A delightfully unique read – a gaslamp fantasy western – full of beautiful prose, immersive imagery and character relationships that pull at your heartstrings.
I’ve read a few books recently that were edited by Sarah Chorn and was struck by how professional and free flowing they were, so naturally I was curious to experience her own writing style and command of the written word.
This is the first of Sarah Chorn’s books I’ve read and one of the biggest impressions it left on me is just how beautifully written it is. I’ve read books with lovely prose that are overly flowery, or bordering on pretentious. Of Honey and Wildfires isn’t one of them; it’s heartfelt, passionate, delicate, touching. It’s poetic and meaningful and I loved it – it’s the sort of prose that makes you feel relaxed and fulfilled. It was almost a case that the author could have been writing about anything and I’d still have enjoyed reading because of the strength of her prose.
This is what language is. Weather raging, then dissipating, leaving behind nothing but barren landscape covered in bones
I think a strong writing style also helps the reader feel immersed and comfortable within the pages of a book.
Chorn adds to these immersion levels with how she paints a vibrant picture of an Old West inspired setting. The frontier here (the Territory) is dominated by a company making its money in shine – a magical substance mined from the earth and used for most reasons you can think of, a powerfully addictive drug, fuel, weaponry, its very diluted version simply used to flavour and preserve food.
Chorn really does bring you straight into the old west atmopshere, transporting you right into that environment – one I’ve not enjoyed the likes of since first playing Red Dead Redemption and being sucked in to a world of train tracks, isolated farms and rickety old mines. A world where people are scratching a living where the perceived opportunities don’t align with the reality.
The author conveys plenty of bleak tragedy and highlights the effects the company and its greed for more shine has on the people of the territory – the whole territory and its crude shine practically owned by them, for all intents and purposes.
Don’t expect one big spaghetti western adventure of pistols at dawn and riding off on the sunset, that’s not what this book is about, nor does it try to be. This book is about the people trying to live a life of freedom and finding the opposite.
Young children work in the shine mines for 14 hours a day, just to support their families, who they only see every couple of weeks. There is no law or security for them in the dark tunnels they descend to in the middle of the night.
Our two main characters’ lives are full of hardship and tragedy too, and Chorn excels in convincing us to feel their pain and struggles. Although she has put a lot of thought into creating a setting you want to spend time in, most of the time the setting is actually the characters’ heads. This makes a change from a lot of fantasy with sprawling plotlines.
I have buried so much of myself, I have turned my garden into a graveyard
I’d say the focus here is on people and the author certainly appears to have a good grasp on the human condition and how people think and feel.
There will be plenty of readers who see their own experiences in the LGBTQ representation that is presented with such love and understanding. Even if you can’t personally relate to all of the characters, the author makes it easy to empathise and really feel for them and their hardship. None of the characters are ever boring to spend time with; in fact the opposite is true and it was a really fulfilling read in being able to really get to know the characters in depth.
There is a big focus on relationships, namely what it means to love, grieve and to make sacrifices for those that you care about.
Something quite novel that also showcases the author’s skill and the character development is the use of chapters being in different parts of the timeline. There are some chapters that take place a few days ago, or in the present – some are over a decade ago. This does take a little more effort on the part of the reader and could conceivably be confusing at times especially for speed readers.
I feel however that it is actually very rewarding given how the story and the character relationships/character development is handled and think the book is better for it.
It might even be that some readers might only appreciate how intelligently done this is by re-reading parts (or paying close attention) to recognise the significance of the way in which it’s laid out.
When the upbringing of a character is essential to understanding who they are, it’s not enough just to mention things that has happened years ago – you need to experience it.
Now, my greatest fear is the silence between heartbeats, the pause between breaths. I know what eternity feels like, and I do not like it.
There’s a lot to enjoy in Of Honey and Wildfires – I’ll be bold and say in terms of writing style, I’ve never read anything that beats the beautifully flowing prose found here! Fans of character driven books especially will find a lot to love, too.
I hope you enjoyed the review and are considering checking out Of Honey and Wildfires, and Sarah Chorn’s other work. You can find her website here: Bookwormblues.net
The sequel to Of Honey and Wildfires, Glass Rhapsody is available for a special preorder price of just 77p in the UK (Out June 30th) so of course I’ve snapped that up!
Thanks for reading.
From the moment the first settler dug a well and struck a lode of shine, the world changed. Now, everything revolves around that magical oil.
What began as a simple scouting expedition becomes a life-changing ordeal for Arlen Esco. The son of a powerful mogul, Arlen is kidnapped and forced to confront uncomfortable truths his father has kept hidden. In his hands lies a decision that will determine the fate of everyone he loves—and impact the lives of every person in Shine Territory.
The daughter of an infamous saboteur and outlaw, Cassandra has her own dangerous secrets to protect. When the lives of those she loves are threatened, she realizes that she is uniquely placed to change the balance of power in Shine Territory once and for all.
Secrets breed more secrets. Somehow, Arlen and Cassandra must find their own truths in the middle of a garden of lies.