Author: Octavia Cade
Genre: Science Fiction
Publisher: Masque Book
Publication Date: January 2014
In a world where experience is currency, Rosemary is the owner of a very special library—a library of memory, where scented coins transfer personal experience from one individual to another. When she trades away the sole memory of her grandmother’s final concerto, family opposition, in the form of her daughter Ruth, forces Rosemary to go on a quest to try and recover the lost coin. Yet having to trade away her own memories to get it back, how much of Rosemary will survive the exchange?
Stand alone or series: Stand alone
How did I get this book: Bought
Format (e- or p-): eBook
Rosemary’s library has a reputation as one of the best and most complete of its kind. It is a library of memory, where scented coins are used as currency to transfer personal experience and memories from one person to another. Rosemary’s greatest pride is her ability to organise and to curate her library, always searching for precious items to add to her collection.
In an attempt to acquire one such coin (one that holds a memory of an extinct sapflower), Rosemary is willing to trade-off nine coins from her collection, including two of her most precious memories: a favourite one of a rare Iceberg (this story is set in the future) and a personal one about her famous composer grandmother. But by including the latter in the trade, Rosemary incurs the wrath of her own daughter, dismayed that
Rosemary would trade such an important, personal memory. In an attempt to appease her daughter (out of duty if not exactly out of love), Rosemary goes after the coin. But the collector who owns it now sets a high price to return the coin to Rosemary. He wants back the eight other coins he has already traded on, with an almost perverse, gleeful twist:
“What I want,” he continued, “is for you to trade your own memories—single copies; you won’t retain the originals—for those eight coins. Trade the coins you make for them, not the coins you have. And when you return with those eight, you will add a ninth—the single experience of your journey. That is the coin I really want.”
Rosemary’s journey to recover those coins is the novella’s main drive. The story that unfolds is one that brilliantly relays the complexities of this world and I’d be hard-pressed to say what I like the most about Trading Rosemary. The thought-provoking themes around the intricacies of memory and identity would certainly be up there but the confidence of the writing and the tightly woven plot would not be far behind. Nor would the gut-wrenching portrayal of the fraught mother-daughter relationship at its centre.
The idea of memories as external things to be traded and the incredibly sensory, sensual feelings associated with most of the trades done is very interesting. The mere act of touching a coin and then smelling it brings about the memories they hold. As someone whose sense of smell is almost equal to time travel I was able to get into this idea really easily.
Although some repercussions of the world-building go mostly unremarked (what happens to those without a keen sense of smell? How exactly do you transfer your memories to an object?), there are other aspects of the world-building that stroke a note: the way that the coins are valued according to “common” or “rare” memories; the way that some people can let go of memories more easily than others; the way a memory of casual sex is transferred into a coin and becomes instant memory porn; the way that selling out your unique, rarest memories can fundamentally alter who you are.
The latter is the most important facet here as the main question of the novella refer to the relationship between memory and identity. When Rosemary trades away some of her unique memories without a chance to recover them, what does that do to her? Is the Rosemary at the end of the novel the same Rosemary from the beginning? Would that Rosemary have made the same fateful, tragic decisions that this Rosemary makes? Does it matter?
I can’t help but to think that this is a subverted Quest story: there is a prize at the end and a journey that is undertaken that will inevitably change the Heroine but what is lost rather than what is gained (and what that really means) is perhaps the more important thing here.
Trading Rosemary appeals to me in every conceivable way: the portrayal of the characters, the composition of the story, the beautiful prose and the thought-provoking themes. It is one of the most memorable stories I’ve read lately.
Among those who could accurately judge such things, it was generally acknowledged that Rosemary’s library was the finest of its kind in the entire archipelago. Rosemary was justifiably proud of it.
Begun by her great-grandfather, it had passed down through the family, with each generation adding to the collection— at considerable personal expense. She had contributed many exquisite pieces herself, and introduced order and organization into what had been a fine mess. Each coin was now carefully preserved, and suitably labeled according to its age, provenance, and properties. They were boxed in slim rectangular cases with burnished leather covers, and arranged according to catalogue, so that if one particular coin was required it could then be easily plucked from among its thousands of companions without hesitation or mishap.
Rosemary was in the middle of such a plucking: one of her most hated chores. She deeply regretted having to part with several of her choicest specimens, but it couldn’t be helped. An extreme rarity had come to market, the sole example of its kind. Such a coin would be the crowning glory of any collection, but it would not come cheap. To obtain it, Rosemary was prepared to sacrifice some of the lesser pieces. Her family’s library didn’t maintain pre-eminence by their conservative husbanding of coins, and Rosemary had been raised to take advantage of the market whenever a chance came her way. “Rarity will out,” her mother had said, before returning to her history books. “You should know what is available, and make sure that you get it before anyone else.”
Rating: 9 – Damn Near Perfect and already a strong contender for a top 10 spot.
Reading Next: Honor’s Knight by Rachel Bach
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