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.
It’s really 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 positions.
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).


redhead said...

Of Blood and Honey was an absolutely incredible read for me. Before I finished it i had the 2nd book on order.

Leicht is an amazing writer, I couldn't put either of these books down.

I haven't been much impressed with the newer style of UF that borders on paranormal romance, but this,this is the kind of UF I could read for the rest of my life!

runescape accounts for sale said...

Looking forward to this book.


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