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Literature / A Taste of Honey

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"From the wall's far side there came a faint call, Ego te amo."

A Taste of Honey, published in 2016, is a novella by American author Kai Ashante Wilson. It is a Science Fantasy story set in a fantasy equivalent of ancient Africa.

It tells the love story of Aqib bgm Sadiqi, the youngest son of the Master of Beasts and the Hunt from Olorum, and the Daluçan soldier Lucrio Cordius de Besberibus, who is in Olorum as part of an embassy mission between their two nations. Neither Aqib's father nor his brother are too keen on him engaging in what is known as the sin of Daluz, especially as Aqib is set to inherit his father's title and the Menagerie thanks to his affinity to animals, but Aqib is head over heels in love with Lucrio. While their respective nobles and gods negotiate treaties, Aqib and Lucrio do their best to forget that the embassy is bound to depart homeward within ten days.

The story is told in an Anachronic Order where the ten days Aqib spends with Lucrio are interspersed with scenes from his future life where he has let the opportunity to return with Lucrio to Daluz slide in favor of his duty to his family, and has married the Olorumi king's daughter instead, advancing his family's standing considerably. This story arc deals with how his wife, the Blessèd Femysade, turns out to be a scientific savant and is invited by the gods to join them in their quest to become light, leaving Aqib and their daughter Lucretia behind.

The novella The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps is set in the same world, though likely much later in its internal continuity.

Tropes featured in A Taste of Honey include:

