Enter into Neth Space and you will find thoughts and reviews of books and other media that fit the general definition of speculative fiction. This includes the various genres and sub-genres of fantasy, science fiction, epic fantasy, high fantasy, hard sci-fi, soft sci-fi, new weird, magical realism, cyberpunk, urban fantasy, slipstream, horror, alternative history, SF noir, etc. Thoughts are my own, I'm certainly not a professional, just an avid reader avoiding his day job.
Monday, December 24, 2012
Review: Of Blood and Honey by Stina Leicht
If asked I
wouldn’t consider myself a big fan of urban fantasy. Sure, there are plenty of
urban fantasy books that I like, and the last 5 books I’ve read could be
considered urban fantasy, but generally speaking I’m not a huge fan of urban
fantasy as it’s generally defined at this time. However, I tend to love
‘old-school’ urban fantasy – the stuff Emma Bull, Neil Gaiman, Charles de Lint
and others. As often as not, you’ll hear that sort of urban fantasy called
mythic fiction or something similar.
Of Blood and Honey by Stina Leicht (Indiebound, Book Depository, Amazon) is urban
fantasy in the style of old-school urban fantasy that leans toward mythic
fiction. It’s also has a strong historic feel to it being set in the early
1970s Northern Ireland. Unlike much of the urban fantasy of today, Of Blood and Honey is not some mixture
of up-beat, gritty, humorous ass-kicking protagonist discovering dark supernatural
powers with cardboard characters. Of
Blood and Honey is a deep, moody, truly dark, melancholy, tragic tale.
Characters are constructed with depth, realistically flawed and realistically
heroic. There is pain and despair with fleeting hope. This is not a book to
lift up, entertain, or escape – at least in the most common thought of context.
It is the story of humanity, the cruelty of humanity, love in the face of
adversity, the horrors of war and oppressive government and resiliency when
most of us would have rolled over and died.
Of Blood and Honey takes place at the height of the Troubles in Northern Ireland
during the early 1970s. Liam is a young man who gets caught up in things beyond
his control and ends up in the IRA. He’s also the son of shape-shifting fey
right out of Irish myth, though he doesn’t know it. Throughout the book he’s a
son, husband, prisoner, wheel man for the IRA, and drug addict.
Of Blood and Honey is an unusually strong debut. The prose simply excels – at times
it’s poetic, at times it captures a feel consistent with contemporary urban
fantasy, and it always maintains the tone of Northern Ireland. The time isn’t happy,
some truly horrific things happen to Liam and any decent tale of Irish fey must
invoke melancholy and tragedy. Throughout Leicht seamlessly weaves the supernatural
threads of her tale into the real world of Northern Ireland.
Liam is the perfect
character for Leicht’s story. He’s strong – but not strong in the ‘I kick your
ass while making witty remarks’ of most urban fantasy. Perhaps strong is not
the correct word – resilient fits better. Liam is that typical older teen/young
adult looking to step out and find his place in the world – only he has no
clue. He has a girlfriend that he thinks he loves, he has a loving mother, but
an abusive stepfather. He longs to know who he is, but with his ongoing
confusion and frustration comes anger. And there isn’t much that a young Irish
Catholic man could do in 1970s Londonderry. He gets caught in the wrong place
at the wrong time, he spends time in prison, while unknown to him supernatural
forces are making his life harder and the Catholic Church is watching. Betrayal
hits him from the closest quarters and everything he thinks he knows is turned
inside out. As Liam struggles, it’s the strong arm of government that turns
someone with no political aspirations towards the IRA.
a fascinating thing to watch Liam evolve through this book. We literally see
him grow up – of course it’s aging through tragedy. At the end I can’t say Liam
is left with hope, but it is at least acceptance of a sort.
This is a book
set in violent, political time that many still alive experienced first-hand.
This book focuses on one side of the story – that of repressed Irish Catholics
in Northern Ireland. The IRA is shown in a somewhat positive light and in a
basic sense, the Loyalists and British Government are bad guys. The horror of
the times is well expressed. The violence and loss on both sides is shown. But,
this is one side of the issue. Inevitably those who experienced the other side will
have issues with this. But, on the whole this book does not glorify any
position and shows the horrific, unjust nature of the times, regardless of
Of Blood and Honey is powerfully good book – easily one of the best I’ve read in the
past several years. It strikes the right balance as a work of urban fantasy, (recent)
historical fiction and mythic fiction as it invokes an ‘old-school’ feel while
holding on to a contemporary relativity. Liecht shows the horrors of humanity alongside
its resiliency in way that we can all relate to in one way or another. The
sequel to Of Blood and Honey and next Book of the Fey and the Fallen is
available and from what I’ve heard, just as good – And Blue Skies from Pain (Indiebound, Book Depository, Amazon).