Of Blood and Honey: Mixed reviews

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsfantasy book reviews Stina Leicht The Fey and the Fallen 1. Of Blood and HoneyOf Blood and Honey by Stina Leicht

FORMAT/INFO: Of Blood and Honey is 300 pages long divided over 27 numbered chapters and an Epilogue. Narration is in the third person via Liam Kelly, his mother Kathleen, and Father Murray. Of Blood and Honey can be read as a stand-alone novel, but offers many opportunities for future sequels. February 2011 marks the North American trade paperback publication of Stina Leicht’s Of Blood and Honey via Night Shade Books. Cover art is provided by Min Yum.

ANALYSIS: Stina Leicht’s Of Blood and 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 and 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 on the civil rights struggle between Loyalists and Nationalists. 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 and Honey features fairies, fallen angels, Celtic mythology (Fianna, Púca, etc.), and a secret order of the Roman Catholic Church devoted to hunting and destroying demons. Compared to the rest of the book however, these supernatural elements only comprise a small part of 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 is disappointing at times, such as 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 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 and 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 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 and 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 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.

~Robert Thompson


fantasy and science fiction book reviewsStina Leicht’s 2011 publication Of Blood and Honey has an interesting premise and lovely language, but I couldn’t stay with it. This was the book that kept getting set aside for others — any others — and even television. I did make it to page 191 of 295, but after three months of moving it to reach for something else, I just had to give up.

Of Blood and Honey is the first book in Leicht’s THE FEY AND THE FALLEN series. It is set in Northern Ireland in the 1970s, a time of great political unrest, and the fantastical elements (the native fey folk and the fallen angels of Christianity) mirror the struggles between Catholics and Protestants. Liam, the main character, grew up in Catholic Derry. He is illegitimate, treated warily by his neighbors. Liam has always believed that his absent father was a Protestant, but his father was really a Fey.

Of Blood and Honey follows Liam from the time he is arrested at 15 and sent to a notorious government-run prison camp, through his recruitment into the IRA, and his courtship of beautiful Mary Kate, the neighbor girl who is a political firebrand. If all of this sounds more like a mainstream novel, or a political novel or even a caper novel of some kind, that is also how it reads. Liam’s magical abilities manifest, but they are not woven smoothly through the book and years seem to go by while he is acting as a driver for various IRA crimes and worrying about keeping his heritage a secret from Mary Kate.

Liam is aided by Father Murray, a priest who is both an IRA sympathizer and part of a shadowy Catholic army designed to fight the Fallen. This part of the story is quite interesting; the Church, of course, cannot tell the difference between the Fallen and the native Fey, so “kill them all and let God sort them out” is the plan. The priest is a vocal dissenter to this policy. In other ways, however, he is unbelievable as a priest — most unconvincingly, when Mary Kate suddenly gets “sick” three months into the marriage and the priest takes her to a special “clinic” for treatment. If Mary Kate, confronted with her husband’s fey abilities, has chosen to have an abortion, that is believable for her character and even makes her a morally complex character. I cannot believe that a priest would help her with that for any reason, however, even if he knew the child would be one-quarter Fey.

Mary Kate is beautiful, loyal and intelligent. She is going to college to earn a law degree so she can fight political injustice legally. Clearly Liam can’t develop as a dark fantasy hero with that kind of a wife at his side. I speculated early on that a specific Very Bad Thing would happen to Mary Kate and that’s exactly what did happen.

The predictability of the plot and the implausibility of the priest are issues, but this is such an original idea that those should have been minor obstacles. Ultimately, Leicht’s pacing is a more serious problem. Her writing is thoughtful and beautiful, but the paragraphs amble along, all about the same length, with sentences about the same size and shape, whether the scene is a description of a graveyard, a family dinner, a heist or a car race. Even Liam’s discovery of the body of a family member unreels in stately, even paragraphs with no sense of increasing urgency. This could work in a Dickens, or even a Joyce, pastiche, but it didn’t work here. Nothing pulled me forward in this book.

This is meant to be the origin story of the partnership of Liam and Father Murray, and Leicht’s research of 1970s Ireland is superb. I think Leicht would do beautifully with short fiction or a mainstream novel, but as a fantasy novel, this just didn’t engage me.

~Marion Deeds


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ROBERT THOMPSON (on FanLit's staff July 2009 — October 2011) is the creator and former editor of Fantasy Book Critic, a website dedicated to the promotion of speculative fiction. Before FBC, he worked in the music industry editing Kings of A&R and as an A&R scout for Warner Bros. Besides reading and music, Robert also loves video games, football, and art. He lives in the state of Washington with his wife Annie and their children Zane and Kayla. Robert retired from FanLit in October 2011 after more than 2 years of service. He doesn't do much reviewing anymore, but he still does a little work for us behind the scenes.

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MARION DEEDS, with us since March 2011, is retired from a 35-year career with county government, where she met enough interesting characters and heard enough zany stories to inspire at least two trilogies’ worth of fantasy fiction. Currently she spends part of her time working at a local used bookstore. She is an aspiring writer herself and, in the 1990s, had short fiction published in small magazines like Night Terrors, Aberrations, and in the cross-genre anthology The Magic Within. On her blog Deeds & Words, she reviews many types of books and follows developments in food policy and other topics.

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2 comments

  1. Wow! This is winding up on “best of 2012” lists for others, so this review surprises me — and makes me all the more eager to read both these books, paradoxically enough. So much for you reading the book so that I don’t have to, eh?

  2. She is a lovely writer, but ultimately, it was one of those books that was just too easy to put down.

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