Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Of Bees and Mist by Erick Setiawan — 416 pgs


Book CoverAs a young girl, Meridia lives in a strange mansion haunted by sinister colored mists and freezing indoor gusts with her severe father and her absentminded mother. For reasons unknown to Merida, both of her parents are neglectful and cruel to her for different reasons, leaving Meridia to fend for herself. When she ventures into town during the annual Festival of the Spirits, she meets the enchanting and handsome Daniel. Though Meridia and Daniel come from very different backgrounds, they quickly fall in love and make arrangements to be married. When Meridia begins her new life as Daniel's bride living with his parents and sisters, she believes that her life will finally be what she has always hoped it would be. Daniel's mother Eva, though moody, seems to be the perfect mother-in-law and begins to show Meridia the ropes of running the house and taking care of Daniel. But soon Meridia begins to see a more sinister and malicious side of Eva and comes to dread the influence she has over her husband. As Eva works to create a rift between Daniel and Meridia, she unleashes a powerful volley of enchantment and dark magic that will tear the very foundation from under their marriage. Though these assaults, Meridia begins to discover the secrets of her own troubled childhood and the problems between her parents. As Eva's use of dark magic increases, Meridia begins to break down, questioning whether or not her marriage to Daniel is worth the damage it is causing them both. In this modern day fairy tale filled with myth and magic, the rivalry between two women threatens to destroy not only each other, but the family that surrounds them.

I've been debating with myself whether this book lies in the genre of magical realism or the fairy tale. After a lot of consideration, I would have to say that this book is mostly a fairy tale and the use of magic and enchantment serves the purpose more of fleshing out the fairy tale than ascribing the story to magical realism. This tale did have a lot of realistic elements to it but I think the magical elements went beyond your typical magical realism novel and they at times became hinges upon which the rest of the story hung. I suppose that it could go either way, but in my opinion, I would classify this book as more of a modern fairy tale or fable.

From the outset, this book really captured my attention. Meridia was a very winsome character who seemed to be completely in the dark about the mysteries of her family. Though there were plenty of signs of things being amiss, she never understood why her father was so cruel to her nor why her mother and father never came into physical contact in all the time she was around them. Meridia's childhood was indeed strange and lonely, forcing her to become a very introspective and quiet girl. I felt very sorry for her and I felt especially stricken about the hatred that her father had for her. Meridia was ripe for a love affair with someone like Daniel because he was very charming and showed her that she was interesting, intelligent and beautiful. I was glad for her in newfound relationship with Daniel, but that was very short lived because as soon as the couple began their new life together, Eva went into action and stripped away all their happiness.

I absolutely abhorred Eva. As heartless characters go, she was one of the worst. It was clear to me that she was evil from the start but I think Meridia had blinders on at first. Though Eva could be just as charming as Daniel, she had a black streak a mile wide and used her power and authority in the house to drive a wedge between her daughters, alienate her husband and terrify her house staff. She was a horribly venomous woman who would stop at nothing to get what she wanted and thought nothing of lying to cover her tracks. When Eva began to attack the couple's marriage, she used all her magic and enchantments to break Meridia and Daniel apart, becoming stronger every time one of them capitulated. In a clever use of creativity and symbolism by the author, Eva's anger and unhappiness were made manifest in a very physical and damaging way. Much like the mists that plagued Meridia's parents' marriage, Eva sent her little anger minions out towards anyone who displeased her, and while they ate away at the mind and sanity, Eva sat back and waited for results.

A lot of this book was centered on the tug-of-war between Eva and Meridia, with each side trading ground with every skirmish. The rest of the family took a lot of collateral damage, I'm afraid, and though this bothered Meridia immensely, it didn't trouble Eva in the least. Eva and Meridia were perfectly matched for combat and what the story boiled down to was a tale of goodness and light pitted against the penultimate evil. The story was filled with magic and myth as well, with beasts and mists and monsters coexisting with magical houses, ghosts and incredible transformations. It was an interesting blend of reality and fantasy and was constantly surprising. There's a lot more here than my summary encapsulates and each piece takes its place among the whole to create a rich and satisfying tapestry of the fight between light and darkness.

One of the best things about this book was the style and flavor of the writing. Though there were plenty of complex ideas and symbolism in the story, the writing was not convoluted nor over-encumbered in trying to portray these issues. The dialogue also felt very realistic, particularly the haranguing and accusations between Meridia and Eva. The two fought like pros, and though at times it became discouraging, it was also interesting to see just how heated the battles would get. There was a great blend of fantasy here and I think it gave the story a winning edge and lifted it above being simply a tale about the difficulties between a bride and her mother-in law. The book was also augmented with a lot of emotion, but it wasn't heavy-handed. Instead of the story feeling florid and melodramatic, at times the book was tender and hopeful, especially in the latter sections.

I really enjoyed the time I spent with this book and felt the author took a really clever and unique approach to what could have been a cloying and repetitive story. I think this book would appeal to a large cross section of readers, and for the magical and mystical elements alone, the book merits a read. It's not often that I come across a book that so defies convention and classification and I was pleased to have gotten the chance to spend some time between its covers. This would make a great read for those who enjoy domestic dramas as well as those who like unconventional fairy tales. Recommended!


This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.

12 comments:

Sandy Nawrot said...

I'm not sure if I would have ever considered reading a book like this, but you have done it justice. There is one thing that I get enjoyment from, and that is really HATING an evil character. The more evil, the more fun it is to hate them. Sounds like Eva would be a great candidate!

Bibliophile By the Sea said...

What a wonderful review--the best one I've read. I just bought this book in July as now I am really psyched.

Vasilly said...

Great review. I started this book earlier this year but never finished it because I though Eva wasn't strong enough. I think I'll give it another try.

Amy said...

This sounds like a really interesting read. I love fairy tales :)

Jessica said...

I have been eyeing up this book for a while as I really like the concept of it, I have now added this to my wish list.

Suko said...

Very thoughtful review, Zibilee. I would like to read this book, although (or maybe because) I already hate the character of Eva!

Jenny said...

Hm, this could be a good read for the RIP challenge. I'll have to go see if I can find it. I love books that have that fairy-tale feel to them!

Aarti said...

Wow, great review, Heather! I remember when this book came out, I didn't think it would be for me. I don't do well with creepy or horror-ish books. But if you liked it so much and it has a fairy tale element, maybe I would really enjoy it.

softdrink said...

I really need to pull the one of the shelf!

Literary Feline said...

I will be reading this book before the year is out and am really looking forward to it, especially after reading your review. It sounds right up my alley.

Meg said...

Glad to hear it was worth the read -- this one is patiently waiting in my TBR stack! Great review -- I'll be excited to start it soon.

Jenners said...

We did struggle with the same issue of how to classify it! I guess I went with magic realism in the end ... but that doesn't seem quite right either.

And I'm with you ... Eva was PURE EVIL!

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