Author: Alan Salt
Originally Self-Published in 2020
Review by Miriam Atkinson
People will do anything to get their hands on the famous Pawkett honey however disaster strikes when the latest batch is poisoned causing all who consume the honey to suffer a terrible and unfortunate fate. One year later The Baker’s Guild hires four strangers to investigate the contamination of the previous year’s batch of honey and ensure such a thing does not happen again.
The Tainted Hive is a high fantasy novel created by author Alan Salt. During the story we follow the journey of four protagonists. Carmen is a forest elf; her deep connection with nature and the world around her makes her a keen guide. Nil is a human solider and former guard of the town of Knock; she protects the group. Rub is a dwarf cleric loyal to the church. It is their job to maintain order, protocol, and balance on the mission. The final member is Paja, a Trick – a highly intelligent Halfling-like creature whose magic and silver tongue makes him an ideal negotiator.
The four characters all have distinctive personalities which often leave them at odds with one another. As a reader it was rewarding to go on the journey with them and watch as they slowly learnt to work together and trust one another. This change happened gradually as the story progressed and as a result the bonds the characters (in some cases reluctantly) formed felt very natural and believable.
A key storytelling component used in The Tainted Hive is flashbacks. The story is split between the present day and moments in the past which show why our four characters all ended up volunteering for the mission. Every chapter typically contains one or two flashbacks within them and these are clearly marked on the page. While a narrative that jumps around in time and between different character’s perspectives won’t appeal to everyone, I personally found them entertaining. The flashbacks and the extra information they revealed kept the story moving along at a good pace. The combination of the past and present meant that there was always something happening so the story never felt as though it was slowing down.
My favourite characters are Carmen and Nil. I was always excited when I reached one of their flashback scenes. I believe that both of their stories were the most successful in expanding the wider world in which The Tainted Hive is set. Carmen’s flashbacks provided magic and mystery as the reader discovered more about her childhood in the Cloud Forest. With most of the story set in a rural town, Nil’s flashbacks offered both a contrast and a tough but engaging look at what can be like for the average person living a powerful, hierarchal city.
The majority of the present day scenes (and later several flashbacks) are set in the rural town of Pawkett. With this location Salt has done a wonderful job of blending fantasy with everyday life. Pawkett features humans, elves and dwarves living together side by side who tend the hives of fuzzy kitten sized bumblebees (yes you read that right!) and yet, because of the detail Salt includes when describing the town and its inhabitants, Pawkett feels like a real place that you could and would want to visit. It is just one example of the careful planning that must have gone into building the different parts of this world.
Although it did take me a couple of chapters to properly get into the story and understand this new fantasy world and its characters, I quickly realised that I wouldn’t be satisfied until I finished The Tainted Hive and found out the answers to all of the secrets and mysteries that we are teased with throughout the story. The Tainted Hive is the first book in a planned series called The Cobblestone Druid. I am looking forward to seeing what adventures or perhaps misadventures Carmen, Nil, Rub and Paja get up to in book two.
The images featured in this review have been used by kind permission of Alan Salt. For more information about the author, check out Alan’s website.
‘The Tainted Hive’ was published on Reedsy Discovery in April 2021. The original version of my review is available on Discovery’s website.
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