Of Bees and Mist by Erick Setiawan, I immediately agreed. Firstly because of the rave review Maggie Stiefvater gave it but also because it can be fit within that nebulous strain of magical realism novels - where everyday life is recognizable and familiar, but spells and potions and curses are also just as real as a jar of mustard. This, I knew, would be the perfect book to push me to step outside my preferred genre-comfort zone.
Having been raised in a fictional town where spells, demons and sooth-sayers are an everyday reality, it was understandable, if not still unsettling to Meridia that she spent her childhood in a home surrounded by three different colored mists, each giving a physical manifestation to the tangible discord of her parent's unhappy marriage. At sixteen, Meridia falls in love and is eager to leave her cold, sterile house, in favor of the warmth and happiness she encounters in Daniel's home. The pair are soon married and with joy Meridia leaves her home to join her new husband's life. At first, Meridia is enchanted by how warm and welcoming Daniel's effusive family are. Yet over time Meridia also becomes acquainted with the many dark secrets and bitter betrayals lurking within the walls of Daniel's home - most of which can be laid at the feet of Meridia's mother-in-law, Eva (a woman whose very words can conjure up swarms of bees). Bolstered with love for her husband, Meridia silently endures Eva's subtly damaging words and controlling temperament until finally taking a stand one day. A fateful decision which will forever set the two women at odds and will ultimately reach across three separate generations of hurt and pain.
Setiawan's tale of family is a stunner. At times his story almost reminded me of a fable where you never think the truly horrible, awful step-mother is EVER going to get what's coming to her (but of course she does). Although full of beautiful metaphors and descriptions, Of Bees and Mist is essentially a character driven novel with each individual possessing life and a full personality. And best of all, each one is capable of change! I just loved watching the various paths Meridia and Daniel's family took as they each made choices for good or ill.
There are so many hidden treasures and surprises within Of Bees and Mist - starting with its lovely cover. Look close and see if you can spot a ring, a bird, a shovel, a bee... all items which feature prominently in the story itself. I truly was not expecting to find a book with such a simple yet complicated family dynamics yet Of Bees and Mist delivered on all fronts. Meridia, Eva, her two sister in laws and even Ravenna (Meridia's own mother) are all extremely complicated females and I had to keep reminding myself that a male author had written this story. Amazing!
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