Of Blood And Honey by Stina Leicht
Posted April 24, 2012on:
published in Feb/March 2012 by Nightshade Books
where I got it: the library
Against the backdrop of The Troubles of Northern Ireland in the 1970s, Liam Kelly just wants to live his life. He’s a teenager at the beginning of the book, and like all teenagers, he finds trouble. In casual support of the local riots, he’s arrested. I was addicted to this book on page 2, and less than 30 pages in I was directly invested in Liam Kelly’s future. In and out of internment camps, and hoping to return to his betrothed, Liam trust that his Confessor, Father Murray, will help plead his case.
Through little fault of his own, Liam gets a reputation during his time in the camps. His friends at home always knew he was a little off, always knew he had a temper. But now, people who hurt him, people who threaten his safety or the safety of his family are later found dead and mutilated. Liam didn’t hurt them, but somebody did. And every day, Liam gets closer to turning into that something.
The word that kept coming to mind while I was reading Of Blood and Honey was “sharp”. Leicht’s prose style is sharp, and I mean in that in the most basic dictionary definition – sharp like a razor. Her words cut and punch and bite at the most vulnerable parts of your body. And I couldn’t stop reading, I couldn’t stop letting these stabbity little sentences have their way with me.
If only his mother had told him more about his father. If only Father Murray would let Liam in on a few Church secrets. Liam’s father is a Fey creature, and Father Murray has been led to believe all Fey (and half-Fey) are fallen creatures and should be destroyed. that wasn’t anything close to a spoiler, by the way.
I know some of you are thinking uughh, another Celtic mythos/urban fantasy? and that overused trope of the religious secret society? Aren’t there already like a thousand of these? Yes. there are. like a thousand of them. But I guarantee there isn’t one anything like Of Blood and Honey.
With spot on pacing, velvety soft subtleties and brilliantly developed characters, Stina Leicht has breathed new life into a story many of us think we know the ending to. Leicht is pulling an interesting trick here, and she’s pulling it off perfectly – she’s telling a story by not telling the story. The narrative give special attention to everything isn’t said. And by overtly not saying things, by allowing Liam to stay naive perhaps a little too long, by bevelling out the negative spaces, the attention of the reader is forced in certain directions. That’s a really, really good thing, even if my artistic mixed metaphor didn’t make any sense. To continue the artistic metaphors, it reminds a little of a renaissance paintings where if you follow the eyes of everyone in the painting, your eye is drawn towards the corner, where the tiny, glowing gem of the painting waits patiently for you to discover it. the people in the painting are pointing with their eyes to what’s important, even if their arms are reaching towards something else. This book is a little like that, and again, it’s a good thing.
How good was this book? if Robin Hobb and Charles deLint teamed up to write a masterpiece, they’d come up with something like Of Blood and Honey. It has the realistic feeling urban fantasy elements of a deLint (and he did plenty of Irish and Celtic mythology retellings too), and the painful character deconstruction we’ve seen Fitz Chivalry and Nevarre go through.The closer Liam gets to the truth, the more his loved ones are put in danger. If he can run from what he is, no one else will have to die. But if he runs from what he is, far more people will die.
A word of warning,even though Liam is a teenager at the beginning of the book, this is most definitely a book for grown ups. There is violence, and scenes that are difficult to read. There is language, and sex, and more violence. Leicht doesn’t soften any of it, and none of it is there for shock value. It’s there because it needs to be, it’s there because it shouldn’t be softened. Fear and terror make far better weapons than guns, and in the war that’s brewing between The Fey, The Fallen, and a secret religious group, guns will be of no help. It doesn’t matter what kind of war you are fighting, fear and terror will always destroy in a far more insidious fashion.
In closing, where has Stina Leicht been all my life? I don’t believe there is anything I can say to do this book justice except to strongly recommend that you find it, read it, and then read anything by Stina Leicht that you can get your hands on. The sequel to Of Blood and Honey, entitled Of Blue Skies and Pain, is available now, and she also has a flash fiction piece in the Vandermeer edited anthology Last Drink Bird Head.