Review: King of Dublin by Lisa Henry and Heidi Belleau

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Ratings 3.75 stars out of 5 (rounded up to 4)

ARC fullcoverTwenty years ago a virus spread around the world, and the resulting deadly pandemic left all countries in ruin, its populations and governments destroyed in the aftermath.  Darragh Fergus Anluan and the other children of the Irish village Cuíl Aodha survived when their elders died but only just.  Hard winters and a disease which seems to return on a cycle has left the small group further decimated.  Desperate for medicine, Darragh is leaving his home against the pleas of the others to search for medicine to help them survive another winter in their small village.  Unsure of what has survived, Darragh is horrified to find that Dublin is nothing more than a ruin, ruled by a sadistic despot who has taken the name of King Boru.

King Boru rules by fear and force, accumulating an army of thieves, murderers and rapists eager to do his bidding.  Those who oppose him are killed or sold off as slaves.  And sitting at his feet is his Boy, a pretty sex slave, whose looks entrance Darragh even as the abuse and rape the Boy endures at the hands of the King and his soldiers draw out Darragh’s protective instincts.  If Darragh is to get his hands on any medicine, he must appear to join the ranks of the king’s men.

Ciaran Daly is the son of a high official in Belfast, a place of relative civility and safety. Ciaran wanted to help out Ireland, believing good deeds and good intentions would triumph over the problems and issues he thought he  would find in Dublin.  So Ciaran and his band of naive friends gathered together supplies and snuck away from their families and friends. But they were unprepared for their capture at the hands of the brutish soldiers of Boru as soon as they crossed the border.  All died except for Ciaran.

Ostensibly held as a hostage, Ciaran has been reduced to Boy, King Boru’s sex slave.  The continual abuse Ciaran suffers has torn away all hope but the arrival of Darragh in the King’s court sparks it back to life.  Darragh is different no matter how hard he tries to hide it.  And Darragh’s gentle attraction to the King’s pet is a dangerous one should anyone notice.  The madness that is King Boru is just the type, however, that incites treason instead of loyalty.  And soon Darragh and Ciaran realize that if their hopes are to become reality, then the King must fall.*

Heidi Belleau has a fondness for Ireland and its culture, all of which translates to her writing (see The Druid Stone).  Lisa Henry shares Belleau’s fascination with the Irish people and their culture.  So a dystopian society based in Ireland, where the characters bear Irish names that speak of the past and the lore of the people makes perfect sense. From the names to the places and mentions of Irish history, this story is steeped in the love of Ireland.  And no matter how bad it gets (and it gets very bad indeed), the moments of cultural recognition and love shine as in scenes at Newgrange, home of The Dagda, and the high kings of Tara.

If you are familiar at all with the novels of Heidi Belleau and Lisa Henry, than the shear scope of the universe and the enormous amount of attention to detail given to the world building here is to be expected from these remarkable authors.  So too is the level of darkness and brutality of existence in the dystopian society created they have created. As society and governments fell, so too did all laws and structure that would have protected the remaining populace.  Instead, it deteriorated into a deadly scramble for power and the acquisition of material wealth and modern vehicles such as cars and gasoline.  Dublin becomes a harsh and deadly world, ruled by gangs and petty despots of which King Boru is at the top of the corrupt pile.

Belleau and Henry are never ones to shy away from difficult material or subject matter. The descriptions of the ruined Dublin are vivid and intense.  Urine soaked courtyards and streets full of human misery, and waste, the authors bring their dystopian society alive.  Here is an excerpt as Darragh goes on his first patrol with King Boru’s soldiers:

People.

The warehouse was full of people, penned in like cattle. Worse somehow than the heads on posts, because they were still alive. Still full of fear and hope.

“Trader can get three hundred for one in good condition,” Hugh said. “That’s worth a few bags of supplies our way.”

“What happens to them then?” Darragh asked. His brain felt like it was stuffed with cotton. He couldn’t think.

Hugh shrugged. “Don’t much care.”

“Isn’t that the way of it though,” Seamus said, “Even in the old days, the only thing Ireland ever had of value for export was the Irish.”

But never like this.

