When last we left Liam Kelly, the slow revelation of who and what he was had left him if not in a happy place, at least a relatively stable place. True, he had lost much in discovering his true heritage, lost his wife, lost friends, lost (or should we say, walked away) from his place as a wheelman for the Irish Republican Army. Heavy costs, and the costs are not done yet. However, some basic knowledge of what he is and what his nature is, in Celtic tradition, what has been gained for such a heavy cost. Even better, a cold peace might yet be forged between the Church and the Fey.
The question is, what is done with such knowledge and such a cold peace, especially in the powder keg of a Northern Ireland where the overt war of the IRA versus the British is paralleled by the three way conflict between the Fey, the Fallen and the Church?
Such is the matter of And Blue Skies from Pain, the second Of the Fey and the Fallen novel by Stina Leicht, on the heels of her debut novel Of Blood and Honey (Reviewed by me on the Functional Nerds here: ) . Liam continues to explore and learn who and what he is, as well as his place amongst the Fey. The Fey in turn want to take the measure of this half-breed puca and test his mettle. The Church wants to determine once and for all if the Fey (that is to say, Liam) is a demon or not. The Fallen have their own plans, and are not well inclined to Liam after his role in disrupting their plans. And of course, we still are in Northern Ireland during the troubles, and if you think the best wheelman the IRA has ever seen is going to be allowed to walk away forever, you have another thought coming.
There’s lots to like in And Blue Skies from Pain, and, as it so happens, they are emphasized by the contrast to the first novel, rather than the continuations. The first novel, in many stretches, a historical novel with only the thinnest overlays of magic. It was a gritty and inescapably realistic and fully in-focus look at what life in the 1970’s in Northern Ireland is like, from Bloody Sunday to the horrors of prison.
To continue to use the photography metaphor, in And Blue Skies by Pain opens up the aperture of the camera, and allows the mise en scene of Northern Ireland to blur a bit. The shorter time frame of And Blue Skies from Pain allows the author, confident that the reader has a firm sense of the place, to focus on other things. Like, for example, Liam’s Fey family, a glimpse at the otherworld of the Fey, and a more comprehensive look at the Church and their own operations in this area as well. In addition to being a lab-rat for the Church as they try to determine what he really is, Liam explores what it means to be a puca (including a truly cool set-piece where Liam puts his abilities all together), and learns that the Fey, including a half-breed like himself, have definite and distinct weaknesses and vulnerabilities as well as strengths.
The writing is again top-notch, and the development of Liam as a character, especially his Fey side, make the novel for me. And yes, if you are afraid that there wouldn’t be one, there is a wonderful set-piece car chase/run with Liam behind the wheel. I found myself wishing I had a copy of the old game Midtown Madness after I finished reading the passage. And if I had been thinking before the sequence that Northern Ireland was *too* blurred in bokeh, the sequence certainly put that notion to bed.
A few of the things I wasn’t sold on in the first novel reappear here, but, paradoxically, they appear to have been sold off a bit better here. I might have to revisit in my mind some of the criticisms I had about the first novel, or consider the pair of novels as a whole in regards to Liam’s character and motivations. In addition to those things, there is plenty from the first novel that is carried forward from the first novel, as Liam faces fallout from his actions and things that have happened to him. I do think that this so enriches the text that reading And Blue Skies from Pain without having read its predecessor won’t work very well. Such a reader would be missing out on a lot.
The clarification on how the Church works does also deepen the first novel, as well. And, a real sense of the motivations and the nature of the Fallen given here helps enrich the otherworldly aspects of this universe further. I’ve read a few novels in my time where the modern church (or relatively modern, 30 years ago here) deals with supernatural entities as adversaries and rivals. Leicht stands head and shoulders above most of those counterparts in making the conflict, concerns, motivations and actions realistic.
Things that I think could have been improved? Well, there are a few minor characters that tantalizingly appear but dance away from the narrative that I would have loved to have seen more of, or take a greater role than they do. Its not precisely that the author makes a promise that they will have a role in the denouement, but I was hoping it was such. Also, there is a resolution of a seemingly important plotline that seems to end in a bit of a wet firecracker, abruptly, and to this reader, perhaps too soon in the context of the rest of the narrative.
Overall, though, in And Blue Skies from Pain Leicht shows that she can tune down the historical aspects of her work, and successfully turn up the fantastic elements, and still keep the top-notch writing I’ve now come to expect from her. Given the very pointed and violent politics of the IRA in the 1980’s, and given the ending, I expect that Leicht is unlikely to continue Liam’s story in Northern Ireland in a linearily temporal fashion. Whether she brings Liam to the future in her next book, or turns her hand to something else, Leicht has firmly put herself on my radar to pay attention to. Once you read And Blue Skies from Pain (and Of Blood and Honey of course if you haven’t), I bet that you will agree with me.