Posted on March 11, 2016
9. ‘At the Mouth of the River of Bees’ by Kij Johnson
I came across At the Mouth of the River of Bees after seeing it recommended by a couple of book vloggers on YouTube and, being a huge fan of peculiar short stories, I thought it sounded intriguing. I was lucky enough to receive it as a gift (it’s an absolutely beautiful book; the cover is just stunning) and I settled down to read it pretty quickly!
The stories in this collection are mainly to do with animals. From dogs that can talk and foxes that can cast intricate magic spells, to biting cats and sickening horses, many different animals put in an appearance here, and with varying degrees of realism and magic. There are also myriad settings for these stories; Johnson isn’t afraid to set one story in the starkly real modern day or an imagined historical nomadic society, or even to branch out into sci-fi and explore other planets and worlds. Some of the stories – ‘Story Kit’, in particular – are quite experimental in their style.
With a collection as a diverse as this, it was inevitable that I would like some stories and not really like others. The titular story, ‘At the mouth of the river of bees’, wasn’t my favourite, and I wasn’t a huge fan of ‘Ponies’, but some of the stories were really breathtakingly good. Actually, I found her longer stories to be the most compelling. ‘The Cat Who Walked a Thousand Miles’ was delightful, and the penultimate story, ‘The Man Who Bridged the Mist’ was so beautiful I thought it should have ended the collection.
Female characters play a central role in many of the stories. Whether they are medicine women, lovers, survivors or mothers, they all wield some kind of power, and ‘The Empress Jingu Fishes’ and ‘Dia Chjerman’s Tale’ are probably the best examples of this. Sometimes the stories take a turn for the meta (again, ‘Story Kit’ does this in the most notable way) and many characters discuss the importance of stories, and how they form the basis of our lives, our societies, our relationships and even our selves. That’s a sentiment I will never get tired of hearing!
Overall I thought this was a very accomplished and enjoyable collection, which includes some absolute gems. For a first time reader of Kij Johnson, this is a great place to start.
“A wise author listens and learns and says at last, ‘I never knew that.'”
Have you read this book? I’d love to know your thoughts!
Want to read this? You can buy the book here.