OF HONEY AND WILDFIRES: Sarah Chorn’s dark, beautiful AU fantasy Western
I’m restarting my reviews and features of sci-fi and fantasy books with LGBTQIA main characters and/or themes, especially those written by indie authors. Seriously, some of the BEST books are coming from the independent and self-published crowd these days. OF HONEY AND WILDFIRES is at the top of that list.
Sarah Chorn’s first novel, Seraphina’s Lament, reinforced my concept of grimdark fantasy as a potential favorite genre. You can see my review of this incredible book here. I now have to add ‘fantasy AU Western’ to that mix.
If grimdark is not your thing, you absolutely MUST read Of Honey and Wildfires instead to get a taste of Chorn’s magnificent, lyrical prose, which flows between the events of this story like its golden, sticky namesake and weaves the events together in an inescapable flood.
It is not a feel-good book by any means. Chorn explores the greed and inhumanity of the early days of the oil rush, transposed upon the mythical industry of crude shine: literally, liquid magic pumped and mined from the ground. Young Arlen Esco, heir to his father’s vast company holdings, is sent to Shine Territory ostensibly to learn the business. Instead, sensitive Arlen’s world is turned inside out when Christopher Hobson, a larger than life outlaw known as the Shine Bandit, kidnaps him and shows him the dark side of the Esco empire. What Arlen learns about himself and what his father has become is chilling.
The book contains three strands of consciousness: Arlen’s, as he is reluctantly pulled into Chris’s painful world; Cassandra’s: Christopher Hobson’s daughter, outcast by her father’s deeds; and Ianthe’s: the consumptive love of Cassandra’s life, who sees the world in glory and beauty through the haze of the shine addiction keeping her alive. Between the three of them, the painful narrative of life and death, where magic exists but cannot hold back the hand of disease or the ravages of human greed, plays out to its climax.
I absolutely loved this book. Ianthe and Cassandra’s love story is a needle-studded skein of embroidery thread, shining and beautiful but sharp with the scissors poised to cut. Beyond the mention of Arlen’s chest binder, the fact he is male goes refreshingly unquestioned in the narrative in this AU Western world, and I loved that as well. It’s a must read for anyone who loves achingly beautiful literary prose. The book comes full circle from its shocking introduction to the last page. It’s definitely a stand-alone, though I would love to see other stories set in this world.
Of Honey and Wildfires is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.