Of Honey and Wildfires by Sarah Chorn

(8.5/10) An emotional, character-driven fantasy

Do you want the rugged majesty of the Old West, the sense of exploration - and exploitation - but wrapped in a world filled with fascinating magic? Of Honey and Wildfires by Sarah Chorn is exactly what you’re looking for. This isn’t some Old West inspired action flick, however. There is a quality and depth to the characters that carries the story along and makes it something special.

Chorn’s fantasy yarn is unique and engaging. Set in a wonderfully realized world, it takes many cues from the Old West that inspired it but departs in some interesting ways. Instead of coal and oil powering the movement west, there is a mysterious, magical substance known as “shine.” Shine powers technology, allows healing, and facilitates communication over vast distances, among many other things. However, there is a cost to this, as using shine too much results in addiction. Add to this a single corporation that controls all the shine and you have a recipe for exploitation. In this world ruled by shine, it’s the characters that burn more brightly than anything else. Each of the viewpoint characters are engaging and as I read, I didn’t find myself preferring one character to another. They’re all telling the same story, certainly, but from angles that are each different. Each of the characters are also deeply flawed, hurting people. But this is far from grimdark. All the characters also find ways to celebrate and find joy in the mundane, little moments of life. This is one of the things about the story that really connected with me. There are big, important things happening in the world. The characters have a front row seat. But the story is truly about the lives of these characters. Chorn has a way of crafting characters that are relatable while being different. Of course, the world building also draws you into the story. One of the most refreshing things about that world building is that while it’s inspired by the American Old West, the focus isn’t so much on steam power or black powder - which you often find in this sort of fantasy. Shine takes the place of steam or powder, and really allows the story to focus on the characters. In this way the world building and characters mutually reinforce one another. I love when world building and characters work together toward the benefit of the story, rather than feeling disparate.

There were one or two things that didn’t work as well for me. The largest of these is that the viewpoints we enjoy are set in slightly different time periods. One viewpoint starts a decade or so in the past and moves forward, jumping a couple years at a time. Another starts “weeks ago,” and moves toward the climax from there. A third starts days ago. There are also changes in tense between the viewpoints. These things weren’t bad. But it was perhaps a little confusing initially and took me a little while to settle into. Once I did, it felt like it flowed naturally.

Of Honey and Wildfires is an emotional, character-driven fantasy. It doesn’t rush, but moves along at an even pace letting you feel with the characters, experiencing their moments of small joy and triumph, as well as their moments of heartache and pain. Certain to appeal to those looking for something unique and fresh.

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