I don’t usually read urban fantasy, especially not the trashy, fallen angel type (obviously, “trashy” is my own opinion — a wrong one at that, as this review will prove). So even though I heard good things about Stina Leicht’s Of Blood and Honey, I vowed never to read it. Of course, I did read it in the end… and I blame Leicht for that. She abused a Twitter conversation in order to convince me. “It has car chases,” she promised. Considering no book from Night Shade Books has ever let me down (they are quickly turning into my favorite publisher; you should check them out, if you haven’t already!) I decided to buy Leicht’s debut novel. It’s urban fantasy with fallen angels, and I loved it… Where did I go wrong?
Cars, races and characters
As promised, there were car chases. In fact, there was even a rally race. The way these scenes are written is exhilarating. I’m a fan of all things motor racing, and Leicht perfectly captures everything I love about the sport. I hear she even rally raced as part of her research… Isn’t she cool?
Don’t let the cars and the racing mislead you, though. This isn’t a novelization of The Fast and the Furious. Of Blood and Honey focuses on its characters — their love, their struggles, their pain, and their tragedy. Against the backdrop of the conflicts between Catholics and Protestants in 1970s’ Ireland, we follow Liam, a regular Catholic boy, as he falls in love, gets married, and joins the IRA. What he doesn’t know, however, is that he isn’t so regular after all. While the world thinks his father was a Protestant Marine, Liam is actually the son of a Fey soldier, a shape shifter. And these Fey — a group of faeries and the original inhabitants of Ireland — are fighting an ancient war against fallen angels.
Of Blood and Honey explores the struggles of a boy who is half man, half something else, as he is forced to deal with the monster inside himself. This tragic tale unfolds in a very believable way. Leicht’s characters might even be better than her rally races and car chases. Often in fantasy, characters seem to get over life changing revelations rather easily. That isn’t the case for Liam, and the result is a story that had me going through the pages as fast as I could, on the edge of my seat. It isn’t that a lot happens plot-wise, especially not in the first half of the book, but Leicht’s characters are so well-constructed, so believable and realistic, that I just had to know what would happen next. I fell in love with Mary Kate, Liam’s love interest, when he did; I hated the British soldiers when Liam did; I felt betrayed when Liam was betrayed.
I don’t like fallen angels, but I love roller coasters
Yet, when it felt like the tragedy in Liam’s life couldn’t be more unbearable, and when the story became so overwhelming and exciting that I wanted to take a break but couldn’t bring myself to put the book down, Of Blood and Honey took a turn like a roller coaster ride, events unfolding one after another at breakneck speed.
All of this takes place against a very well-researched historical background. I have never been very interested in the British/Irish conflicts of the seventies, but after finishing Of Blood and Honey, I found myself spending an hour on Wikipedia, reading up on the events portrayed in the story. Leicht has created a very edgy and dark atmosphere, exactly how I imagine Ireland must have been at the time. In a way, this very atmosphere feels like a character in the book. There are so many British and Protestant institutions and soldiers, they are bound to become a big blur to a reader — they did to me, anyway — yet, because of the darkness of this version of Ireland, they are an entity, a nemesis. At every turn, a BA (British Army soldier) tends to show up, and no character in Of Blood and Honey is safe at any time.
Why should you read this book?
This alternate history/urban fantasy novel is for every fan of the fantasy genre, really. Just look at me — I usually don’t like this sort of book, and I loved it. Leicht has a way with words and characters that makes every single one of the book’s nearly three hundred pages interesting. The pacing and atmosphere of Of Blood and Honey are truly phenomenal, making it a contender for 2011’s best debut.