Liam never knew who his father was. The town of Derry had always assumed that he was the bastard of a protestant – his mother never spoke of him, and Liam assumed he was dead. But when the war between the fallen and the fey began to heat up, Liam and his family are pulled into a conflict that they didn’t know existed. A centuries old conflict between supernatural forces seems to mirror the political divisions in 1970’s era Ireland, and Liam is thrown headlong into both conflicts! Only the direct intervention of Liam’s real father, and a secret catholic order dedicated to fighting “The Fallen” can save Liam… from the mundane and supernatural forces around him, and from the darkness that lurks within him.
This seems to be my year for reading brutal books. I definitely did not expect the book to open with Liam being threatened with a gun to his head, getting violently arrested just for watching a protest, and then continuing straight on with his internment in the Kesh where he experiences enough brutality to last a lifetime. And all that occurs in the first couple chapters. The level of intensity, fear, and violence remain sky-high throughout the course of the book, making it an emotional roller coaster. If I had known even a little bit about what exactly occurred in Northern Ireland during the Troubles, I probably would have been less surprised, but that wasn’t the case. And it was fascinating (both in the historical sense and in the “Wow, this is terrifying” sense).
In terms of historical events, the details about life in Northern Ireland, the slang, and the nuances of all the various sides, factions, and beliefs, the author did an incredible job. She had to have done a shit-ton of research and it would have had to be broad and thorough in scope. I would never have guessed that she’s never even visited Ireland, let alone lived or grew up there, but apparently, that’s all true. In terms of setting up the story, there are no info-dumps. Instead, the author throws you into the scene and trusts you’ll keep up for the ride. There were a lot of different military, police, and political factions and acronyms to keep straight, but after fifty pages or so, I started getting the hang of it. In the end, I appreciated the fact that nothing was dumbed down or spoon-fed to the reader – it showed a lot of respect for the actual history and the people involved.
This is especially the case with Liam. That boy – and later the man – never got a break, not even once. Instead he’s always getting beaten up or arrested or tortured or losing his loved ones, to the point that it’s no wonder his powers almost overwhelm him, he’s living in a world of rage and despair. The author reminded me a lot of George R. R. Martin – it was clear she loved her characters, but she used them and she used them hard. Which is good, it just meant I got my heart broken a lot. However, with regards to Liam coming into his power, it was really frustrating. I understood why his mom Kathleen never told Liam about his father or his origins, even though it was obvious that by doing that she was condemning him to a world of hurt and tragedy. But that’s just it! So much could have been prevented; so many people wouldn’t have died if Kathleen had just told him his father was Fey. I understood where she was coming from because her husband’s a douche, but she was a pretty shitty parent when it came to Liam.
I just realized, it’s probably a little sad that this is the first book I’ve read where Irish myths and creatures are part of a story set in a modern-period Ireland, as opposed to the U.S. or pre-Christian Ireland. I thought it was a cool idea incorporating those myths and creatures not just in a normal, every-day living situation, but in a time filled with chaos and destruction and where the future looks grim more often than it does hopeful. Not only have the Fair Folk always been there, they’ve always had an effect on human events, unbeknownst to the humans in question. There were some times I felt that the book felt more like a historical novel, particularly around the second half, because the speculative elements would drop out or their presence would barely be visible, but I still enjoyed reading those parts, so it was all good.
On the minus side, multiple aspects of the supernatural world and conflict are left ambiguous or unexplained all together. The Fae’s war with the Fallen has a long, complicated history, but it’s mostly glossed over as to what the current conflict is and how that juxtaposes with the conflict occurring in Northern Ireland. The Red Cap is a danger that’s out to get Liam and Kathleen, but it’s never explained what a Red Cap actually is. And when the Red Cap finally reveals his history, he’s accused of lying about it, but that’s never proven or disproven. Similarly, the Catholic Church has a long history of killing the creatures they believe to be the Fallen, but how that function of the Church and the methods they used to kill the Fallen developed are continually pushed to the side. In short, there’s definitely a lot of set-up about what’s going on in the non-human world, a lot that’s hinted at, but little is revealed at the end, which leads me to believe there’ll be a sequel (and if there isn’t, there should be). EDIT: There is a sequel.
This book has been labeled “urban fantasy” by a lot of people, and it makes me happy. It doesn’t follow the mold of most other urban fantasy book – modern-day, set in the U.S., loner protagonist who’s a badass. But none of that matters because it’s still urban fantasy. My main complaint with the sub-genre isn’t the tropes and clichés that are used, but that they’re used to the point that people think a book can’t be urban fantasy without them, which is an incredibly limiting thing to believe and enforce. This book helps to break that belief down and push the boundaries. It says that an urban fantasy can mean anything you want it to, so long as there are fantastical elements and the story takes place in an urban setting.
In the end, I’m really glad I read this book, and I hope it gets a wide readership. It can be read simultaneously as urban fantasy and historical fiction. This book won’t make you happy and will, in all likelihood, make you want to cry, but when you’ve finished it, you’ll be glad that you decided to read it.
Disclosure – bought