A Different Kingdom by Paul Kearney (Solaris, Jan. 2014)-In mid 20th century Ireland, Michael Fay is coming of age on his grandparent’s farm, after the death of his parents. He’s particularly close to his Aunt Rose, who is young and impetuous, and who dotes on Michael. Days are spent tending the animals and working the land, yet Michael begins to sense something watching him: a dark horseman, just out of the corner of his eye, always at the edges of the woods. When Rose is sent away, never to return, Michael suspects that Rose has been taken by the thing in the woods, and when he meets Cat, a wild, feral girl who dwells in another world altogether, he makes it his quest to find Rose, even if it means going to another place, a place deep inside a dark and dangerous wood, where magic lives.
A Different Kingdom is Paul Kearney’s first novel (Macht Trilogy, etc) and I’m so glad Solaris is reissuing the book, otherwise, it may never have come to my attention, since I’m not a big reader of epic or military fantasy. It actually takes a rather simple premise: a boy on a quest aka coming of age and plops it down amidst an Ireland in political turmoil. The romance between Cat and Michael is earthy, frank, and quite sensual and Kearney’s language is such that you can almost smell the loamy woods and feel the give of the soil under your feet as Cat and Michael travel to the dark lair of the horseman that Michael is convinced has taken Rose’s soul. However, as time passes, Michael begins to age, and Cat changes too, until Michael slowly begins to lose himself and long for the life he left behind, and of course, he comes to mourn his innocence lost. Most of the narrative takes place in the dark woods that Michael and Cat traverse, but we also get a glimpse of Michael’s adult life as a bartender who has succumbed to the temptation of the bottle, and thinks he sees fey, and Cat in every dark corner. Story-wise, there isn’t anything earth shattering here, but Kearney’s language is so gorgeous that I didn’t see that as a negative. If you enjoy through-the-looking-glass fables and of course faerie tales, you might want to give this one a try.