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Friday, January 21, 2011

“Of Blood & Honey” by Stina Leicht (Reviewed by Robert Thompson)

Official Stina Leicht Website
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AUTHOR INFORMATION: Stina Leicht is a fantasy author based out of central Texas. Of Blood & Honey is her first novel.

PLOT SUMMARY: Liam Kelly never knew who his real father was and assumed he was dead. But then Liam and his family are pulled into a centuries old war between supernatural forces that seems to mirror the political divisions in Northern Ireland during the 1970s.

Now, only the direct intervention of Liam's father and a secret Catholic order dedicated to fighting "The Fallen" can save Liam from the mundane and supernatural forces around him . . . and from the darkness that lurks within...

FORMAT/INFO: Of Blood & Honey is 300 pages long divided over twenty-seven numbered chapters and an Epilogue. Narration is in the third person via Liam Kelly, his mother Kathleen, and Father Murray. Of Blood & Honey can be read as a standalone novel, but offers many opportunities for future sequels. February 2011 marks the North American Trade Paperback publication of Stina Leicht’s Of Blood & Honey via Night Shade Books. Cover art is provided by Min Yum.

ANALYSIS: Stina Leicht’s Of Blood & Honey is a captivating debut that seamlessly blends together historical drama with supernatural horror and dark fantasy, bringing to mind the excellent Danilov Quintet by Jasper Kent.

Like the Kent novels, Of Blood & Honey is rich with historical detail with actual places and events woven into the narrative. In this case, the setting is Northern Ireland between the years 1971 and 1977, with the backdrop centered around the civil rights struggle between Loyalists and Nationalists. To be honest, I’m not very familiar with Irish history, but the manner in which Stina Leicht portrays Northern Ireland during this tumultuous period—including conditions in the Long Kesh internment camp, the 1972 Bloody Sunday massacre, and serving as a volunteer in the Irish Republican Army (IRA)—feels undeniably authentic, and is one of the obvious highlights of the book.

As far as the novel’s supernatural elements, Of Blood & Honey features fairies, fallen angels, Celtic mythology (Fianna, Púca, etc.), and a secret order of the Roman Catholic Church devoted to hunting & destroying demons. Compared to the rest of the book however, these supernatural elements only comprise a small part of Stina Leicht’s debut, with a heavy emphasis placed on the more realistic matters in the novel like the Loyalist/Nationalist conflict.

This disparity is most evident with the story, which revolves mainly around the personal and political drama of Liam Kelly’s life, including serving time in Long Kesh and Malone Prison to marrying his true love in Mary Kate to working as a wheelman for the IRA. Traces of the supernatural are evident throughout the novel—including appearances by Liam’s Púca father Bran, the war between the Fey and the Fallen, and Liam’s shape-shifting abilities—but these elements and subplots involving the Milites Dei, factions among the Fey, and the Redcap do not possess nearly the same level of detail and substance enjoyed by the novel’s historical setting or Liam’s drama.

Admittedly, the noticeable disparity between the novel’s realistic and supernatural elements was disappointing at times, like when the story drags during the middle of the book or the Redcap’s endgame, which lacked execution. Fortunately, these shortcomings are easy to forgive in light of how compelling the rest of Stina Leicht’s debut is, not just the novel’s vivid historical setting, but also the powerful, gut-wrenching drama Liam Kelly has to deal with, which includes everything from lost love, father issues and political beliefs to darker themes like rape, abortion, drug addiction, revenge, and fighting with the monster inside him for control:

You don’t deserve to live. You’re weak. Nothing. Threaten me, will you? I’ll bury you so far, so deep in the dark you’ll fade into memory. Then I’ll see to them. I’ll do for them all. And I’ll be forever free of you.

Of course, what makes Of Blood & Honey so compelling is Stina Leicht’s writing. Specifically, the obvious amount of time and research that was spent making the novel’s historical setting as authentic as possible; sympathetic—and tragic—characters that radiate with sincerity; believable dialogue and banter; and emotionally driven storytelling.

CONCLUSION: While I wish Stina Leicht had dedicated the same amount of time, research and attention to detail to the supernatural elements in Of Blood & Honey as she did the historical setting and the dramatic events in Liam’s life, it’s hard to complain. Sure, the book can be difficult to read at times because of the horrific ordeals that Liam has to endure, but that’s part of the novel’s charm. A fearlessness to explore the darker side of humanity. Combine that with Stina Leicht’s impressive writing, a story and characters that bleed with emotion, and history & politics that are still relevant today, and what you have is a dazzling debut that will hopefully receive the attention and praise that it deserves...


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Robert said...

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