For those of you who are new to these reads, their purpose is to enjoy a good book, which I summarize chapter by chapter, and to learn what we can from these skilled authors. My inspiration came nearly a year ago from the rereads and rewatches Tor posts. Tor’s posts mainly revel in the joy of fantasy and science fiction, but I wanted to glean a little more from the experience, hence the delving into the author’s technique.
So, with no further ado, and Blue Skies from Pain by Stina Leicht.
1967, young Joseph Murray, not quite out of seminary and only a trainee of Milites Dei, a secret church order that hunts demons, disobeys orders to answer the need in the screams reaching up from the dark bowls beneath an orphanage. As he feared, he finds two of his fellows at the torturous hands of demons. Jackson, the only priest among them who escaped getting caught, and he take out the demons just before reinforcements arrive. In so doing, Murray takes his first life and crosses a line he can never turn back from. As the orphanage and all the darkness within burns to the ground, Murray spots a child slip away, a child the order would have certainly wanted killed. But Murray, whatever the actions he takes, is a man incapable of divorcing himself fully from mercy, and that night, too many had already been murdered.
Reader Comments: Yay, Father Murray is back. This glimpse into his past was a fun treat. None of it surprised me. Mainly it reaffirmed his character, and by this point, it’s fun to see parts of what made him the awesome character that I learned to love in the first book.
Writer Comments: This prologue is high in tension. Leicht uses three techniques that heighten it dramatically.
1) She draws out the description and impending moment when all the danger is revealed. Often, short, tight sentences add to the tension as their speed gives a reader a sense of urgency and fast pacing. However, especially when a scene is building to that burst of conflict, when a POV character creeps along, waiting for the villain to jump from the shadows and slaughter them, extended, detailed descriptions work better. This is because people in highly tense situations tend to notices fine details they otherwise wouldn’t. Additionally, and assuming the author is skilled enough to layer the description with diction and phrasing to accent discordance and impending doom, each new detail lays another layer onto the tension until a thick cake forms, ready for the match that sets it alight.
2) Time. Numbers, especially when referencing limited time, are a great and easy source of tension. If, as readers, we know that once that final number arrives something big will happen, the closer we draw to it, the faster our hearts beat and the stronger the sense of tension.
1977. As so often happens to Liam Kelly, he allows his impulses to get the better of him and finds himself on the wrong end of a gun. In this instance, it’s a gun held in the hand of a loyalist smuggler all too happy to blow Liam’s brains across the landscape. Only through sheer luck, a practical wit, and the arrival of his Uncle Sceolan, brother to his Fianna father, is Liam’s life preserved. But a potentially worse fate awaits him, for that night the Catholic Church and the fey sign a week long truce. Central to this truce is that the church gets Liam, an experiment and a witness, if they’re willing to see it, that the fey are not fallen angels and not worthy of death. Only the thought of his unborn child, who the church murdered, gives Liam the strength to hand himself over to the church’s Inquisitor.
Reader Comments: Ah, I’d forgotten what a wonderfully fatalistic and punk attitude Liam can have in the face of death. Sliding back into his experiences was a dark and delicious treat.
Writer Comments: Comparing the open scene of Of Blood and Honey, the first book in this series, and this opening scene with Liam, there are some interesting similarities. Liam is somewhere he never should have been, and worse, he ends up at the wrong end of a loyalist gun. However, his attitude is entirely different. In Of Blood and Honey, Liam remains utterly terrified and, honestly, a bit weak for all he’s sympathetic. Here, in and Blue Skies from Pain, he gives all the joy of a fully realized man looking death in the face and saying, “Fuck you all.” The contrast is grand and so crucial for an ongoing series. If Leicht did not change Liam and allow said changes to alter how he faces each situation, the books would quickly become repetitive, boring, and among the light but swiftly forgotten fare of fiction. Instead, she makes him all the more compelling through these changes, and by highlighting his altered perspectives through an opening sequence that bears many similarities to the first book, she reassures us that Liam is a dynamic and deeply engaging hero.
Thank you for joining me for this read of and Blue Skies from Pain by Stina Leicht. If you have not already gotten a copy, do so. While I cover the highlights of books in these readers, there are details and subplots I cannot fully tackle in the context of a blog post. And if you have not yet read Of Blood and Honey, it’s well worth the time and expense. Not only is it a great book, but it will help you understand why Liam is so haunted.
We’ll pick up with the next two chapters of and Blue Skies from Pain next Monday. Until then, join me Friday for further forays into books, fiction, the speculative, and life.