A Taste of Honey
This past year, Tor.com released a series of novellas from an incredibly diverse range of authors, notably the Nebula and Hugo award winning Binti by Nnedi Okorafor. On October 25, they will do it again with the genre-bending, LGBT romance A Taste of Honey. Without a doubt, Kai Ashante Wilson’s new novella should be on the shopping lists of any genre fiction fans this autumn.
Aquib bmg Sadiqi is a forth cousin of the royal family of Great Olorum and son of the Master of Beasts. Aquib’s father was once a dear friend and favored of royalty, The Blessed of Olorum, but was reduced in station through marriage. As the last male of marriageable age in his family, Aquib can raise the station of his family through marriage as well, a burden that becomes a difficult choice when he falls in love with a Dalucan soldier named Lucrio.
Great Olorum is a deeply religious society where the romance between Aquib and Lucrio would be punishable by death; however, unable to resist the handsome soldier, Lucrio goes to the fondac nightly for two weeks and falls deeply in love, not sleeping or taking care of his duties. Soon his late night excursions are noticed by The Corporal, his older brother, and his father.
Aquib is offered the choice of two paths: either stay loyal to his family and marry higher into the royal echelon to increase his brother’s chances of being promoted higher in the military and his sister’s marriage prospects, or he can follow his heart and go with Lucrio back to Daluz where he can live comfortably, but without his royal title.
Kai Ashante Wilson is an incredibly talented writer. The worldbuilding he does in a work this short is admirable, most notably the rich, distinctive feel of Olorum and its social structure. Wilson achieves with subtle references, dialogue and well-placed description what many lesser writers are forced to convey with lengthy info dumps that cut into tension and disrupt the flow of the narrative.
The tale is told from third person limited point of view, with the reader seeing events through Aquib’s eyes. Wilson doesn’t shy from showing Aquib’s privilege and his disdain for the “menials” that serve the upper class. The cultural disconnect between him and Lucrio creates a subtle, humming tension over the greater conflict of the romance and if it will end, or if Aquib will sacrifice everything for love.
The novella is not told in a “traditional” or linear timeline. The story is told from two different points in Aquib’s life and jumps back and forth with rough date stamps that mark the days Aquib and Lucrio have enjoyed their romance or Aquib’s age.
Non-linear storytelling has become a popular device, although it is infrequently executed effectively. Wilson manages to keep the narrative arc seamless, though some readers might find the jump in timelines confusing or disorienting.
A Taste of Honey is a touching romance with a mix of fantasy and sci-fi backdrop. But Wilson has created a story that defies genre expectations all around in favor of a complex, engaging storyline and sympathetic characters. The romance elements are prominent, with very powerfully conveyed themes of destiny, choice, and what some are willing to give up for love and fulfillment.