The sisters Hester, Melis and Hope try to survive together on their farm after their father’s death. When Hester’s little son, Rafe, turns nine, his father comes to claim him. Rafe’s father is none other than George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham. Hester decides there’s no other option than to run away and they leave for a hidden cottage in the woods. Melis and Hope join their sister but they also have their own secrets.
Fremantle is perhaps my favourite author. After several novels set in Tudor England, she wrote the psychological thriller The poison bed set at the Stuart court. The honey and the sting is set in the same time period, but this time the link to true events is minimal. George Villiers off course really existed, but the sisters are entirely fictional.
The story is told alternately from Hester, Hope and Felton. The book has some kind of dark edge. Melis has visions of the future and the house they end up in seems haunted, as in the better gothic novel. But this book did something weird with me. It made me feel uncomfortable at times. In the end, everything falls together nicely and I think this is quite a good story. But somewhere I had hoped for much more with Fremantle. I didn’t love the book as I did with all her other work.
I preferred reading from Hester’s point of view because she’s the eldest sister and I could identify with her. She is the caring one, the mother who wants to fight for her child and who blames herself for things that happened in the past (although it wasn’t her fault).
All three sisters are an outcast in different ways. And not only because they are women. Hester is the unwed mother, Melis’ gift is reminiscent of witchcraft and Hope has a different skin colour. It are these kinds of women that Fremantle was keen to put at the centre for once, and I certainly understand that choice.
So yes, the honey and the sting is well written, although with some predictable plot lines. This book did not appeal to me as much as her previous work. I read that her next book will be about the painter Artemisia and am looking forward to reading it. The Queen’s Gambit, my favourite Fremantle novel, is apparently being made into a movie. So still a lot of Fremantle to look forward to. I’m happy about that.
What’s your favourite novel set during the Stuart period?