The Druid Stoneby Heidi Belleau and Violetta Vane
*phwoar* is the only way to begin this review. As a rank amateur, I don't believe in sticking to the cold hard facts. This is one awesomesauce of a book that delves into M/M romance, urban fantasy, a very rich tapestry of characterisation and isnane amounts of world building.
The Druid Stone sets off with Sean O'Hara, of Cuban and Boston Irish descent, "inheriting" a cursed stone from an older relative. The curse involves vividly brutal nightmares that leave him with bruises and ghosts of pain. At the end of his rope, he uses his last savings to buy a ticket to Ireland where he recruits - or attempts to recruit - Cormac Kelly, of Irish and druidish descent.
Cormac has to be the most dickish private paranormal investigator since... John Constantine. But also quite loveable. Too familiar with people (or anyone, really) looking for twee Ireland Leprechauns and Lucky Charms, he pegs Sean as an American only interested in finding his Riverdancing relatives. It doesn't take long before he realises his mistake, however.
What follows is an insane ride into the world of the sidhe, a topsy turvy plane of existence thought up by a demented Escher, and the past. If you liked American Gods, or Boneshaker, you'd better grab something to drink, eat, and prepare to be thoroughly entertained.
Heidi and Violetta have an uncanny knack of creating very well balanced characters. I don't mean that as in, these are remarkably well-adjusted people, oh my.
There are no cardboard characters in this novel, though villains who love to chew the scenery and do it with flourish. Every character has multifaceted backgrounds. Sean and Cormac have both lived and survived tragedy and sorrow and they carry these experiences with them in a way that doesn't make me want to shake them and yell "FIVE STAGES MOVE ON YOU BASTARDS!" or wish they would acknowledge it a bit more. They bring their pasts with them acknowledge their presence, and accept them for what they are - on occasion the memories will flare up and cause pain, Just Like In Real Life.
There are plenty of interesting supportive characters - a double bonus for two very strong female characters who do their best (because what else can you do when you're up against ancient myths?) to help - not to mention the craic that are the sidhe themselves. You'll forever give the beer in Ireland a cautious sniff after reading this....
Even the dogs have well-defined personalities.
What else did I love about this novel? The dialogue never feels constructed,, the pacing is even, there's a natural thread bringing the reader from point A to point B, via a few detours that always come back to a satisfying conclusion. There's pain, there's a kind of romance. No hearts and flowers here, pain from the past brings the main characters together and threatens to tear them apart. There's sex. NICE SEX. LOVELY SEX. I want more sex. Sean and Cormac coming together doesn't feel forced. The possibility of them never getting together is awful.
The authors treat their readers as if they're smart! Which means: NO EXPOSITION. Descriptions are rich and plenty. Names and places are given.
The research! OH MY GOD, the amount of research! Heidi and Violetta have done a TON of research. They've had native Irish nitpick names and places and mythology, they've got spreadsheets (for crying out loud!) and they don't hesitate to highlight our hero's uglier sides, in one part where Cormac thoughtlessly, purposely, aims a barb at Sean's hispanic heritage in order to get rid of him.
But in the end I'll forgive these characters anything. Mostly.
Complaints? There was a surprise, a curve-ball out of left field, involving a *character* along the way that caught me completely off guard. I had to go back and re-read just to see if I'd missed something (I can also blame it on lost in translation).
The ending was immensely satisfying but for a moment it felt as if there were multiple endings - dear god the fifteen endings in the Lord of the Rings, deliver us all. Thankfully, however, there are no drawn out explanations of "and then while you were doing this, this is what actually happened" a la Dumblebore's final expositions. *gnashes teeth noisily*
Minor piffles of complaints really, since there are resolutions, solutions and even though the character curve-ball was a surprise, it fit. So while I mention them, I don't really care. *unproffesional reviewer*
In the end, the Druid Stone ties together neatly while still leaving the reader with a lot of could be's, and potential for sequels, or even spin-offs (one can wish!). I want to take this novel and snuggle it to my bosom. I want more. I want to read it again. It's knocked my socks off!
4 out of 5 stars.
Heidi Belleau can be found at http://www.heidibelleau.com/ and @heidibelleau on twitter.
Violetta Vane can be found at http://www.violettavane.com/ and @violettavane.
More info on The Druid Stone is on their website http://www.knockmanovel.com/