Once upon a time—or as the story begins here, Long ago and far away—there were the Silken Folk. Normal humans can’t see these fantastical, magical insects. The many (mostly linked) stories in Honeycomb, by Joanne M. Harris, tell the story of the Lacewing King, the High King of the Silken Folk, and his long path towards redemption for his early cruelty. More stories interrupt the main narrative to reinforce lessons about common sense, kindness, karma, and being able to see things as they really are. Harris doesn’t quite capture the sound of Grimm and Perrault’s tales, but she definitely nailed the essence of a good fairy tale.
Perhaps it’s their magic or their insectile natures, but the Silken Folk are often oblivious to the pain they cause others—especially to humans who come across their path. It’s little wonder, then, that Lacewing King is demanding, temperamental, and frankly cruel. He only cares about what might amuse him or taking things from others when they catch his eye. And then he flits off, never to be seen again for the most part. He makes enemies the way other people make their morning coffee. In fact, one of those enemies, the Spider Queen, plots against him for most of the book. In spite of his casual cruelty, however, the Lacewing King does manage to capture the love and loyalty of people and Silken folk who later bail him out from his biggest catastrophes.
The first half of Honeycomb is a long set-up. The linked stories and the side stories about politicking farm animals, clockwork creatures and inventors, lots of kings who will never be satisfied, slowly introduce characters and concepts in a universe that alludes to Shakespeare, Norse mythology, First Corinthians, and much more. It all slowly builds to a confrontation between the Lacewing King and three Queens that sees the King put on trial for one of his early crimes. At the risk of spoiling things, the aftermath of the trial sends the King and his adopted Barefoot Princess spinning through the Nine Worlds. The second—and much more melancholy—half is a long struggle for the King and the Princess to get back to their rightful places.
The more I read of Honeycomb, the more I enjoyed it. It took some time to adjust my reading to accommodate the linked stories and the interstitial stories. This book requires a lot of mental juggling to keep all the plots and the characters straight, as well as to read the interstitial stories in such a way that I would see their morals. Having said that, I worry that I’m making Honeycomb sound too challenging and that I’ll scare off readers. Don’t be afraid of this amazing book! Reading it left me reveling at Harris’s artistry and with a whole head full of rich stories to reflect on. This book is as close to genius as I’ve ever seen.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, for review consideration.