Magical spells, strange demons and one utterly impossible mother-in-law drive the plot of a moody fairy tale set in no particular time and place.
Meridia, the heroine of this debut novel, grows up in a large and curious home: Its staircase has a habit of lengthening every so often, and powerful mists are capable of pulling unwanted visitors away from the front door. But beneath this strangeness lies some very common familial dysfunction. Gabriel and Ravenna, Meridia’s parents, are barely on speaking terms, and rumors abound that Gabriel has taken a mistress. Understandably, Meridia grows up eager to escape. As a teenager she falls for Daniel, whose mother, Eva, busies herself tartly abusing nearly everyone she meets. When her ire is especially stoked, usually toward Meridia, Eva can call on a swarm of bees to punctuate her passive-aggressive fits of pique. This book is largely the story of a decades-long war between Eva and Meridia, and on occasion the magical setting effectively emphasizes how corrosive the relationship is. But the uncanny touches are haphazardly deployed, and the book is largely a flat narrative about in-laws who don’t get along. Squabble follows squabble as Meridia attempts to escape Eva’s clutches; Eva strikes back; and Daniel behaves as a milquetoast, uncertain of the truth of either woman’s accusations. Those bees occasionally serve as a useful symbol of the wages of self-doubt—they tend to swarm in whenever Meridia questions Eva’s judgment—but the mists and ghosts that appear seem to serve little purpose other than to modestly enliven a simplistic, repetitious story that makes Meridia’s virtue nearly as tedious as Eva’s viciousness.
Setiawan unconvincingly inflates a tiny narrative into a supernatural epic.