Honeycomb – Joanne M Harris

“When the Nine Worlds were still very young, there were no stories.”

Honeycomb is a collection of dark, fable-like short stories, all set in the same world of myth and fairy tale, many of which centre around the same few characters while others take us on detours. I believe this is called a ‘mosaic’ collection, and can see why: lots of individual elements (stories) many of which form a larger picture once you’ve seen the whole.

The ‘big picture’ tale is one of the Silken Folk, and the selfish Lacewing King who rules over them. The Silken Folk aren’t exactly insects, not quite fairies, but there is a lot of bug-related goings on, and given the tone of the volume, it’s quite often the less than ‘pretty’ kind: spiders and cockroaches, alongside bees and butterflies. Oh, and ladybirds are not that nice, btw 😉 I did wonder if my bug-phobic self would cope, but it didn’t give me too much of the heeby-jeebies.

The character-developing odyssey of the Lacewing King is spread through the whole book, first as quite isolated vignettes – his battle of wills with the Spider Queen, for instance – then a more cohesive tale in the second half. At this point, clearly aiming for a proper story arc, the interspersed other stories often felt like padding, distraction, and sometimes – dare I suggest – just a bit annoying.

Some of these tales have their own mini-arcs, such as the Clockwork Princess, who appears a few times. It works really well when the stories start to overlap, cameos from one thread in the middle of another.

What worked less well were the more random stories. Some of these are ‘themed’ – several take place in a farmyard, for example – and most are rather heavy on the allegory. The woman who spends her life looking at the world through a small rectangle, eh? No idea what that means, nor the heavy-handed moral of it all 😉

Overall, I did enjoy reading this. It took me rather a long time – the stories feel like they’re more designed to be dipped in and out of, despite the overarching tale. The new, original fables for a more modern time were nicely done in the main, too. Did the two have to be in the same volume? Hmm. Perhaps if the latter half – when the Lacewing King’s tale is gaining speed – didn’t feel quite so padded out with these, then it would have worked a little better for me. As it was, it felt a little drawn out, and in hindsight, a little unsubstantial given the time it took to get there.

That said, I’m a big fan of dark fairy-tale like stories, and I’m impressed at the way the insect world was used, interwoven with reflections of myths and fables. Definitely intriguing, and the language is gorgeously crafted, even if in the end I could see a few flaws.

NetGalley eARC: 432 pages / 50 chapters
First published: 2021
Series: none
Read from 4th May – 3rd June 2021

My rating: 7/10

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