  • Abusive Parents: Lucrio asserts that Aqib's father is guilty of abuse by inaction, because Master Sadiqi largely ignores the abusive behaviour his oldest son displays towards his younger brother. Aqib doesn't see this behaviour as abusive until Lucrio points it out to him, and it causes a big fight between them.
    Lucrio: I mean, you keep saying how wonderful your papa is. But can you tell me why, all the years of your life, the Corporal’s just been whaling on you, but your papa never knew, and never stopped it? Or does Master Sadiqi know just fine, Aqib? Does he want you thinking, "Oh, Papa’s the gentle one. Papa’s the one who’s nice to me." But also he likes the Corporal doing all the dirty work, every mean thing. The breaking, the beating, the cruelness. That’s what I think. That Master Sadiqi’s as bad and worse than the Corporal, Aqib. Full of games and tricks!
  • All Just a Dream: Or, more accurately, a dream-vision of the life Aqib would have lived if he had ended up making one very different choice. The ending reveals that Aqib did, in fact, leave Olorum with Lucrio and the story the book presents is the alternate life he could have lived had he remained, presented to him by the Sybil at Terra-de-Luce.
  • Anachronic Order: The story is told in chunks skipping back and forth between the ten days Aqib and Lucrio spend together after their first meeting, and Aqib's future life in Olorum, ending with his death at the age of 89. Or so it seems, there's another piece at the end with a forty-year-old Aqib in Terra-de-Luce.
  • Ancient Rome: Daluz is a fantasy version of the Roman Empire, but with Physical Gods and Terra-de-Luce as an Expy of the city of Rome. Lucrio is a tricenturion in the Daluçan army and his fighting style and uniform sounds exactly like that of a Roman legionnaire. The Daluçan also speak Latin.
  • Arranged Marriage: Aqib has made his peace with the idea that his father will choose his future wife, as the latter married for love and brought down the family's standing, making it Aqib's duty to better it again through a properly arranged marriage. This is exactly what happens when a proposal from the Sovereign House arrives and Aqib marries the Blessèd Femysade, even though he has to be beaten by the Corporal into agreeing to the marriage. While not a Perfectly Arranged Marriage, Aqib arranges himself with his fate and loves Femysade in a way, eventually.
  • Big Brother Bully: The Corporal, Aqib's older brother, has a very hands-on way of making Aqib do what is right and proper. He flat-out beats Aqib into marrying Femysade and attacks him and Lucrio at the fondac, meaning to drag Aqib back home. Unfortunately, Aqib sees the Corporal more as an Aloof Big Brother and refuses to believe Lucrio when the latter points out the truth of things.
  • Big Brother Worship: Aqib still looks up to his brother, largely because his older brother once saved him from drowning when he was little, despite the Corporal being a Big Brother Bully.
  • Bilingual Bonus: The Daluçan language is rendered in Latin. Bits and pieces of it are mixed throughout the dialogue. No translation is ever given.
    • At one point, Aqib recites a bit of Daluçan poetry to Lucrio. He admits that he doesn't know what it means, only having guessed its relevance to a relationship like theirs from the reaction it got when he first heard it.
      Ego tibi fututrix. Volo crisare et cevere; tu me pedicare et irrumare vis?
    • On the third day, Aqib calls Lucrio "mi mellite," meaning "my honey," in yet another allusion to the title.
    • On the tenth day, Lucrio leaves calling, "Ego te amo," meaning, "I love you."
  • Bittersweet Ending: Aqib turns out to have gone with Lucrio to Daluz and lived a happy life, and his life in Olorum was All Just a Dream, but he cannot help but be sad that neither his daughter Lucretia nor his grandson Qary ever actually existed.
  • Death by Childbirth: Aqib's mother died diving birth to him. Aqib respects his father for treating him no different from his older siblings even though he was the cause of Master Sadiqi's beloved wife's death.
  • Disappeared Dad: Lucretian's father, said to be one of the Daluçan gods, left his mother Olivy and never figures in the kid's life, making Aqib and Lucrio both his actual father-figures.
  • Don't Call Me "Sir": Perfecta asks Aqib to not think of the Ashëans as gods, but rather as either plain Ashëans or "children of the Tower Ashê," as they are not gods, but only their descendants.
  • Double-Meaning Title: Honey, being a sticky liquid, is often associated with eroticism, with "a taste of honey" implying a short, sweet moment of pleasure, just as the short time Aqib and Lucrio can share their love in the story. A taste of honey in the literal sense is also what the Sybil demands of Aqib in the end as payment for her service. He has to smear his hand in honey and let her gnaw it off. The hand, not just the honey. Although that too.
  • Epigraph: Three of them, one for each part.
    • Part One: Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer
      The little dark songbirds will come again;
      though not exactly those that paused in flight,
      captivated by your beauty and my happiness,
      and learned both our names—those
      shall never come again.
    • Part Two: Joseph Brodsky
      Therefore she understood that, more or less, no one is guilty. Or more precisely, that the guilty exist, but that they are also human beings, just like their victims.
    • Part Three: Zora Neale Hurston
      Dey would fight yuh all night long and next day nobody couldn’t tell you ever hit ’em. Dat’s de reason Ah done quit beatin’ mah woman. You can’t make no mark on ’em at all. Lawd! wouldn’t Ah love tuh whip uh tender woman…
  • Fantasy Counterpart Culture:
    • Daluz is heavily based on Ancient Rome, with Terra-de-Luce being an Expy of the city of Rome, including the white marble buildings and a Sybil on a mountain nearby. Also, the Daluçans speak Latin.
    • Olorum is based on a mix of ancient African kingdoms such as Kush.
  • Foregone Conclusion: Due to the Anachronic Order, the story skips straight from Lucrio introducing himself to Aqib to Lucrio's departure from Olorum ten days later; thus, although the telling of the intervening ten days carries on throughout the book, the reader knows that Aqib will not accept Lucrio's invitation to go with him. Subverted at the end, where it turns out that Aqib did accept Lucrio's invitation, and the plot strand that follows Aqib's life after choosing to stay in Olorum is a vision of what might have happened if he hadn't.
  • Fourth-Date Marriage: Lucrio is ready to effectively marry Aqib after 10 days.
  • Inner Monologue Conversation: The visiting Ashëans repeatedly respond to Aqib's thoughts as if he had spoken them aloud.
  • Love at First Sight: The story is kicked off by Lucrio calling out from a doorway to a passing Aqib about how beautiful the latter is. They both know it's love after exchanging a few words. The end reveals that Lucrio was counting on falling in love at first sight, and let it happen, because the Sybil had told him he'd find his love in Olorum.
