In the Books Section:
A Taste of Honey
Discussed September 2017
By Kai Ashante Wilson
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Cast of Characters
- Aqib: Protagonist; Cousin of the Blood and son of the Master of Beasts and the Hunt in Great Olorum
- Lucrio: Aqib's lover; Centurion of the Calvary of Daluz
- The Corporal (Tariqi): Brother of Aqib and soldier of the army of Great Olorum
- Berasade: Sister of Aqib and the Corporal
- Master Sidiqi: Father of Aqib, the Corporal, and Berasade; Master of Beasts and the Hunt in Great Olorum
- Femysade: Wife of Aqib; Princess of the Blood of Great Olorum
- Lucretia: Daughter of Aqib and Femysade
- Did you finish the novella? Did you like it?
- Author N. K. Jemisin called the novella "a love story as painful as it is beautiful and complex." Aqib's awakening with his romance with Lucrio and the romance itself are key drivers of the plot. In Olorum (where most action transpires), homosexual relationships are forbidden, which the two young men must contend with, both practically and personally. What did you think of the portrayal of the love affair between Aqib and Lucrio and their struggle, particularly with Aqib's family?
- Olorum is also culturally conservative along a number of other dimensions, including gender (e.g., intellectual pursuits are considered the purview of women only) and class (e.g., the rigid distinction exhibited between the aristocracy and the common people). Aqib's internalization of his culture and his love for and sense of duty to his family are in conflict with his love for Lucrio and his new understanding of himself. Did you feel that the conflict effectively built up to Aqib's choice between his home and his lover?
- The narrative proceeds non-linearly, jumping back and forth across time periods in Aqib's life. What did you think of this device? Did it enhance the story for you or was it distracting/confusing?
- The setting clearly draws inspiration from ancient historical empires, with Daluz reminiscent of Rome and Olorum of medieval African empires, such as Axum, Ghana, Mali, and Ethiopia. Did you find the juxtaposition of these two cultures effective and interesting? Why or why not? More generally, what did you think of the world-building in the novella?
- Relatedly, the prose in the novella is rich with obscure words and neologisms/conlang phrases. Did you feel that these aspects of the writing enhanced or detracted from the story?
- Over recent years, there has been a profusion of work where gods/semi-divinities are characters (e.g., Jemisin in the Inheritance Trilogy; Bennett in the Divine Cities Trilogy; Gladstone in the Craft Sequence). Wilson also uses gods to further the plot, as they offer Femysade the opportunity to deepen her intellectual life, but at the cost of leaving her family. Did you feel that their intervention was needed in the story? More generally, what do you think about the "divine" trend in fantasy?
- Wilson is quoted as saying, "I enjoy a broad array of genres as a reader, but I only ever write fantasy." That said, there are some elements, particularly in the interactions with the gods, that could be considered more science fictional (e.g., the emphasis on mathematics and physics, such as the three-body problem). In what genre would you place the story? Does it matter?
- The novella ends with a remarkable twist. Were you surprised or did you feel that the ending was telegraphed earlier in the novella? Did you like the ending?
- The story takes place in the same world as an earlier novel by Wilson, The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps. If you read the earlier work, how do you think it compares with the novella? If you have not, based on reading the novella, would you be interested in reading The Sorcerer? What about other works by the author?