If an award for the most hard luck case character in fiction existed, then I would nominate William Kelly of Stina Leicht’s Of Blood and Honey. Liam, as he is more commonly known, is the half-fey son of Kathleen Kelly and a fey creature named Bran. When younger, Kathleen’s relationship with Bran resulted in the birth of Liam. Bran, who is often coming and going on important fey business of one kind or another, is entirely absent during Liam’s upbringing, and so Liam never knows or even suspects he is anything other than human until his fey origins begin to manifest themselves soon after he is arrested and falsely imprisoned. This false imprisonment is the beginning of a long period of bad luck for Liam. Too often does he find himself at the wrong place and time, or simply making bad decisions, to the point where he is dodging trouble more often than not. Even when he’s seemingly out of trouble, it finds him again anyway, and then he’s right back in prison or down on his luck in some other way. Now this kind of hard luck can create a sympathetic character that a reader will readily get behind if it’s done right. But the problem with Liam is that he stumbles into trouble time after time because of his own actions. Further, even as it becomes painfully obvious to everyone around him that he’s somehow different, Liam still doesn’t do anything to try to get to the bottom of what is happening to him. It’s maddening and I almost lowered my rating simply for this reason.
Granted, Liam isn’t living in the best place and time. Set in 1970’s Ireland, Irish Catholics and British Protestants are at war with one another. Protests, unfair treatment and imprisonment, and militant groups such as the IRA are the norm in Liam’s life. To say living a normal life is a struggle for Liam is an understatement. Yet he does try, and despite life throwing one curve ball after another at him, manages to pick himself up time and again and do his best.
Of Blood and Honey felt like a long book. Yet the paperback comes in at only 296 pages (the Kindle version, which I read, shows 315 pages on Goodreads for what it’s worth). Further, it’s a book that takes a long time to get to its final destination. Thinking back from start to finish, a lot happens and there are plots within plots and stories within stories; it’s a fairly complex novel with a lot of moving parts, so kudos to Leicht for mastering this balancing act. I also have to call out that in terms of character development the author hits all the high notes. Besides for Liam, there’s the woman who becomes his wife, Mary Kate, along with Father Murray, who is a sort of guide and advisor to Liam and who by the end of the novel has become a much larger influence on Liam’s life than he ever could have suspected. Their respective character arcs could have been novels unto themselves.
I would have liked to have seen more of Bran, who pops in and out of the story haphazardly at times and often only to help move the story along. It isn’t until the final climatic ending that Liam and Bran even spend any time together. There was much father/son development that is never explored in this novel, but which may get the treatment it deserves in subsequent novels.
Of Blood and Honey is perhaps the most literary urban fantasy book I’ve read in recent memory. There are supernatural elements woven throughout the narrative, but they rarely take center stage. Rather the focus is on the harsh and gritty reality our characters struggle to survive in. Of Blood and Honey is followed up by And Blue Skies From Pain. This second book in the series came out in 2012 and there does not appear to be any novels after this one. I found a comment from the author that states, “I hope to come back to Liam. At least, that's my intent. However, other projects have active contracts, and thus, have priority at the moment.” That’s a pity. Still, there are the two novels. If enough interest is shown, perhaps the author will have more luck obtaining a contract for a third book in the series.