21) Of Blood and Honey by Stina Leicht
This is the second of the two novels from people nominated for a Campbell. I’m going to move onto Ray of Light by Brad R. Torgersen, because it’s also nominated for a Hugo Award for Best Novella, and then segue into that category from there before moving onto Editor (Short Form) and Semiprozine.
Set during the Troubles of Northern Ireland, this book is a harrowing read in parts, especially if (as I am) you’re British. It’s about Liam, a young Irish lad who lives in Derry, and then in Belfast. It follows the first chapters of his life, starting out as a teenager imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit. Martin McGrath, an Irish Nationalist with direct experience of the Troubles, wrote an excellent analysis of the book and what’s wrong with its portrayal of the Unionists, the British and the Nationalists. I had read the blog post without realising that it was a review of a Campbell-nominated author’s novel, and so I liked the chance to reread it having some of the context for the book that it was talking about.
One important thing to note about this novel is that, despite the fact some parts seemed jarring to me and I noticed a very one-sided portrayal of the issues, involved, it made me want to know more. Speaking as a young Briton who only vaguely remembers hearing about the Good Friday Agreement on the radio, I don’t know much about the Troubles. After finishing this novel one of the first things I did was start looking stuff up on Wikipedia, and reading. As far as I can tell from browsing Wikipedia and some other sources, there were some Republicans, who did bad things; some Unionists, who did equally bad things; and the British Army, some of whom were doing their job as best they could but some of whom had far too much sympathy for the Unionists to be anything other than terrorists in British uniforms. (This is a gross oversimplification but I think that’s the gist of it; McGrath’s excellent post will give you an idea of what I mean.) I’m happy that I was spurred into learning more about this, since I think it’s really important that people are aware of the history here, but what I’ve learned has diminished my enjoyment of the book due to the above issues.
As a consequence of all this, I feel really conflicted about the novel. I thoroughly enjoyed it, from cover to cover – although it’s a very melancholy tale so don’t read it if you don’t have easy access to hugs! – but I’m uncomfortable about how skewed the image I came away with was. As far as I can tell, the Troubles in Northern Ireland are a hell of a lot less black and white than Leicht would have us believe. The comments on McGrath’s blog highlight Leicht saying, “I guess you can say it’s my way of finding a real situation that fits extreme good versus extreme evil.” That, to me, suggests that she thinks anyone in Ireland who’s a Catholic is ‘extreme good’, and anyone who is not is ‘extreme evil’. Given that, as a Briton, I guess I would fall under the ‘extreme evil’ classification, that’s obviously an opinion that I have certain issues with.
Current views on the Campbell
When it comes to my current rankings for the Campbell Award, I think I’m voting for E. Lily Yu first, with Karen Lord second and Stina Leicht third. I love how Yu plays with the worlds she describes in her short stories in a way that seems very perpendicular to me. Lord’s novel was unusual in terms of its narrator, and Leicht’s novel is heartrending, and both were very enjoyable, but I kinda felt both were playing with pretty standard fantasy fare. In contrast, Yu includes ideas that feel really unique to her, and I think I feel that sets her apart from the others. I haven’t yet read any Torgersen, so we’ll see where I place him in the rankings.
I don’t know where to place Mur yet; I’m thinking I might read the rest of her fiction, which is available for free till the end of June, before making my decision on which number will go beside her name.