I have seen this book everywhere. As soon as the proofs were released into the world my Twitter and Instagram feeds were flooded with lovely photos of this gorgeous cover. I must admit, this piqued my interest when it fell into my inbox and as soon as I heard secrets, historical fiction and bees I was completely hooked.
This is also a random connection, but The Wicker Man is one of my favourite horror narratives, so I do keep my eyes peeled for intruding inclusions of bees in fiction, particularly secretive, creepy and horror stories. If you have any recommendations for that please let me know!
Forcibly seduced by the powerful George Villiers, doctor’s daughter Hester is cast aside to raise her son alone and in secret. She hopes never to see Villiers again.
Melis’s visions cause disquiet and talk. She sees what others can’t – and what has yet to be. She’d be denounced as a witch if Hester wasn’t so carefully protective.
Young Hope’s beauty marks her out, drawing unwelcome attention to the family. Yet she cannot always resist others’ advances. And her sisters cannot always be on their guard.
When Villiers decides to claim his son against Hester’s wishes, the sisters find themselves almost friendless and at his mercy.
But the women hold a grave secret – will it be their undoing or their salvation?
— Publisher synopsis, Michael Joseph (Penguin Random House)
I’m very excited to be participating in the blog tour for The Honey and the Sting organised by Michael Joseph (Penguin Random House). Please check out the reviews from my fellow book bloggers:
I must admit that deciding on my rating for this book has been tricky. I’ve been floundering between a three- and four-star rating and in the world of decimal points, I could easily land on a 3.5. For the sake of clarity, and my Goodreads, I’ve settled on three stars. I will clarify, due to the negative perception of three-star ratings, that in my rating system this is a book I liked. The deciding factor was the stark divide between my enjoyment of what was on the page and my realisation of certain character inconsistencies in development and motivations. I’m going to lead with the positives, however, many of my critiques are entwined so my usual division isn’t always possible.
Hester quickly became my favourite character and remained so throughout the book. I’m so glad that we got to read from her first-person perspective, which was not afforded to the chapters focusing on Hope or Felton, as the reader is given an insight into her protective instincts, quick thinking and it eventually demonstrates her wit and persuasion. She embodies the titular honey and sting and I’ve got to say that I wasn’t quite expecting Fremantle’s exact execution of these traits, but I enjoyed it. I also loved Fremantle’s combination of a traditional historical fiction plot, as Hester protects her son from the clutches of his all-powerful courtier father and creepier elements as emphasised through Melis’s visions and objects mysteriously moving throughout their safe house.
Whereas I would have liked a bit more discussion of Melis’s visions, more specifically the external opinions of her which lead to Hester’s protective nature, I was glad to see that we did get some visions which were open for interpretation from Hester alongside more specified ones. Hester’s son Rafe becomes more and more intriguing with every page. Further concrete investigations into Rafe’s actions, considering everything this small boy endures, would have been interesting, but the final lines of the book left me with chills, and I wouldn’t want to change them for anything.
Fans of Alexandre Dumas’ The Three Musketeers will also be familiar with Lieutenant Felton alongside the historical facts which can be read about both Felton and George Villiers. Felton specifically, but also including George Villiers, demonstrate the correlation of excellent historical research and sparkling originality to create characters for historical fiction. This book certainly does show how well the two can blend. George Villiers is quite a distant antagonist, so I lot of the pressure to create conflict and tension falls to Felton and his complexities which I thoroughly enjoyed exploring, especially relating to his twin sister.
However, I did find myself becoming distracted as George’s absence throughout the narrative, and his unclear motivations for specifically wanting Rafe dissolved the tension of the women going into hiding quite early on. It is quite clearly stated that George Villiers has a legitimate son with his wife however George never answers Hester’s specific inquiry into his intentions. I’ve read a lot of Tudor, Plantagenet and Stuart historical fiction, and correlating factual documentaries, so I am well aware that an illegitimate boy is simultaneously a constant danger to his father and the legitimate son, by claiming inheritance through combat once he’s grown, and in danger, as many people will see him as an easily disposable complication. However, if this is the case I thought the narrative tension would have been improved by simply stating this or incorporating George’s confliction as to whether raise Rafe or kill him, but we didn’t get any of this which was a little disappointing.
Despite getting a perspective surrounding her actions, Hope unfortunately dimmed in comparison to the roles, abilities and mannerisms of her two elder sisters. As the youngest closeted from Melis’s visions she could have created some interesting conflict and discussions, however, she willingly accepts that Melis has visions, does not question earlier visions when they begin to prove true and falls for every man who smiles her way. Once I can forgive, but as it became multiple instances without dramatic pay off it became a little expositional. The gaps in her knowledge, caused by the sister’s hiding Melis’s prediction of their father’s death, could have also been interestingly drawn out throughout the plot.
Overall, I enjoyed my reading experience with this book thanks to a couple of intriguing characters, initially interesting premise, a quickly paced middle section and enjoyable house setting which sees Felton and Hester confined together. Add in some creepy elements and very chilling final lines which had me wishing for a second book following Rafe and you’ll find a historical fiction for both readers looking to break into the genre and experienced readers. However, a couple of characters, their motivations and the narratives surrounding them, unfortunately, fell short for me and that distracted from the core plot between Hester, Rafe and Felton I was invested in. Therefore, in my rating, it’s landed exactly in the middle at three stars.
Are you going to pick up The Honey and the Sting? Do you have any overly specific recommendations for specifically creepy/horror narratives involving bees? Let me know in the comments!
The Honey and the Sting by E. C. Fremantle was published by Michael Joseph (Penguin Random House) on the 6th of August 2020.
I was invited to take part in the blog tour by Sriya Varadharajan (Press Officer, Michael Joseph) who provided all e-book links via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Thank you to Sriya, Michael Joseph and NetGalley for this opportunity.
None of the links in this article are affiliate links. I have no obligation to post links to retailers or publishers, and I have no financial relationship with them. This is linked for ease of access should you wish to support the author and publisher by purchasing a copy.
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Goodreads: Vicky Lord