Of Honey and Wildfires (Songs of Sefate #1) by Sarah Chorn Book Review

Write on: Tue, 22 Dec 2020 by  in Charles' Reviews Read 3112


OF HONEY AND WILDFIRES by Sarah Chorn is a steampunk fantasy novel that is a marked contrast to her previous novel, SERAPHINA'S LAMENT. The latter novel was a dark and foreboding story set against a fantasy version of the Ukrainian famine engineered by Joseph Stalin. The former is a fascinating story about company mining town where the poor are forced to labor daily in order to extract a magical liquid called Shine. Of the two, I think I like this one better but both are ones I strongly recommend.

This novel is told from my multiple perspectives with my two favorite characters being Cassandra, a young girl recently abandoned by her father to live with her aunt, and Arlen, the son of the company that owns everything in the region. Cassandra has been raised in the wilderness her entire life and is practically feral with many practical skills of survival but almost nothing that would help her survive as a civilized lady. Arlen is a mature and dapper gentleman who is given the opportunity to be governor of the Shine mining territory. This is despite the fact he is disgusted by the conditions that the miners and their families are forced to endure but are the key to their immense profits.

The world-building was something very familiar to me and while they comment on it being the "Wild West", the region actually felt much more like the Wild East. Having grown up in Appalachia, I'm very familiar with the concept of Company Towns and the various methods people were kept in near slave-like conditions to mine coal. Some good details about how Shine infects everything from clothes to food, just like coal did in towns devoted to its extraction, helped make the world believable to me.

Sarah Chorn is a progressive writer and there's some solid representation in the book that helps make a more diverse cast. One of the protagonists is a trans character and another biracial as well as dyslexic. These details are incorporated fluidly into their narrative. Neither of these qualities help them become socially acclimated in the pseudo-Gilded Age where corporate loyalty is a literal matter of life and death. Life is cheap in the region and the highest duty is to be willing to labor for your family to eat until you drop over dead. "Your family" is a constant excuse for doing whatever the corporation wants even though they get only pennies from your labor.

I especially like Cassandra's journey as a child of an outlaw and wild girl into acclimated member of the miners' society. Her father committed an act of terrorism in order to cripple the Shine Company's supply of Shine, only to accidentally get a lot of workers killed. That hangs over her head along with the fact she's ethnically apart from the other families. Watching her struggle with these mundane things in a fantastic context really worked for me.

I very much enjoyed the seemingly low-stakes nature of the conflict as well as the fact this is a work that is primarily a character study of its protagonists. Too many fantasy novels are only interested in saving the world and defeating the Dark Lord. This is more an example of people dealing with an all-consuming capitalist culture that contrasts strongly to our present day (and reinforces all too many other present day flaws to society). The villain is more Mr. Potter than Sauron and its stronger for that. We get to explore the sense of control, desperation, and force that drives our protagonists forward.

In conclusion, this is a really solid and entertaining fantasy novel. I love the Shine Company as an antagonist and the strange world that Sarah Chorn has crafted that is simultaneously new as well as extremely familiar to this descendant of coal miners. Family is at the center of this but also the desperate circumstances that society can enforce on both the poor as well as the rich.

Available here

Last modified on Tuesday, 22 December 2020 20:37
C.T. Phipps

C.T Phipps is a lifelong student of horror, science fiction, and fantasy. An avid tabletop gamer, he discovered this passion led him to write and turned him into a lifelong geek. He is a regular blogger on "The United Federation of Charles".

He's written Agent G, Cthulhu Armageddon, Lucifer's Star, and The Supervillainy Saga.