Rating: 5 out of 5
In Kai Ashante Wilson’s A TASTE OF HONEY, young Aqib, who takes care of the animals in the Prince’s Menagerie, catches the eye of a soldier from a different land–and finally Aqib understands why women have never held his interest. Unfortunately, same-sex relationships are strictly forbidden in Aqib’s lands, and he doesn’t want to run away with Lucrio. He marries and becomes friends with a princess and has a single daughter, Lucretia. One day a prophet and a mage, of the people Aqib’s folk believe are gods, come to test his wife, Femysade. She’s a prophesied savant, whose mathematical skills will help them in their equations. The gods also awaken Aqib’s latent ability to speak with animals, and they predict that Lucretia will grow into her own abilities. Femysade readily goes with the gods, and Aqib and Lucretia are left to go on without her.
The story is told in two parallel lines. In one, the days during which Lucrio and Aqib are together pass one-by-one, as they fall for each other and strive to not be caught by Aqib’s family. In the other, we watch Aqib’s life after Lucrio leaves.
I won’t get into details for obvious reasons, but in any other book I’d call the ending a cheat. Instead, within the context of this particular story, it worked for me.
I love the characters. They’re real and flawed and often unlikable. Lucrio is shall we say, rough around the edges. Aqib can be very high-handed (it may sound like he isn’t in a high position, but he actually is–he’s a “Royal Cousin,” with the blood of the gods in some small measure). Femysade is not exactly a loving person, and Lucretia has learned well how to manipulate her father. Aqib’s brother is brutal. Yet all of these people have depth: Lucrio genuinely loves Aqib; Aqib is, in general, a good person; Femysade has been a good friend to Aqib; Lucretia becomes a strong woman; and Aqib’s brother has shown him kindness at times.
The society and worldbuilding are beautiful. We’re given only just as much detail as is required for the story, and that’s enough. I love seeing Aqib’s devotion to his animals–when we meet him, he’s walking the cheetah Sabah back to the Menagerie after allowing her to run and hunt. When he teaches his bears to dance, he does so through treats and care, not through harm. Once he and his daughter have their god-given skills brought out, they’re known as witches, and they use their skills for their Prince. But the magic isn’t the heart of the story–that belongs to Aqib and Lucrio.
This is a beautiful, magical story, and one well-worth reading.