Monday, November 1, 2010

Review: Of Bees and Mist, by Erick Setiawan

This book and its review on this site are part of a blog tour hosted by TLC Book Tours. For a complete list of the sites participating, as well as information on the author, please visit the tour page.

Of Bees and Mist
Erick Setiawan
Paperback, 416 pages
Simon & Schuster
July 6, 2010

(Goodreads) Raised in a sepulchral house where ghosts dwell in mirrors, Meridia grows up lonely and miserable. But at age sixteen, she has a chance at happiness when she falls in love with Daniel-a caring and naive young man. Soon they marry, and Meridia can finally escape to live with her husband's family, unaware that they harbor dark secrets of their own. There is a grave hidden in the garden, there are two sisters groomed from birth to despise each other, and there is Eva-the formidable matriarch and the wickedest mother-in-law imaginable-whose grievances swarm the air in an army of bees. As Meridia struggles to keep her life and marriage together, she discovers long-buried secrets about her own past as well as shocking truths about her new family that inexorably push her love, courage, and sanity to the brink.

Of Bees and Mist is an engrossing fable that chronicles three generations of women under one family tree over a period of thirty years-their galvanic love and passion, their shifting alliances, their superstitions and complex domestic politics-and places them in a mythical town where spirits and spells, witchcraft and demons, and prophets and clairvoyance are an everyday reality. Erick Setiawan's astonishing debut is a richly atmospheric and tumultuous ride of hope and heartbreak that is altogether touching, truthful, and entirely memorable.

I don't know if I can put into words what this novel has invoked in me, but I have to tell you that this is as close as I've come to a grown-up fairytale in a long time. Set in an unknown land that is similar to our own yet full of magic, Of Bees and Mist takes us on a journey in the lives of three generations of women in one family. The story is primarily told from Meridia's perspective, who is born to parents that soon fall out of love after she is born. She is raised in a house that is constantly cold, with visiting mists and elongating staircases. Meridia never really fits in and stays to herself for the most part, until she meets a handsome young man named Daniel. Soon, she is head over heels in love and abandons her cold home and eccentric parents to marry and live with Daniel and his family. At first exciting and new, Meridia quickly learns all that glitters is not gold in Daniel's family with two sisters at odds, a somewhat lazy father, and a mother (Eva) who can summon bees in heated arguments to tear down her opponent's resistance to get her way. Without even realizing it, Meridia becomes Eva's biggest competition and ultimate opponent of wits and in keeping Daniel's heart.

Even though this story is set in a fantasy land, Setiawan makes it feel very familiar to our own ordinary world. Through the magic, you have a story full of very real, very normal human problems. It's a story about family drama and all of the ups and downs that come with it. Competition, right and wrong decisions, consequences, betrayal, adultery, neglect, and the oh so dreaded "evil mother-in-law" are all common themes in this book. All of the characters face dilemmas, and all have very specific ways with dealing with their problems. Some you sympathize with, some your heart aches for, and some you just want to smack.

The characters are all unique and definitely their own persons. Meridia is the most prominent character and I empathized with her a lot. Though she sometimes made rash decisions that I didn't particularly agree with, she is a worthy character full of life, love, and spirit. I admire her strength in dealing with her mother-in-law, her own family, and all of the strains that her marriage to Daniel went through. Daniel is a good match for Meridia in some ways, but he is one of these men that takes the term "Momma's Boy" to an extreme ... and not in a good way. Hannah is a character that I don't think we got to see enough of, but she came in at the right moments and gracefully made her depature(s) once her job was done. Eva ... well, she's evil and I was starting to lose hope when it didn't seem that she was never going to have to face any consequences for any of her actions. I was overjoyed when some of the characters finally came to their senses. There are many more characters and all stand out on their own, but I think it's good for the readers to have a little mystery going into the story.

Overall, this is a very engaging story. I went in slightly skeptical because of the subject matter, but it quickly won me over. Once I started getting into the story (which was very soon into it), I didn't want to stop and was still reeling over it long after I was done reading. Although it's not labeled as Young Adult, I have no doubt that some young women would actually love this book. I would most definitely recommend it to any and all that love fantasy or just a good family drama with a little bit of magic in it.

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Reading Lassie said...

The title of the book is very intriguing, as well as its plot. I like books that has elements of spells/witchcraft. And your review made me want to read this book.

Congrats to Mr. Erick Setiawan for an amazing debut novel.

Thanks for the review!

Melissa (Books and Things) said...

I enjoyed this book as well. Glad you had a chance to read and enjoy it as well!

Erick Setiawan said...

So glad you loved the book, Missy. Thank you for hosting!

All best,
Erick Setiawan

Missie, The Unread Reader said...

Oh Awesome! You have already reviewed it! Great review. I have read several reviews about this book already, and I am really looking forward to getting my hands on my own copy! I am very curious to know more about the magical elements you have mentioned. Plus family drama is always something I can relate to.

Heather J. @ TLC Books said...

I think you're right that this is an adult fairy tale. It sounds like a great read and I can't wait to pick it up myself.

Thanks for being a part of the tour!

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