Borrowed Child is the definitely weakest of Tor.com’s novellas published to date. It’s not bad, but it’s a little too short and doesn’t have any standout qualities to elevate it above the ordinary.
The story has the kernel of an interesting idea, but it’s not very well-developed, and even just hours after finishing the book I find myself struggling to remember details of it. I like the concept of a faerie people in decline and struggling to survive on the margins of modern society, and this is alluded to throughout the story, but the story is too small and too personal to be really effective at communicating anything substantial about these hinted-at themes. I could see it being a nice fit for a larger collection of work exploring these ideas in greater depth, but it falls a little flat as a standalone tale.
None of the characters are particularly distinguished, and the elderly Domnall’s sexual interest in his young protégé is just plain creepy. Domnall had the potential to be an interesting character, but I just never felt like he truly came alive. The characters that I found truly fascinating were Micol and the human girl the fairies entranced, but neither of these characters gets a point of view in the novella and the human girl doesn’t even get a name. Sadly, what this means is that there are more interesting stories here than Domnall’s, and that knowledge colors the whole experience of reading Domnall and the Borrowed Child.
It’s bad enough reading a dull story; it’s far worse to read a dull story with potentially wonderful stories trapped inside it.