Sunday, November 14, 2010

Review: "The Honey Month" by Amal El-Mohtar

The premise of "The Honey Month" is deceptively simple: the author received twenty-eight imps of different honeys, and for each day of February, she sampled one. Each "chapter" is a day, with a description of the color, scent and taste of the honey, accompanied by a poem or story. Her descriptions are worth reading in themselves, but it is the stories that are at once strangely engaging and sometimes pure magic.

El-Mohtar is probably best known for her spec fic poetry, which abounds here, and her style translated into short stories becomes like some of the honeys: crystallized, complex sweetness. Something to be savored:

"... the time for coaxing sweetness from the world: sap from trees, scent from flowers. It needs to be tapped, to be gently drawn from its winter bed like a child on a chilly morning, sand in its lashes, dreams in the eye. It does not yet know itself to be sweetness; it is a snowdrop, not a rose." -- Day Three, Early Spring Honey, Sag Harbor, NY

The sweet lightness of many of her tales is sometimes underscored by a flash of darkness, but it melts on the tongue and is gone. She rises highest, in my opinion, when that darkness is given free rein. Day Eighteen, Manuka Honey: crows and medicinal-tasting honey, a story of a small child and a nighttime visit that gave me shivers. Day Twenty-Seven, Leatherwood Honey: an intriguing and deliciously dark take on what it means to give, to take, to bow one's head.

Although the volume is slim, I wouldn't recommend reading this all at once. Much like her tiny vials of honey, the days should be sipped, enjoyed. There are countless elegant turns of phrase, and descriptions apt and unusual. Accompanied by the beautiful artwork of Oliver Hunter, and with a gorgeous cover to boot, this is a book to be treasured. And best of all, this is not something you'll find on the shelves of Borders or other major chains. Published by Papaveria Press, this book is a rare gem, and a look at what major publishers are passing up (though I think El-Mohtar has quite the writerly career ahead of her).

Note: Amal El-Mohtar co-edits the online poetry zine Goblin Fruit, along with Jessica Paige Wick. Published quarterly, GF hosts some amazing spec fic poetry.

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