Feb. 7th, 2012

Leicht's novel is very definitely urban fantasy, but it isn't urban fantasy as it is traditionally understood. Not only is Of Blood and Honey set against the background of Northern Ireland in the early 1970s, inherently a turbulent, violent setting (one of the most famous British atrocities in the history of the Troubles, Bloody Sunday, is written into this novel); but the portrayal of the Fae (and the Fallen), the use of viscera and violence, and the pretty relentless male focus of the novel are not quite in the standard mould...

The plot of Of Blood and Honey is an intermingling of two conflicts; first, the surface conflict of the Troubles, with Liam, our protagonist (I hesitate, for a number of reasons, to call him a hero) caught up in them first through incarceration in Long Kesh and then on Bloody Sunday arrested again.  This draws him into the IRA, although the plot only touches lightly on his actions in the IRA; this is rather more a way to lead into the plot of Liam's father Bran, and the war between Fae and Fallen that is being played out underlying the Troubles, with the Catholic Church playing a problematic role in the conflict as well.  It's a slowly told plot, jerkily transitioning in ways that aren't always clear (whilst Leicht dwells on certain sections with little happening for extended times, for instance the prison scenes and Liam's early IRA involvement, other bits are brushed over and referred back to in passing later, such as his IRA training), and it dwells on the violent scenes and moments for too long (given that this is a novel about violence and horror, this is perhaps intentional; but the timing feels very wrong when rapid, violent scenes are given so much space whilst we skip over so much).  It also requires a lot of wilful stupidity by a number of characters, to the point of straining credibility.

The characterisation is also weak.  The only developed character is Liam, so we'll cover the other main figures rapidly.  Most central is Father Murray; a Catholic priest, he's very simply and one-dimensionally portrayed, in no small part as simply a kindly old man who has a darker side - or rather, who is intended to have a darker side without ever actually showing it.  Mary Kate is similarly basic; her portrayal is as a passive, loyal female without any real personal agency (any agency she has is only ever off-screen, which is problematic in its lack of immediacy) and she is eventually fridged. Liam is the best character, and even he is intensely passive; much of the novel is spent watching things happen to him, and Of Blood and Honey as a result has a real problem with its drive and requires a lot of credit on the part of the reader.  He's also intensely obtuse - that is, the reader is given a lot of hints and clues and is very able to put them together, and Liam, with the same information, is always way behind us, which makes him seem rather... boring as someone to follow.  In the end, the enigmas of the secondary characters are far more interesting than any of our primary cast, simply because we don't see enough of them to realise how uninteresting they are.

In the end, Of Blood and Honey has great potential, but squanders it; there is some very visceral and powerful writing on display, but that isn't backed up with characters or a plot which the reader is invested in, and Leicht uses real events and gruesome horror as a cheap way to manipulate the reader.  The writing style is choppy and poor, and the unsubtle plot and politics - British bad, Catholic Church too dogmatic, Liam's eventual moment of glory (although even that is qualified and deeply passive in reality) - really do intrude for at least this (British) reader in such a way that it harms the novel as a work of fiction, making it more of a polemic.

And this doesn't seem to be what Leicht is after; on the terms the novel is presented in, Of Blood and Honey fails dramatically, since as fiction it doesn't make the reader want to keep reading, and as argument it falls down because we don't care enough about anyone to care what happens to them (except when it's so violent as to be nothing more than cheap, obviously-fridgey manipulation...).  I cannot help but damn this book; certainly, Of Blood and Honey isn't worth your money...


Squeaking of the GrimSqueaker....

February 2012

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