Honeycomb, by Joanne M. Harris

Review copy provided by the publisher.

This book is a maddening mix of beautiful and obnoxiously trite.

It’s a set of very short stories in fairy tale style, some of which form an arc plot and some of which do not. There’s a lot of lovely stuff with the intersection of insects and Faerie that gets in very neatly at the sense of the alien in the best Faerie fiction–they’re literally not like us if they’re a swarm of bees, okay, cool. (I am reminded of Robert Levy’s The Glittering World, which is in every way a better book.)

But the down side of fairy tale locution is that in this case Harris stretches it so that the characterizations have length but no depth, so that when the story returns to previous characters, I had no sense of “oh cool, it’s that person”–they remained shallow, mostly heartless archetypes at best, and sketches less charming than their literal illustrations at worst.

The heavy-handed parables were the worst of it. Interspersed with the whole were messages that Harris apparently just had to get across, in fairy tale language, including such gems as “don’t get obsessed with your cell phone.” Thanks, Polonius! Without you I would never have thought of such a message! As a full-time genre professional, I can tell you that you do not get bonus points for making your snotty and obvious life advice slightly princessified. At least not from me.

And then there’s the use of Hel, which is a very specific spelling with specific cultural connotation, to just mean…Hell. If you have a lord of it and it’s full of the damned, it is not Hel and what are you even doing. Why. It doesn’t make you fancy, it’s not like spelling your name Jynnyfer where the meaning doesn’t change.

So what to make of this book. Honestly I’m not sure it’s worth your time to try. The occasional beautiful image isn’t worth all the flaws. Her books are sure to be bestsellers even without your time and attention, because of who she is and the marketing campaign they’re given. I haven’t read any of the others, but maybe one of them is better. It’s probably worth at least giving that a try.

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