Of Bees and Mist by Erick Setiawan

 

 

[Click the cover below to check it out! If you don’t see a book cover below it’s probably ad-blocker settings]


[There’s a lot going in the hardback-edition cover that took me a second glance to realize. Within the imagery of the roses/vines there, are tiny shapes and images that give clues as to some major plotpoints in the book]

Of Bees and Mist is a fable of one woman’s determination to overcome the haunting magic that is created by the people she loves and the oppressive secrets behind their broken lives. Raised in a sepulchral house where ghosts dwell in mirrors, Meridia spends her childhood feeling neglected and invisible. Every evening her father vanishes inside a blue mist without so much as an explanation, and her mother spends her days speaking an unknown, cryptic language and the whispers of ghosts. At sixteen, desperate to escape, Meridia marries a tenderhearted young man. Little does she suspect that his family is harboring 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 whose grievances swarm the air like an army of bees—the wickedest mother-in-law imaginable.

[There’s actually a whole lot of fucked up stuff that happens in the book, especially ‘secrets’ wise. Of all the things to choose in a synopsis to try and lure in potential readers, I feel like they chose some of the most mundane]

 


 

I had to sort of really let this one swirl in my brain for awhile after I finished reading it. It was like tasting something that isn’t really something you have had very often, and kinda let the food/drink stay in your mouth for a bit before deciding if you like it or not.

One thing I can say about this book, is that it is NOT a feel-good kinda story. That goes for nearly all of the main characters in the book. Each time a small little glimmer of happiness starts for the main character especially, or any other character related to her, it’s quickly snuffed out and promptly crushed by something five times worse than the previous terrible thing that happens. At times I kept reading it because mentally I was like ‘surely something good has to happen, right?!’

The main character, Meridia, is raised in a cold, secluded, and verging on almost-to-the-point-of-abuse level of neglect, mostly from her father. He barely acknowledged her existence as she grew, and when he did, he was cruel to her and didn’t hide his contempt or almost hatred for her. Her mother Ravenna, however, seems to go in and out of sanity throughout the book. She speaks in her own language, interacts with and changes into phantoms, and her emotions both past and present seem to be directly tied to a mysterious mist that plagues the house they live in. These mists can take people away and are never seen again, or brought to the house against their will. In some cases the mist changes color and follow specific people to show people what they have wronged her. Something happened between her parents long ago that no one dares speak of, and everyone is too scared of either of her parents to explain it to her. Meridia, for the most part, was raised by a nurse and waitstaff, outside of her mother’s sporadic return to reality when she hasn’t forgotten that she has a child.

– One thing to note as well, is that magic and the paranormal seem fairly regular in the book. It’s still considered strange in the happenings it creates/interacts with, but no one ever really seems to question the bizarre happenings that are directly related to said magic/paranormal. Both matriarchs in both sides of Meridia’s family, Ravenna and Eva [more on her below] almost carry with them the power and title of ‘witch’ without it being directly spoken outside of the occasional insult.

When Meridia is a teenager, she meets a young man named Daniel and they fall for each other deeply. Suddenly her previously neglectful father has something to say about it, but after a fateful interaction for the first time between he and her mother, she’s allowed to marry her beloved. Unfortunately, what she didn’t realize is how possessively close his mother is to him, and meets his family and their true colors. Her mother-in-law, is Eva.

Meridia quickly learns that not only did her mother-in-law agree to the marriage only for her dowry, but is a tyrant – and that’s putting it nicely. Eva is an abusive, selfish, sociopathic, greedy, psychopath of a woman – who also has powers of her own. Eva also has power to her voice and words, but ultimately her anger and nagging generates swarms of bees. These bees tear down a person’s defenses, their lifeforce, their ability to defend themselves and stand up to Eva. Once a person is beaten down enough, her bees also infiltrate a person, making them essentially a mindless slave that she can then control to do what she is too cowardly to do herself, forces people to be on her side and believe her lies, or brings a person to the point of weakness where they can easily be consumed and die.

To Eva, everyone is her pawn and no level is too low to stoop to in order to be under her control. Her family are nothing but sacrificial slaves that she can manipulate and use for money, and constantly pit against each other for her amusement and to keep them in line to always bow to her. Those who defy her or somehow have the ability to defy her are usually met with some kind of tragedy.

Without giving much more away, there’s a lot of literal and metaphorical battles between Meridia and all sides of her family and life. There’s ups and downs with death, and new life. But as mentioned, there’s not a lot of happiness in this book. It seems to be a lesson of how despite your best intentions, sometimes your life or the lives around you can just go to shit. In a lot of these cases within the book though, it has a lot to do with manipulation. It was also nice to see a lot of decent female characters that were both strong yet flawed, and ‘allowed’ to hold their own in a time where dowries were still not only common, but a defining reason not to marry a woman, even if you love them.

When I got this book for free from a give-away pile I was told that it was anything from ‘meh’ to ‘just okay.’ Honestly, I kinda feel the same way, but then again I actually really liked the book. Reflecting on why, however, it’s because I too, came from an abusive household[s]. A lot of what Meridia went though, I also did in some very similar ways. My own abusive mother and grandmother mere just as manipulative as Meridia’s in-laws and constantly pitted me against what little family I had and loved, and were various kinds of  terrible and abusive. The families my mother also married into over the years, were also similarly awful. It especially hit home, because my own mother’s name is Eva. [Honestly, it’s what interested me to read the book] I’ve been able to separate myself from all that, and get therapy, and I think honestly that also helped with being able to read this book. I’m not sure I’d recommend it to someone still in, or only recently separated from an abusive family situation.

To repeat, this isn’t a feel-good book. Even the ending is barely uplifting, more like a sad melancholy after an entire book of trauma and abuse. There are some very good moments in it that really make you root for certain characters, though. I will also warn that on top of everything I’ve already warned about here, there’s also content of severe mental illness, rape, child molestation/rape, child and senior abuse, child death, dying during childbirth/maternal death, spousal/domestic abuse [including adultery], heavy grief, slavery, and the struggles of infertility. Any sad or traumatic thing you can think of, one of the characters in this book probably suffers from, but also isn’t written to be ‘trauma porn’ like a lot of media is these days. That being said, if you think you can be in the mindset to handle any of this, and don’t necessarily want a sunshine and rainbows book that hits on some deep topics, I’d actually highly suggest.


 

I give Of Bees and Mist 4/5 Shovel Blades

Rating:

Before a word could escape him, a thin shadow sliced in between he and his wife. Twice the room exploded, stunning the men and jolting Meridia from behind the banister. The next thing they saw was his wife nursing her face. Towering over her with a splendid calm, was Ravenna.

Ravenna’s eyes had cut him deep in a place he could not heal. In the years to come, it was those eyes he would remember and refuse to forgive.

[PS – Ravenna is my favorite character and she’s incredible]

 


 

 

 

 

 

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