Hot Off the Presses scours the internet for newly published debut books from unknown authors, and saves everyone else the trouble of actually reading books to find out if they’re good or not. New posts every Tuesday, or apparently Wednesday now? Who knows! This is meant for entertainment purposes only, not serious consumer advice. And there will be spoilers.
Sometimes it doesn’t pay to eat weird plants in the woods. Not very often, mind you, but sometimes. Fire and Honey is a sempai-noticing-me simulator by Trinity Rayborn that focuses on a young woman coping with immortality.
Our main character is Millie, a typical American teenager, who lives in Greece at some unspecified point in the past. All we know for sure about the setting is that there’s wheat, and if I had to guess what time period Trinity Rayborn thinks wheat is from, I’d guess middle ages. But we all know Greece jumped directly from pottery times to the modern nightclub era, so who can say. At least this suspiciously peaceful protagonist village has a national designation, putting it easily in my top 10. You might think Millie is short for something. I know I did. But no. There is one specific reason our story begins in a small village sometime in Greece, and that is ambrosia. Millie works on the farm alphabetizing the wheat and stuff, while her parents spend their time trying to find a suitor for her. I would just find the guy with the greatest enthusiasm for wheat, but what do I know. You don’t want me in charge of your pairings; I once fried an egg in mayonnaise. One day Dad gets the kids to gather around and listen to the latest retelling of the story of ambrosia, the plant of the gods, forbidden to mortal kind. Shockingly, we actually get to hear the story because these are fictional children that let you get through an entire story without interjecting their own suggestions to add a cowboy, or wander off to stick their tongue in a light socket.
Millie has heard this story her whole life, and doesn’t put much stock in it. Being a modern teenage from the country of America, present day, she is naturally skeptical of tall tales that could have an alternative explanation. She knows she is right, and she desperately wants to prove it to everyone so they will shut up about the plant. That’s it. That’s her motivation, and it plucked at the dusty strings of the splintery dulcimer I call a heart. I see this woman. I see her so hard it hurts inside. Apparently, the notion that this plant belongs to the gods is a strong enough prohibition that nobody has thought to just eat the damn thing, ever. Millie just walks up to it, yanks some leaves, and makes tea out of it. Did no one ever do this before? The legend says that the plant is associated with immortality. And even if it wasn’t, it’s a weird plant in the woods. The entire history of biology could be summarized as “What To Put In Your Mouth, And What Not To Do That To, With Examples.” Do they not have mall goths in Wheat Greece?
So ambrosia tea. It’s amazing. It tastes like that one artisanal cream soda your ex made you try and you can’t remember the name, but you can’t bring yourself to ask him, even though you’ve definitely thought about messaging him for the first time in three years to ask about it, because it’s THAT GOOD! It tastes like that. Again, no one has ever thought to do this, in a country where somebody thought to squeeze goat tits and ferment whatever came out, to great public celebration (I am referring to Steve Feta). How does it feel to be immortal? Why, it feels like get back to work! Millie doesn’t feel any different, and goes back to her ordinary routine of applying wheat ointment. But as the years go by, it becomes clear that she isn’t aging.
This is where Fire and Honey shows off one of its signature tricks: the time jump. Millie sits on the news that she’s immortal for fifteen years. She has a plan to leave town before anyone notices, but then they notice, because she waited fifteen years. This is presented as “Oh, snap! I didn’t leave fast enough, by like, one day!” Time behaves very strangely in this book. Much like wheat, it’s basically a plot device that does whatever Trinity Rayborn needs it to do. Caught, Millie is banished from the village. She accepts this as the punishment she “deserves,” which.. I feel like there could be some appeal, given that it’s been fifteen years and nobody has flattened their village with thunder bolts or horny swan-dudes or other Greek maladies. But Millie is forced to flee with little more than the clothes on her back, destined to roam the Earth alone forever. Or at least until she finds a suitable love interest.
Ultimately, this is a romance, and our protagonist has a serious problem when it comes to relationships. Anyone who wants to grow old with her is going to feel seriously misled. Personally, I think this is played up as a bigger problem than it should be. I understand not all men are mouth-breathing troglodytes who want a woman who never ages past 23, but… if you’ve got that in your pocket, lady, use it! You could date Leonardo DiCaprio, for extended periods of time. Years, even! Get him to put you in his will, and just wait till he makes a movie that requires him to get actual dysentery because it’s method. I guess what Millie really needs is a man who can understand her predicament. Perhaps a man, who travels through time much as she does. A sexy Korean archaeologist, perhaps? It’s something to think about.
Further time jumps bring us to Jazz Age London, only with corsets, because it’s also Bridgerton times, which also took place in a time without those stiff whalebone corsets, but… Oh, we’ve already jumped again. Millie makes her way back to Greece in the fifties, because that’s where the plot is about to happen, and it’s a great place to find sexy Korean archaeologists from the seventies. It’s complicated.
What makes it slightly more complicated is the language. Rayborn gives us a warning that she is a South African author, and thus writes in British English. I’m not qualified to decide whether that patois that Elon Musk’s family speaks counts as “British,” when it sounds like Australian spoken through a rubber band, but that’s not really the problem anyway. A bigger issue for me is that the book appears to be written by an alien. There are lines like “beautiful and fulfilling types of vegetables,” or “machines to make things faster.” Normally I would chalk this up to second language acquisition, but we’ve been explicitly warned to parse this as British English, so that’s the square hole my brain is trying to jam these round pegs into. To be clear, I’m not complaining about indie books being unedited. Usually that’s fine, and can even add to the entertainment value because I get to read about “flying dargons” and imagine what a dargon looks like in my mind. But Rayborn’s writing is just correct enough to leave me constantly wondering whether maybe I’m the one from another planet.
Fire and Honey is actually a lot of fun. The pace is blistering, but that’s because Trinity Rayborn knows what we’re waiting for. The fan service is efficient and effective. Millie is a relatable, if not always believable, reader insertion. And we all need more sexy Korean archaeologists in our lives. I mean you might have one already, but why not pick up a spare? The one caveat is that I can only recommend it if you have Kindle Unlimited, as it’s ten dollars for what is basically a novella. But assuming you don’t pay full price, you won’t regret it.
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