“Deep within the woods, a hollowed oak tree opens into another world-the realm of the Sidhe. In an eerie subterranean labyrinth lies the kingdom of a banished clan, their tunnels filled with unimaginable threats. To survive, the clan shares their kingdom with all manner of devious creatures, and together they use their supernatural abilities to manipulate the elements and enslave weak human minds.”
First, a thank you to the author and to Lost Boys Press for an eArc copy of this novel. My thoughts remain honest in any case.
What first drew me in was the gorgeous looking cover, so credit where credit is due, Tilly (@elven_scribe on Twitter) you rock! I am a simple gal, I see a skull covered in flowers and butterflies, I want to know more. That aesthetic is just on point, and it sets the mood for the novel really well.
Now then, Ryan presents us with one heck of a debut full of cozy adoptive family vibes, nostalgia inducing folklore (ngl, I can’t really explain this one – Celtic folklore always gets me that way), but also a fast-paced plot full of tension and no sugar coating or retconning of the iffier faerie lore to make it more palatable. It’s always good fun when an author is well read on this last point, because not many know the Fae were not the cute tantrumy tricksters Tinker Bell may have led many childhoods to believe. Like most folklore, they’re closer to eerie horror tales than anything since they were de facto cautionary tales. I was really in the mood for some folk inspired stories, and my dark fantasy side has been revived of late so really, there was no way I could resist.
Some slight formatting/editing issues aside (which could be purely an eArc copy issue), Ryan’s writing flowed on the page, and the pace she set for the reader, although fluctuating at times, worked well enough with the context of her story and in building the book’s final climax. Those last chapters got me seriously anxious for a while there too! Everyone was in danger and I kept fearing the worst for my favorites at every turn. Eleni’s peace of mind is not amused.
Ryan’s breadth of characters and the world building she sets in place for the Sidhe realms, would’ve easily allowed for more books in this setting, and I could argue that, while well contained and working alright as a standalone, this book could’ve benefited from being a duology. I for one would’ve loved to spend more time with these characters, and the added space would’ve given the author a chance to further elaborate on plot points that I would’ve liked to see more developed. Another small and honestly frivolous pet peeve I encountered was having similarly named characters in the same scene together and leading me to needing double takes; looking at you Dara and Darragh.
All of that said, I’m sure if I hadn’t been busy with life stuff, I’d have happily read this one in one fell swoop in one afternoon, rather than staying up till three am, two days in a row. See the thing is, this book very much felt like a comfort read. It had its horror element that I enjoyed but more than that, it was simply cozy af. Why?
Perfectly written Irish sass and family banter, is why. Half-blood Veil, although sheltered and very naïve at times, is still a strong protagonist who finds a safe haven with the human family of the McGraths and their farmhands, who are more like adopted sons anyway. I felt like part of that rowdy family and that is also why I’d love to spend more time with all of them, with each of their quirks and different personalities. Also, my biology teacher growing up was a half Irish firecracker of a lady with the same surname and that gave me a giggle, but we digress.
Another aspect I appreciated was that while Ryan went for a fated mates angle for the romance side of things, she left out a lot of those small details common to this trope that never quite sit well with me. The whole idea of partners being together because of Fate and some cosmic compulsion has never been my favorite, call me persnickety. But! Ryan allows time for the duo to grow into their love, making it both a conscious choice, (more than once actually – cough Maeve & Darragh enemies to loves prequel when Ms. Ryan? cough) as well as something imbued with magic.
Those Beneath comes out today, May 25th, and if anything I’ve said piqued your interest, dear reader/listener, you’ll want to add this lovely debut to your TBR!
Until next time,
Eleni A. E.