Of Honey and Wildfires by Sarah Chorn

Medium: Kindle

SPFBO Status: Semifinalist

Overview (No Spoilers)

Of Honey and Wildfires was my first read of SPFBO and was it ever a memorable one. Right away I was swept up in Chorn’s eloquent writing style, with her witty turns of phrase making just the bare-bones reading of Of Honey and Wildfires a delight. I found myself highlighting various paragraphs throughout this novel, just so I could find them later to reread. Here are a few of my favorites:

“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.”

“My sorrow was a dark, secret thing, a stray cat hidden in the coldest corner of my soul. I fed her scraps. I watched her grow.”

“He’d never noticed how empty eyes could be. They were the loneliest things on the planet, seeing everything, yet keeping none of it. Doorways to pass through, but not a place to stay.”

Despite the elegantly crafted words, I kept yearning for more overall depth with regard to the worldbuilding and characters. Right out of the gate, the characters are set up to be intriguing and complex, but as the story progresses, their development seems to stall, resulting in the reader feeling a minimal connection to them. 

I recognize that I can be biased when it comes to worldbuilding, because I love details layered upon details layered upon details. In Of Honey and Wildfires, the literary world created by Chorn is fascinating on its surface, but I was left wanting to know so much more. In some ways, I was left with more questions than I started with after finishing the last page.

As this read progressed, I had the dawning realization that this story of heartbreak and family strife seems to inhabit a world of fantasy merely by chance and in many ways could have taken place outside of a magical realm. Sure, the plot twist at the end merges into fantasy, but that event only takes place in the closing pages. These discussions and relative complaints aside, I still very much enjoyed the literary adventure that Chorn devises in Of Honey and Wildfires. The story itself is gripping, with Chorn incorporating various character points of view spanning various time points. As each perspective yo-yos back and forth, the timelines start to converge to a greater extent, keeping the reader glued with the mounting suspense. Overall, Of Honey and Wildfires is a genuinely heartbreaking tale that is beautifully delivered by Chorn’s intricately woven words.

Additional Insight (Spoilers Abound)

  • I loved that Christopher was so accepting that Arlen had transitioned to a male when he was younger. Major heartstrings moments every time Chris called Arlen his son. This isn’t a subject that one sees much in literature and I appreciated how seamlessly Chorn wrote this into Arlen’s past without it being his defining characteristic. 
  • So Arlen would have been thrown into a shine well? I’m still a bit confused why that would have resupplied the shine. Doesn’t harming Arlen or Cassandra go against the will to protect Lila and her children that the original Matthew put into the area?
  • I’m left with so many questions regarding shine. So. Many.
  • How did the Shine Matthew know how to make the life saving elixir to cross the border? 
  • Did Lila know that her Dad had died and an imposter had assumed his place? I was struggling with the timeline as well. Arlen is 20 and Matthew gave his sacrifice 25 years ago. Chris was the boy who saw him, along with the fake Matthew being born. So when fake Matthew took Arlen away, wouldn’t Lila have found it strange that Matthew wouldn’t touch Arlen? How did he know Arlen would be immune to the Shine? 
  • Before the border what constituted ‘mixed blood’ such as Lila’s and Chris’ children? 
  • It seemed totally out of character that the Arlen we had come to know would abandon the company right after his grandfather’s reveal as a figment of shine. He could have helped all of the impacted people so much if he had stepped into the role right away. Yes in the Epilogue it says Arlen is coming back, but in reality how much momentum was lost and needless chaos wrecking havoc during this intervening time. 
  • I felt most connected with Ianthe, despite her perspective being the most limited. 
  • The vibrant hue of the citizens inside the boundary did make for fun imagery. 
  • Also, I felt as though I was not properly given the chance to mourn the deaths of Annie, Jasper, Jack, and Harriett as their murders were seemingly glossed over with so many other things happening at the end of the book. Really all the deaths except Matthew were viewed from a distance, handicapping the reader from really processing their losses.

Vocabulary Builder

Diaphanous: characterized by extreme delicacy of form

Limned: to outline in clear sharp detail

Waif: a stray person or animal

Indelible: that cannot be removed, washed away, or erased

Lapis: a semiprecious stone that is usually rich azure blue and is essentially a complex silicate often with spangles of pyrites

Alabaster: a compact fine-textured usually white and translucent gypsum often carved into vases and ornaments

Patina: a usually green film formed naturally on copper and bronze by long exposure or artificially (as by acids) and often valued aesthetically for its color

Repast: the act or time of taking food

Beget: to produce especially as an effect or outgrowth

Liminal: of, relating to, or situated at a sensory threshold : barely perceptible or capable of eliciting a response

Sundering: to break apart or in two


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