Juliet McKenna, The Green Man's Heir, Wizard's Tower Press, 2018.
I had fallen in love with McKenna's four series of epic fantasy, all set in a fascinating and diverse secondary world. So I was eagerly waiting for this new novel of her which, while still remaining fantasy, is set in our contemporary world, in the English countryside. It didn't disappoint.
Daniel's mother is a dryad, a divinity attached to trees. A carpenter by trade, Daniel is also looking for another man who would share the same mixed heritage because, as years go by, the experience of being part-dryad reveals itself complicated, especially in our modern world. As he is working in a little English town, he will find himself in the middle of a murder investigation. And the problem is that the murderer may not be human.
One of McKenna's strongest points is her wonderful ability to create fully fleshed characters and The Green Man's Heir doesn't disappoint. Daniel is an interesting character, avoiding all the clichés of the brooding outsider who is trying to find himself. But the gallery of secondary characters surrounding him was for me the real highlight: from the nosy landlady to the supporting father, to the girlfriend he doesn't manage to commit with to a friend in the making facing troubles, to say nothing of temperamental dryads and facetious naiads, they all contribute to create a full and realistic world and are amazingly alive.
The characters also contribute to the atmosphere. The Green Man's Heir starts as a murder mystery and with Daniel, an outsider, embroiled in a crime, the village mentality adds to the tension.
This tension is maintained in the second part of the story, when it veers into a supernatural thriller, this time centred around a stately home.
McKenna's writing is, as usual, fluid and well paced and will easily convince crime and thriller readers to read "just one more chapter". I would regret nonetheless that the two parts of the novel felt a bit too separate to me, even though one is the natural consequence of the other, but I really felt the shift from one to the other. I also actually preferred the second part to the first, probably because I was very interested in the character introduced in the second part.
The English folklore is used in a very efficient way, providing colourful characters and depth as they anchor the story in past actions with delayed consequences.
Daniel's quest to find someone like him provides also a thoughtful take on masculinity and adulthood, the sense of belonging and the longing for a band of brothers with shared experiences.
Finally, an ecological consciousness runs throughout the novel and celebrates the beauty of the English countryside.
The Green Man's Heir is a straightforward fantasy story, with a lively pace and characters who wonderfully come alive. It starts as Midsomer Murders set in the Peak District but with added supernatural element and turns out to be the book you won't put down because you enjoy it too much.
The writer's website.
A free copy was received in exchange for an honest review on Amazon but with no obligation attached to review it on The Middle Shelf.
If you've liked The Green Man's Heir, you may also like