This is your lucky week, because I’m publishing not one, but two book reviews. I know, aren’t we all excited. I think that this may mark the return of more frequent book reviews to this ain’t livin’. I was pretty burned out after the Book Project and basically never wanted to write about another book again, but now I’m back to being excited about books and wanting to share them with you (although astute readers have probably noted all along that the sidebar contains an intermittently updated list of books I’ve recently read and liked (incidentally, for those wondering, the current number of books read this year is 412)).
So, today, Of Bees and Mist by Erik Setiawen. As always, assume that I’m going to be talking in a general way about plot stuff, so if you’re the sort of person who likes to read books without having generalized plot stuff spoiled, stop reading this post! And go track down a copy of this book to read, because it’s really good.
Here’s what I liked about this book: Of Bees and Mist is set in a fully magical world, but that’s never really explicitly stated or expanded upon. All kinds of weird shit happens in this book, all the time, but it’s treated as normal and unremarkable. It’s kind of like, oh, I don’t know, where you read a book and someone gets into a car and goes for a drive. This is treated as normal, and therefore the author doesn’t feel obliged to explain what a car is, how cars work, who invented them, and so on.
Likewise, with magical events in Of Bees and Mist, Setiawen doesn’t provide backstory or anything. They just sort of happen. It’s normal within the framework of the society of the book, so it’s normal for the reader. Why remark on something unremarkable? Why explain something utterly normal?
I like that Setiawen set up a very rich, complex, and interesting world in this book, but didn’t feel the need to burden the reader with details. The focus is on the story, not the world the story is set in. You don’t need to know explicit details to get the story. The book plunges you right into interacting with the characters and their world, and as the story progresses, you learn more about the lives and history of the characters, and you get sketchy details about their society as they become relevant.
This is a mysterious and creepy and very complicated story with characters and lives which intersect in a way you don’t fully realize until the end of the book. There’s a lot going on, and I really like the language of the book. The prose is languid and a little bit sultry and it sort of lulls you until you start and go “woah! What was THAT?!” It’s also a book which is rich with sensory descriptions; smells, sights, textures, sounds. I like books which are highly evocative like that, it makes for delicious reading.
Since I’ve been watching and critiquing so much television with problematic depictions lately, I’ve found myself being very vigilant with books, looking for the place where the author pisses me off. Something that delighted me about Of Bees and Mist is that I never hit that point. In fact, it got kind of annoying to feel so tense as I read, that I couldn’t just relax and enjoy the book. Once I started to trust the author, to accept that yes, it is actually possible to make creative work which will not piss me off in some way, I enjoyed the book much more and got really into it.
I really got drawn into the lives of the characters and their actions. Sometimes I grew frustrated with them, sometimes I shouted out loud at them, but I also loved them and felt like they were all very rich, interesting people, even if they did things which made me shake my head sometimes. I enjoy imperfect characters who manage to draw me through their imperfections, without being explicitly presented as “The Flawed Character Who Will Grow and Mature As the Book Progresses.” I liked how new facets were revealed at every turn, adding to the layers in the story and the intensity of the mystery which unfolded over the course of the book.
This is, again, an adult book, but I think it straddles the gap between young adult and adult in the same way that The Magicians did. I also, of course, don’t hold much with segregating books into different categories based on the age of the reader. I think that some 10 year olds, for example, would love this book and get really into it, while others would not. Some 15 year olds would find it fascinating and adore it, while others would not. And so forth. But this is the sort of book which I might recommend to a younger reader who is getting restless with the limitations of worlds like Harry Potter and wants to explore what else might be out there.