Saturday, February 02, 2013

Review: "Of Blood and Honey" by Stina Leicht

I’ve had pretty good luck with debut novels of late, but I leave Stina Leicht’s “Of Blood and Honey” ($14.99, Night Shade Books) with mixed feelings.

The story focuses on Liam Kelly, a young man growing up in the turmoil of the 1970s in Ireland. Liam is a Puca, a shapeshifter of Irish legend, only he doesn’t know it. He’s grown up with a stepfather and other members of his family who don’t really like him. He’s been told his father was Protestant, while is family is devoutly Catholic, and he assumes that’s the reason. Other than his mother, the only two people who really seem to care about Liam are a local priest, Father Murray, and a neighborhood girl named Mary Kate. Both, though, will end up getting him in trouble.

Father Murray carries secrets that are important to Liam’s very survival. Mary Kate comes from a staunchly Republican family and is a regular at demonstrations and protests. At these demonstrations, Liam is arrested by British troops and imprisoned without trial twice for no greater crime than being in the wrong place at the wrong time. During his first stint in prison, he discovers that there’s something lurking within him that’s not quite human. During the second, his non-political outlook on life changes and he volunteers for the IRA.

When he gets out, the IRA gets him a job as a cab driver in Belfast, where Mary Kate is going to university. The two get married with a plan to live as happily as possible in the troubled times. Of course, he has other duties with the organization, and both the violence of the times and the darkness that lurks within Liam are about to throw him into two very different wars.

On the one hand, I liked Leicht’s setting of this book against the troubles in Ireland. It seems a natural setting for an urban fantasy dealing with Irish legends and mythology, and I don’t think I’ve seen it before. On the other, I think, at least in the early going, the book gets too wrapped up in the political turmoil. At times, “Of Blood and Honey” reads more like a historical fiction than a fantasy. There’s a lot of gritty detail about the violence and chaos of the time and not much wonder. Granted, the historical story is a good one and could probably be made to work on its own without the fantasy element. It’s just that I, personally, was a lot more interested in Liam’s heritage and the beast lurking within him.

The last third or so of the book veers away from the political problems and dives headlong into the fantastic side of the story, and I found that the most compelling section of the book.  Obviously, people who have an interest in Irish history will probably disagree with me, and I can see their point of view, as well, but the ending left me much more satisfied than the early part of the book.

It’s only fair that I mention that “Of Blood and Honey” is largely a setup book for what is to come in the series, and I expect that the following volumes will be more to my liking with a heavier focus on the supernatural elements. This is a very well written debut novel, and I plan to dive into the sequel “And Blue Skies from Pain” very soon. 

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