  • Manly Gay: Lucrio. He serves as a tricenturion in the Daluçan army and is chiefly included in the embassy so he can train Olorumi soldiers, meaning he spends much of his non-sexy time slathered in sweat and grime from the training fields. He's also a hunk with a Carpet of Virility and the buff, muscular physique of a professional soldier. He has no problem walking around naked and showing off his assets. He's also gay.
  • Masculine Girl, Feminine Boy: Femysade and Aqib. Femysade is taller and stronger than Aqib, has a no-nonsense attitude and spends her time studying mathematics and physics, while Aqib is — and remains for all his life — a slight, rather weak boy who prefers to avoid conflict and to work with animals. Femysade expressly chooses him as her husband because Weakness Turns Her On but later leaves Aqib and their daughter behind to pursue her scientific interests, while Aqib stays behind and takes care of Lucretia. Also, during prayer dances, everyone prefers his performance because it's more feminine — and submissive — than those of more skilled dancers.
  • Mind over Matter: Lucretia develops telekinetic powers at the age of eight due to her divine descent. Usually she uses it to make arrows fly where she wants them to, but she also lifts the heavy new gate of the Menagerie to assist the workers in raising it.
  • Missing Mom:
    • Aqib's mother died giving birth to him. He muses on how this allows him to always imagine her as a consoling presence whenever he needs it.
    • Played With in the case of Femysade and Lucretia. Femysade leaves her family to live and study with the Ashëans in the Ashëan Enclave, so technically, they know where she is, but since she leaves when Lucretia is six years old, never returns in flesh and appears only for brief talks by hologram once in a while, she is very much absent from her daughter's life.
  • Narrative Filigree: The technobabble Adónane, Perfecta and Femysade engage in upon their first meeting, as well as Femysade later on does herself, as well as various things Aqib mentions about the Menagerie or the Sovereign House don't really serve to move the plot forwards, but do a great deal of Worldbuilding on the side.
  • Outdoorsy Gal: Lucretia spends most of her childhood and adolescent years outside at the Menagerie, among all kinds of animals, and later she even assists the prince when he's out hunting.
  • Physical God: Played With. The Olorumi worship the Ashëans of the Ashëan Enclave as gods, and those certainly have strange powers and are much longer lived than humans, but Perfecta claims that the Ashëans are not gods, just people who retain some of the gods' theogenetica, and the true gods left the planet after terraforming it.
  • Pretty Boy: Aqib. Even though he's not the best dancer at the prayers, everyone agrees that he's the prettiest one, granting him all the attention. His prettiness and slight built is also one of the things that draws Femysade to him.
  • Recurring Dreams: As an older man, Aqib has a recurring dream of the day he met the Ashëans; he always forgets it on waking, but the audience gets to see it and learn that it's a part of the conversation that he was made to forget.
  • Red String of Fate: After his ex died, Lucrio went to the Sybil asking where he might find love again. She told him.
    The Sybil: Across the sea, in Olorum. You’ll glimpse him by moonlight walking not alone, and you’ll know, and yet also doubt. Maybe doubt so much that he pass you by forever.
  • Schrödinger's Butterfly: At the end, after allowing Aqib to dream of the life he would have lived if he'd made the other decision, the Sybil attempts to mindgame him by suggesting that that was reality and this is the dream. He manages to find a way out of the conundrum, to her disappointment.
    Aqib: I am the dream but so is he. He is real but so am I.
  • Science Fantasy: Fantasy versions of Ancient Rome and ancient Africa combined with interstellar travel, so-called gods using sci-fi gadgets and superpowers that seem like magic but are actually science. The people fight with spears and swords and the gods use tablets.
  • Semi-Divine: Most of the important characters turn out to have some divine blood:
    • Aqib is related with Adónane and Perfecta through his mother's line of descent, although it's been many generations and the blood is very thin. It still allows him to communicate with animals on a level non-divine people cannot.
    • Femysade, also distantly related to the Ashëans, turns out to be their prophesized scientific savant and her smidgen of divine blood allows her to use their gadgets.
    • Lucretia, being the daughter of Aqib and Femysade, develops telekinesis at the age of eight and her own son Qary has the strongest telekinetic talent seen in a very long time.
  • Speaks Fluent Animal. Aqib, though he initially is not aware of it and thinks animals listen to him because he grew up among them. Turns out he's Semi-Divine through his mother's line of descent and his special power is talking to animals.
  • Sugar-and-Ice Personality: Femysade can be caring and sweet when it fits into her plans, and she really loves Aqib, but she is also quick to behave coldly towards him in public due to No Social Skills and even threatens to kill him should he ever betray her.
  • Technobabble: Adónane and Perfecta, upon meeting Femysade, immediately launch into what Aqib calls "women's business" — namely mathematical and physics technobabble, throwing around phrases like "fatidic notation," "models of earthbound singularities," "quantum measurement" and "telekinetic watcher."
  • Telepathy: The Ashëans are capable of communicating telepathically.
  • Tomboy and Girly Girl: Lucretia and — to Aqib's surprise — her best friend Enghélasade. Lucretia is the Outdoorsy Gal who spends any free minute outside, at the Menagerie or out hunting with the prince, and Enghélasade is a second-order cousin who spends her time inside with "women's business," that is mathematics and linguistics, and sports an impressive amount of expensive dresses and jewellry.
  • Tomboy Princess: As the daughter of the Blessèd Femysade, Lucretia is a princess, but spends any free minute she can outside hunting or at her father's Menagerie, and her witch powers are also of the more hands-on nature, like moving big stones through telekinesis whenever needed for construction purposes.
  • Translation Convention: The language of Olorum is rendered as English, with appropriate variations for Aqib's upper-class speech and the lower-class dialect Lucrio speaks. The Daluçan language is rendered as Latin, fitting with Daluz being a Fantasy Counterpart Culture of Rome.
  • Weakness Turns Her On: Femysade chooses Pretty Boy Aqib as her husband expressly because his submissive character and slight build turn her on. As an added bonus, he's also a couple of years younger than she is.
  • Women's Mysteries: In Olorum, science, mathematics, and literacy are the domain of women. The men vary between being impressed by these strange and incomprehensible words and symbols and telling themselves that having to write stuff down to remember it just proves that women's brains don't work as well as men's.