The novel begins in the powder keg that was 1971 Derry in Northern Ireland and follows Liam, an ill-fated young man full of rage – and questions about his mysterious father, whom he has never met. His mother had Liam when she was young and unmarried – rumors are the man was a protestant – but now she is married with kids of her own and Liam is not exactly loved by his stepfather.
The novel's very first sentences are indicative of the story's tone:
"Got one of the yabbos, sir!"
Liam lay on the cracked pavement with a British soldier's boot planted in the center of his back, struggling against the pain to breathe... The BA soldier leaned closer. Liam could feel his breath on his neck and itched with the need to escape the cold gun barrel pressed to the back of his skull."
All Liam wants to do is find a place where he belongs – and that is in the arms of his childhood love Mary Kate Gallagher. But his plans of marriage and raising his own family in peace are derailed when he becomes entangled in the turmoil surrounding the Loyalist/Nationalist conflict. Imprisoned for three months in the nightmarish Long Kesh internment camp for allegedly throwing a rock at a British Army soldier, young Liam is ruthlessly brutalized by prisoners and guards alike. And when he is eventually freed, he and Mary Kate soon become victims in Bloody Sunday, a massacre in which numerous protesters and bystanders were killed by British soldiers. Liam spends another three years in prison and – tired of being victimized again and again –he joins the Irish Republican Army (IRA) in Belfast when he is released. Now married to Mary Kate and desperately trying to maneuver his way through an existential minefield that is his everyday life, his perilous life becomes even more dangerous when she tells him that she is pregnant with his child…
And that’s just one layer of this deceptively deep storyline. As Liam tries to survive the bloody political and religious upheaval in 1970s Northern Ireland, he also finds himself in the midst of another war – this one a centuries old battle between the fey, fallen angels and the Church.
His father, it turns out, is Bran, a shape-shifting púca who just may be the legendary nephew of Fionn mac Cumhail, the mythical leader of the Fianna. The Good Folk’s war with the Fallen has taken a “bad turn” and a creature called a Redcap (“his eyes glinted red, and his teeth had been filed to sharp points…”) has personally sworn to destroy Bran and every single member of his family. And that means Liam, his mother, and his unborn child…
Of Blood and Honey is fully immersive on so many levels – Steicht’s vivid description of 1970s Ireland is meticulous and authentic, even down to the cut of clothes and music on the transistor radio (like Paul McCartney and Wing’s “Mull of Kintyre”). But then seamlessly intertwined with the intense historical fiction is a narrative steeped in the supernatural and Irish myth. And in the epicenter of it all is Liam, a proverbial pawn in his own life who must decide whether to keep his inner monster within himself or unleash his “red rage” onto the oh-so-deserving world around him…
Vicious, heart wrenching, and unexpectedly touching, this story of love and war and finding one’s way through a fallen world filled with hate and prejudice and ignorance is a haunting gem of a novel that should be read by anyone and everyone who enjoys Celtic myth-powered fantasy and/or dark fantasy.
Bravo, Stina Leicht, bravo!
Paul Goat Allen has been a full-time book reviewer specializing in genre fiction for almost the last two decades and has written more than 6,000 reviews for companies like Publishers Weekly, The Chicago Tribune, and BarnesandNoble.com. In his free time, he reads.