I have favorites: favorite books, favorite stories, favorite styles. M.C.A. Hogarth hits my sweet spots over and over—characters, worldbuilding, and immersiveness. One of my little secrets is that some of my favorite books of all time are the Anne of Green Gables books, Emma, and Jane Eyre. In short, these classics are novels of manners, in addition to whatever other genre a guy or gal might like to attach.
Enter Black Blossom. I first discovered this book directly after finishing Emma for the first time and enshrining it instantly on my top ten list of favorite books. I had just learned the phrase, novel of manners. And then here is this book, this web serial, called a fantasy of manners. Nothing could have stopped me from embarking on this book at that point. Fantasy and science fiction have been my bedfellows ever since I graduated from fairy tales. Black Blossom promised to combine all of my eclectic sweet spots, and it did not disappoint.
Black Blossom opens gently with characters I knew and loved from the previous book, The Aphorisms of Kherishdar. It walks us into the empire and Civilization (yes, I meant that capital letter) and sits us down to tea. It is as if the book itself greets us as tea and slowly steeps until I can see the richness of color and taste the depth of flavor. Farren, the Calligrapher, is commissioned by Civilization to succour the priest of Shame, a broken pot in an extended metaphor that lasts the entire book. This is a quiet commission, granted privately, and to be accomplished in tandem with an external assignment, as both Shame and Farren are to travel to the House of Qenain, also known as the House of Flowers, and discover and correct the taint that is there.
Immediately, we begin our education in the proper manners of this gracious, but thoroughly alien society. The ways of Servants, Correction, and relationships are opened before us. Through the graceful architecture, the intimate paintings of the Calligrapher, and the lush poetry, parables, and songs threaded through the text, we come to know and almost understand the mind of this empire, Kherishdar, and how it shapes and is shaped by its citizens. We see that this apparently immovable society, so carefully planned and maintained by Civilization through its books and education and social etiquette can and does undergo change. It is a civilization on the brink of such a change, a growth in its own understanding of love.
I have found few works so captive of grand scope and intimate detail within the same set of pages. A simple sketch in broad strokes is slowly layered into a shaded portrait and then, the depths are plumbed and we find ourselves passing through the same crucible as the characters, as they undergo complete transformation in their understanding and their brokenness. The continual theme of shards and broken pots renewed, discarded, made whole weaves through the text. This is not a story of lost lives, though it is, or lost loves, though it is, or might-have-beens, though it is—it is a story of two of the most important Servants to an entire Empire realizing the totality of how wrong they have been and walking that most painful path to healing.
It is indeed a beautiful story.