A Different Kingdom, by Paul Kearney

I received a copy of this book to review from NetGalley, on behalf of the publishers. It will be released 28 January 2014.

A Different Kingdom
Every place where humans have lived is steeped in history. In some places, however, the history is every far from what we can see and sense everyday. In Ireland the barrier between past and present is terribly thin, maybe thinner than most places. The protagonist of Paul Kearney's A Different Kingdom, Michael Fay, tumbles through the barrier one evening as he's running home for dinner. He sees primitive people in fox and wolf skins before he finds his way back. Between the ages of eight and thirteen, Michael travels back and forth between his present--1950s rural Ireland--and a sinister forest peopled by tribes and villagers and monks and monsters that have washed up over the centuries.

Kearney also moves back and forth through his narrative. As Michael grows up, Kearney jumps forward in time to show a grown Michael trying to escape from the wood in the company of a beautiful woman named Cat. For the first third of the book, the two timelines stretch toward a meeting point. A rough the halfway point, Kearney shows us a third version of Michael, a washed up alcoholic who's life has never been the same after he left Cat and the forest. We also get to see just what happened to Michael in the forest to traumatize him so much.

Thirteen-year-old Michael, in love for the first time and settling into the rough life of the Fox People, decides to go on a quest. He believes that the terrifying hooded man who rides through the forest and commands the werewolves and goblins and other beasties is holding the soul of his Aunt Rose captive. Aunt Rose was sent away when Michael was young to have a child, but died. When he is told that the Fox People believe the hooded man steals souls, Michael decides that he must set her free. And Cat, because she loves Michael, reluctantly agrees to go with him.

As Michael's quest goes on, he learns more about the strange creatures that live in the forest. He learns about the struggle between the first pagan settlers and the Christian monks who came later. Life in the forest is a fight for survival. Michael thinks of it as living constantly on the edge of life and death. The older Michael misses it. He doesn't fit in the modern world anymore.

Michael's quest does not end well, but Kearney gives him a second chance in a stunning ending that I didn't see coming. The forest Kearney created was so frightening and primeval that I didn't know if Michael could win any kind of victory. You're going to have to read this highly original tale to find out if he does.

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