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A beautifully written fantasy novel for adults,
This review is from: A Different Kingdom (Paperback)
It's great that Solaris Books has republished Paul Kearney's A Different Kingdom, because it has been out-of-print for a long time (only certain bookshops and online bookshops have sold second-hand copies of it). It's a fantasy novel that deserves to be republished, because it's one of the richest fantasy novels ever written.
Before I write more about this novel, I'll mention that Paul Kearney is unfortunately a lesser known fantasy author than several other authors. This is a real shame, because he's an excellent storyteller and writes interesting novels. A Different Kingdom is a good example of how good an author he is.
It's also good to mention that A Different Kingdom is a fantasy novel for adults, because it contains sex and violence.
As several experienced fantasy readers are probably aware of, there are plenty of novels in which characters enter magical realms. A Different Kingdom differs from these novels by being a more serious and ambitious novel. The author explores such themes as adolescence and sexual desire in a deep and mature way (the protagonist's awakening sexuality is handled in a mature way).
A Different Kingdom invites comparison with Robert Holdstock's Mythago Wood novels. It also invites comparison with a few fantasy novels by Charles de Lint. I think that readers who have read these novels will easily notice the similarities. Fortunately Paul Kearney doesn't imitate these authors, but writes his own kind of mythic fantasy.
I was very impressed by A Different Kingdom, because Paul Kearney has infused the story with several different elements from rural life in Ireland to mythic beings (he has combined Irish myths, Celtic mythology, realistic farm life and coming-of-age story in a fluent way). It's difficult to find a standalone fantasy novel that has as much depth and mythic atmosphere as this novel.
Here's information about the story:
A Different Kingdom is a story about Michael Fae who lives in Antrim in rural Ireland in the 1950s. He is the only person who can see the Other Place and its creatures. He sees wolves in the woods that nobody else can see, and he also sees men with fox faces, a mysterious Horseman and a girl called Cat. When Michael meets Cat, he begins to fall in love with her. Soon he follows her to the Other Place. Michael has a quest to do there...
Paul Kearney writes well about the characters and makes them come alive. In my opinion he writes perfectly about Michael and his life (rreaders get to know who Michael is). He also writes well about Cat, Mirkady, Ringbone and other characters. Cat is an interesting character, because she's not quite human.
In my opinion Paul Kearney writes about the problems of adolescence and sex in a brilliant way. By concentrating on writing about Michael and his life the author is able to show his readers how a young boy feels about growing up in the countryside and what it is like for a boy to live on the farm with his grandparents and other relatives. It's nice that the author explores Michael's life as a child, as a teenager and as an adult, because it adds depth to the story.
The relationship between Michael and Cat is handled in an excellent way. The author writes wonderfully about Michael's feelings and his desire for Cat, because Michael is fascinated by her. When Michael grows up and gets to know Cat, he develops sexual feelings towards her and has sex with her. The author writes boldly about Michael's awakening sexuality and adolescent desire.
Cat is not the only person that Michael loves, because he also loves his aunt Rose. Michael's relationship with his aunt Rose plays an important part in the story, because she's like a big sister to Michael, but at the same time she's almost - but not quite - like a lover to him. When Rose is being sent away to have a baby, it has a huge impact on Michael, because her disappearance haunts his life.
One of the most interesting things about this novel is that the author shows how Michael gradually loses his innocence by falling in love with Cat and travelling to the Other Place. It was great to read about how being in the Other Place affected Michael and how travelling further into the other realm changed him both physically and mentally.
Reading about Michael's adventures in the Other Place was fascinating. At first he didn't know much about this other realm, but he began to learn new things and got to know different people and beings. One of the best scenes in this novel is the scene in which Michael meets Mirkady and is led to Gallow's Howe, because he sees what kind of beings live in the forest.
The mysterious Horseman - the Devil - is a fascinatingly threatening element in the story, because he seeks souls. Michael's quest is tied to the Horseman.
Paul Kearney writes rich literary prose. He evokes vidid images of the Other Place and the lush landscapes with his prose, and he delivers brutal moments when necessary. The author's descriptions of Antrim are beautiful and nostalgic. He brings the beautiful and harsh farm life to life with his words. It isn't often that a fantasy reader has a chance to read this kind of beautiful prose.
The author writes vividly about Michael's childhood at his grandparents' farm. The writing is so good that you can almost believe you're right there with Michael. The days and years that he spends at his grandparents' farm are filled with farm life, family life and strange happenings.
There's a beautifully bittersweet edge to the story. The author manages to avoid being too sentimental and coats the story with harsh realism that keeps it from slipping into an over-sentimental story. One of the best things about this novel is that the fantasy world which Michael finds himself is just as harsh, unforgiving and gritty as the normal world and bad things happen there. It's possible to say that beauty and violence go hand in hand in this story, because the beautiful moments are balanced by violent happenings.
The author writes perfectly about how men have changed the landscape by cutting down the forests and trees. The forests and trees have been replaced by fields and houses, and the landscape has changed bit by bit over the years. It was nice that the Other Place still had forests that were wild and man had to be careful not to disturb anything there, because the forests were wild and dangerous places.
In my opinion the author writes well about how Christianity has changed things for the Forest-Folk and beings who live in the Other Place. The coming of Christianity hasn't been good for these people and beings, because they've been pushed far into the remote places of the forests.
I loved the ending of this novel. It's a perfect ending to a beautifully written story. I won't reveal what happens at the end of this novel, but I'll mention that readers who expect quality from their fantasy novels will enjoy the ending.
The cover art of this new edition looks great. It's a beautifully modern cover image by Pye Parr.
A Different Kingdom is almost like an elegy to a lost and vanished way of life. I don't know if the author has based this novel partly on real happenings or not, but I wouldn't be surprised if he has, because he writes about the sights, sounds, and smells of the farm in a realistic and nostalgic way.
Paul Kearney's A Different Kingdom is a seducingly dark fairy tale for adults. In terms of depth, style, quality and prose, this novel is in a league of its own (it's difficult to find similar novels). If you enjoy reading mythic fantasy that has plenty of realism in it, you'll love this novel. This novel should be read by everybody who loves good prose and appreciates beautifully written stories. I sincerely hope that several readers will read this fantasy novel.