I have a lot of respect for those who’ve dumped the 5 Star Rating System—and I’ve often thought about it, but I’m too far into that rut to change anytime soon. But every now and then, I come across a book that I really don’t want to rate, because I don’t want the stars to distract from what I have to say. This is one of those (in case you wondered why I was blathering on up here).
by Sarah Chorn
Kindle Edition, 3008 pg.
Read: April 23-27, 2020
I will tell you this: Home is not a place. Home is an architecture of bones and a steadily thumping heart. Home is where dreams are born, and monsters are put to rest. It is where the soul can unfurl like the petals of a flower and find succor in the golden blush of each new day.
Home was my father’s arms. When I was in them, I knew nothing in the world could touch me.
This is a pretty plot-light novel, it’s more focused on what the characters experience than what happens to them—not that things don’t happen, aren’t interesting/compelling, or anything. It’s just a matter of emphasis. Anyway, here’s the blurb to get us going:
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.
The primary characters are richly drawn, complex, fallible, psychologically rich. And they feel. Oh, how they feel. Chorn describes these feelings in wonderfully composed passages that get the reader to feel what they do—not to know what the character feels, or to empathize with them—but to actually feel it.
These characters tell stories about home. About family. About love. About how fleeting, how ephemeral—yet permanent and fixed—these things can be.
Cassandra, for example, is left by her father to be raised by a solid, stable, caring family. But the whole community knows who her father is, so she’s ostracized, bullied, with few who show her any kindness at all. We watch her as she ages with only rare visits from her father, slowly making (and strengthening) connections with these few.
We don’t spend as much time watching Arlen’s life, we know him instead for a few intense days. The hidden truths he confronts change him, change how he thinks about his youth, his purpose in life, and his notions of family.
For both of them—we see varying strong and defining visions of fatherhood. Fatherhood—in healthy, successful or less so–depictions is one of the hearts of the novel.
I didn’t connect with any of the characters the way I think the novel wanted me to, or much at all, really. But there were scenes, events in each of their lives that affected me greatly. There’s death, there’s loss—there’s compassion and something like hope, too.
What makes me glad I read this is the prose. Chorn’s writing wowed me last year and is just as striking here. There’s a part of me that doesn’t care what the book is about or who the characters she writes are—I want to read it. I just want to soak in her language.
So, yeah, I didn’t like this as much as I wanted to. Many of you will wonder what’s wrong with me after you read it (a few of you will think I’m too generous). But I am glad I read this—it’s been a long time since I’ve read a book so carefully written as Of Honey and Wildfires—some of the sentences, some of the scenes are the best that I’ve read since…well, since Chorn’s Seraphina’s Lament. It’s raw, honest, open and beautiful. I didn’t love it, but I commend it to you.
Disclaimer: I received this novel from the author in exchange for this post and my honest opinion, I thank her for it.