Of Bees and Mist by Erick Setiawan

30 March, 2010

This is one of two books that were lent to me by one of my friends. ‘You must read this,’ she said as she pressed the book into my hands. ‘You’ll love it.’ And I did.

Erick Setiawan’s Of Bees and Mists is a fairy tale set somewhere in South East Asia and sometime in the modern era (although where and when isn’t clear). Setiawan writes beautifully and his story is a blend of Eastern folklore but written with a modern touch. I was completely charmed by it and shook with anger at the utter evil which the heroine Meridia has to battle as she fights for her love.

And I applaud Setiawan for creating one of the most evil characters I have ever come across in my reading life. I guess what you think is evil will depend on what you probably fear. In my case, it is Eva, Meridia’s mother-in-law, who is extremely sly, clever and visciously manipulates everyone around her and doesn’t care about the damage she inflicts.

The title, Of Bees and Mist, describes the two halves of Meridia’s life. She grows up in a household of mists: her parents, the once beautiful but now eccentric Ravenna and silent and severe Gabriel who keeps to his study, only appearing to eat the meal his wife prepares, once so in love but no longer speaking after a traumatic accident soon after her birth. Meridia grows up in this sad household, longing to find out what had caused the rift in her parents marriage and escape the oppressive atmosphere, and she does so when she falls in love with Daniel, a jeweller’s son. Looking forward to creating a new life and family, Meridia soon finds that things are not all they seem in Daniel’s family household where she goes to live and that she has to fight an even more monstrous foe in the shape of her mother-in-law Eva and the ominous bees that seem to surround her. We follow Meridia as she grows up, becomes a mother and learns how to protect and nurture her family all the while battling the demands Eva makes on her family. Will she be able to save her marriage, and will she be able to heal the rift between Ravenna and Gabriel?

Setiawan’s characterisation is beautiful, especially his female characters who are the true stars of this book. Ravenna, silent, jealous and still in love, Meridia, strong and resilient and Eva, the control freak who will go to any lengths to keep her son under her thumb. It is a world where women are expected to act in a certain way, yet must have the strength to fight for what is rightfully theirs. And although each character experiences tremendous hurt and sorrow, there is some form of redemption at the end.

The novel wasn’t what I expected from the cover and blurb. It’s a fairytale, bildungsroman and love story all deliciously wrapped in a South East Asian setting without being too specific and easily categorisable. You can see the influence of Asian and European myths and fairytales and I loved the way Setiawan makes his story his own, completely different from what is out there, making it hard to compare with any other book.

This would have been a great read for Carl’s Once Upon a Time IV challenge, but I read this book as part of the Women Unbound challenge.

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10 Responses to “Of Bees and Mist by Erick Setiawan”

  1. Aarti Says:

    I have heard so many good things about this book! I am glad that you, too, enjoyed it. I really like the title- it sounds so evocative to me, for some reason. And it sounds like the villain isn’t stereotypical, but is just sly and frightening in a more subtle way.

  2. Michelle Says:

    This sounds like a good book, and one you really enjoyed. I’ve read a couple of other reviews of this book, but it seemed like they weren’t too impressed by it. I was still really keen on trying this book though, and I’m glad to have read your thoughts of it.

  3. Nymeth Says:

    Fairy tale! Eastern folklore! Say no more. I don’t think I’d ever heard of this one before, so thank you for bringing it to my attention.

  4. chasing bawa Says:

    Aarti: I don’t know why but I just found the villain extremely frightening. Maybe because she was just so persistent.

    Michelle: I tried not to read any reviews before I read the book because I didn’t want them to colour my thoughts in any way. Now I’ve got to go and look for them!

    Nymeth: I think I liked this book so much because it was a very visual book and I could picture a lot of the scenes from all the movies I’ve seen and the travelling I’ve done. Saying that it might be completely different from what the author visualised!

  5. gaskella Says:

    I too enjoyed this book – maybe not quite as much as you for it was too long and most of the characters irritated me at times. I thought it was more of a family drama, and very much a matriarchal situation. The magical mists and bees were rather incidental – just there in the background.

    • chasing bawa Says:

      Oh, it was your review that I saw at the end of January just when I was off on holiday with this book! I didn’t want to jinx my read and have just gone back to read it. Thanks for commenting. It was very matriarchal wasn’t it? In fact, most of the male characters were much weaker than the women. Probably the least sympathetic character for me was Daniel. I’m interested to see what he will write next.

  6. mee Says:

    This sounds wonderful. I have a copy at home but haven’t got around to it. I’m a tiny bit worried about the use of the evil mother-in-law as it is rather overused in South East Asian folktales (and Cinderella), but you convinced me there.

    • chasing bawa Says:

      Do you know, I never thought of it that way (even though it’s so obvious!) But for me, although the mother-in-law figured largely, it was a tale about three strong women trying to fight for what they believed was theirs. I hope you enjoy it when you get around to reading it (I know all about books on shelves waiting to be read!)

  7. Kristen M. Says:

    I’m glad to see someone else enjoyed this as much as I did! I also saw many lukewarm reviews but didn’t let it affect my affection for this book.

    (I just came over from SavidgeReads — I liked your comment!)


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