Of Blood and Honey managed to win me over despite relying far too much one of the literary tricks that drives me batty every single time I see it. That's saying something. But still, it was at times an aggravating read. There are so many things that are good here, and then so many things that I want to be just that little bit better to make this awesome. The book got the author a nomination for the Campbell Award, so this is obviously very early in her career. I have high hopes for her future books, because she's got really unique ideas and I want to read more of them. Just a little less of a couple of things.
I just tagged this review as urban fantasy, which is both true and false. It's certainly urban fantasy unlike I've read before, but it's set in real cities in Ireland during the Troubles. That's one of those ideas that makes me wonder why no one had ever thought of doing it before - it makes so much sense! Weaving a fantasy story about the Fae, in Ireland, no less, in with a take on real history of the area - this is brilliant. It's a great idea. And for the most part, it's executed well.
Liam, as a young Irish man, is automatically under suspicion. That's probably why he is arrested and sent to prisons and internment camps twice before his 21st birthday. Wrong place at the wrong time, Liam is not particularly political, although the woman he is in love with is fiercely political. It's probably not because Liam is not like other young men. There's something about the eyes.
Of course, that could be because his father is Bran, a figure of Irish myth and legend. And inside his head, a beast seems to be clamouring to be let out.
The book tells Liam's story through the camps, through marriage, through his involvement with the IRA. And I really enjoyed the inventiveness of this narrative - the story mostly made me so happy. As did the idea of having a secret Catholic order dedicated to tracking down and disposing of the supernatural, and the ways they'd formulated their thoughts about the supernatural, and how one member was coming to realize that they might have been utterly, terribly, wrong.
What I'm trying to say is that I love the ideas in these books. These are things I'd never thought of, yet made me thrilled to read. Which is not to say this is a thrilling read. Like anything that is about the Troubles, there is brutality here. And violence. And horrific deeds.
So, here's what I don't like: to some degree, the focus on Liam at the expense of the other characters. This is because the other characters are so interesting, so in some ways it's a good problem to have. The real issue is that some emotional conflicts get undercut by not letting us see them until it's far too late, and they have to be explained by someone else in a single line of dialogue.
Take Mary-Kate, Liam's love and later wife. She is a great character, complex, interesting, and I wanted more of her. Partly because I liked the character so much, I wanted to know things from her perspective. This becomes a huge problem as she deals with something that is an emotional crux of the novel entirely off-screen. There are hints, but for those later moments to have the heft they need to, we need to know about the anguish she's going through first-hand. Not years later, third-hard.
The other reason is bigger, and it's part of why the above was so irritating. It's the one thing I would change about the novel if I could, because I HATE IT when authors do this. It's when no one tells the main character anything. When most of the issues of your novel are literally because people are withholding information, it gets under my skin in ways that make me grouchy and frustrated. That's very false drama, so just tell the poor fucking guy what the hell is going on, and THEN DEAL WITH THE FALLOUT. Because there is fallout to be had. And that fallout is undercut because no one is fucking telling Liam a thing, and this happens for most of 300 pages, and aarrrggghhh!
His mother doesn't tell him anything and his wife doesn't tell him anything and his priest doesn't tell him anything and his father doesn't tell him anything and it is a little ridiculous. I hate it when that's where the drama comes from, and it's so unnecessary here. If Liam had known about his ancestry earlier, i think it would have caused more tension, not less.
So, to sum up, there is great potential here. As long as future characters don't keep withholding information long after it makes sense that they should have shared it.