From the moment the first settler dug a well and struck a lode of shine, the world changed. Now, everything revolves around that magical oil.
What began as a simple scouting expedition becomes a life-changing ordeal for Arlen Esco. The son of a powerful mogul, Arlen is kidnapped and forced to confront uncomfortable truths his father has kept hidden. In his hands lies a decision that will determine the fate of everyone he loves—and impact the lives of every person in Shine Territory.
The daughter of an infamous saboteur and outlaw, Cassandra has her own dangerous secrets to protect. When the lives of those she loves are threatened, she realizes that she is uniquely placed to change the balance of power in Shine Territory once and for all.
Secrets breed more secrets. Somehow, Arlen and Cassandra must find their own truths in the middle of a garden of lies.
I read this book on my kindle.
Of Honey and Wildfires is the first book in The Songs of Sefate duology, and the first of Sarah Chorn’s books that I have read, although it will definitely not be the last!
It is not a book for the faint-hearted. Filled with heart wrenching emotion, it is a book you need to make sure you have a box of tissues to hand before you start reading.
There are multiple main characters, Cassandra and Ianthe are both tragic characters, their narrative is written in the first person perspective, which makes us feel their emotions all the more strongly, whereas Arlen’s chapters are written in third person.
The story is secondary to the characters and their complicated and heartbreaking familial relationships in this novel. It is set in a Wild West style location with frontier towns, horses, railroads and mines digging for Shine, a magical substance able to preserve food, heal illness, be used as currency, ammunition in firearms, and which is as addictive as any drug. It also causes the skin and hair of those coming into contact with it to change to any rainbow hue you can imagine.
There is a Shine barrier between Shine Territory and the rest of the world which was raised by Matthew Esco, the owner of both the Shine Company and the lands and mines within the territory. Noone can leave or enter the territory without his permission. Trying to escape through the barrier without one of his potions to protect you means certain death.
Cassandra is the daughter of the outlaw Christopher Hobson, son-in-law to Matthew Esco. Following Christopher’s wife Lila’s death, he decides to give Cassandra up to live with his sister Annie and her family, since his outlaw’s life is not suitable for the five year old daughter he loves so wholeheartedly. She is not like the other children with her lack of colour – her hair is pitch black and she has pale skin. She is bullied and made to feel unwelcome in Shine Territory, even by her cousin Jack. She finds a friend in Ianthe, a neighbour girl who also has a secret which makes her an outsider, and which she must hide. Ianthe’s health is failing due to a deadly illness and the two become very close friends:
It was a night for secrets and recklessness. Even the moon wore a cat’s grin, and each of the stars seemed to be winking down on us.
Arlen Esco is Matthew’s heir to the Company. Born Alice, it transpires that Matthew is actually Arlen’s grandfather and that he stole Alice from Christopher and Lila and told them their child was dead. Chris and Lila mourned their daughter and made a gravemarker for her.
Matthew has sent Arlen into Shine Territory supposedly to look for a good location for a mill. In so doing he meets his father, the outlaw known as the Shine Bandit, Christopher and also becomes aware of the awful lives of the people working the mines for his father’s company:
There was a scream rising in Arlen. All this pressure. All this anxiety. All this knowledge. He felt sick. All he could picture were those boys, their small bodies locked down in the dark, chained to carts, half-naked, wet, starving and beaten, and all for four coppers a day.
Neither Arlen nor Cassandra can be affected by Shine and we realise that this must stem from the events of the prologue in which Matthew Esco appears to commit suicide over the Shine well, while bargaining for the future of his family line. The same was true for their mother Lila:
There wasn’t a drop of shine in her. Something about her seemed to refuse to let it in. Everyone else, they turn after being here a while, eating our food, drinking our water, all of it shine touched. It changes our coloring. Lila never did. Lived out here for years and never saw one streak of shine appear in her hair or eyes. Don’t know what it was about her. Probably never will.
As well as showing the total abandonment felt by five year old Cassandra when her father leaves her with Annie, the story also shows the desperation of those who love Ianthe and have to come to terms with the fact that she is dying. In particular, her mother, Imogen and Cassandra, who has come to love Ianthe over the years and moves into the sanatorium with her for her final years. Her pain as her beloved Ianthe becomes more and more ill is described beautifully:
My heart has broken into as many pieces as there are stars. I imagine that is why this hurts. It is not an easy thing, being torn so.
The chapters told from Ianthe’s perspective as she watches Cassandra’s grief take hold of her, are particularly poetic and haunting as well as being emotionally devastating:
She has stolen sunlight, and with it, crafted her tears.
Sorrow pours from her, echoing with the silvery music of distant star songs.
I loved this book and was unable to put it down. I am really excited to read the sequel, The Glass Rhapsody which is out soon. Highly recommended.
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Sarah has been a compulsive reader her whole life. At a young age, she found her reading niche in the fantastic genre of Speculative Fiction. She blames her active imagination for the hobbies that threaten to consume her life. She is a writer and editor, a semi-pro nature photographer, world traveler, three-time cancer survivor, and mom. In her ideal world, she’d do nothing but drink lots of tea and read from a never-ending pile of speculative fiction books.