“These traders. They are . . .” Darragh struggled for the word. It seemed so childish, a word from a fantasy like elves or wizards, but no, he knew it was real as well, even if it seemed absurd. “Pirates?”

Noel laughed, the sound terrible and twisted in this place of human suffering. “I think Viking’s the better word, considering, but sure, some are pirates. And some are pirates in the hire of governments, not that the ones paying them would ever admit it.”

Governments trading in human chattel, and the king turning a profit.

And now Darragh was aiding them in the effort.

Medicine. He needed medicine. Not wealth or power or boys dripping with gold.

Medicine, upon which the lives of his people depended.

He looked down at the pens below, at the people standing huddled together, shifting and hugging themselves in the cold. Men, women, and even children. The whole place stinking of desperation and human waste.

Their lives for the lives of Darragh’s kin.

A grim trade, to be sure.

As grim as any the king might make.

With its rank slave markets down by the docks, heads of Boru’s enemies on stakes lining the harbor, the grim reality of life in Dublin is made real to both Darragh and the reader.  Death and enslavement have been made common. So when abuse and rape arrive as part of the norm of this brutal regime than it follows that those details and sometimes hard to read scenes are included in the narrative as well.

The characters found here are as intense as the situations they find themselves in.  There are scenes of constant degradation and humiliation to go along with the continual rape and abuse.  Its overpowering and its meant to be.  Darragh is everything that King Boru and Dublin is not.  Darragh is the best that Ireland has to offer.  He is compassionate, unwaveringly loyal to those who deserve his loyalty, and he has a moral center that did not decay along with rise of disease.  The contrast of Darragh against the terror and horrific extremes of the court of Boru is frightening, heightening up the anxiety and suspense for Darragh safety and mission.

Ciaran’s character is far more complicated.  Ciaran’s naive idealogical crossing of borders without thinking of the possible consequences seems so unbelievably unworldly and gullible. Sheltered in Belfast, a northern city that remains healthy and relatively safe, Ciaran and his friends actions and belief that their ideological and righteous intentions would act like a shield to keep them safe seems idiotic. But one only has to look to current events and the media to find examples of just such behavior in like minded American youths today. Ones who expect their nationality and beliefs to raise them up over the problems they think they will face only to find it a chimera, no more solid than smoke and or able to keep the worst from happening. Which it did.  For them and for Ciaran.

Kept starved and in the dark in a state that mimics a deprivation tank, Ciaran’s isolation by Boru is such that the alternative however hellish is preferable.  That seems authentic as a state of mind.  Victimized, abused, raped, Ciaran struggles to hold onto remnants of who he was, fearing he will disappear into Boy for good.  However, later on in the story, that same naïveté and stubbornness that brought him to Dublin and into the clutches of Boru continues, surfacing and impacting his actions until I had problems with staying invested in this character. At what point does naivete turn into stupidity and stubbornness become a cover for self centered delusion?  Each reader will have to answer those questions for themselves.

Moments of shattering emotional impact are made more hurtful because these characterizations are so well done that it feels as though it is happening to people we have gotten to know. And  instead of being able to keep our distance as we could with one note personas we are trapped in the moment with Darragh, Ciaran and Rabbit (another wonderful character). When the authors put these people in danger, then scenes such as these demand a response from the reader equivalent in emotion to the ones the characters are experiencing. Trust me when I say it will double the impact of the events unfolding in front of you.

And just when the graphic abuse and the horrific intensity of Ciaren’s pain and humiliation get to be too much, then Belleau and Henry give their characters and the readers a much needed  break as the narrative takes a turn towards hope and freedom.  For me, it didn’t come too soon.  I was starting to have some issues with the major characters starting with Ciaran. He’s learned nothing apparently until its almost too late.  And in my opinion, that aspect of his character makes it a tougher sale in keeping the readers fully invested in Ciaran.

Darragh too has gone through some transformations, understandable given the events he survived. Part of that is that Darragh apparently forgets all about the medicine his people need in his obsession over Ciaran who continues to lie and manipulate him. We can relate to his actions  to some degree but still I am not sure that Henry and Belleau made that case here for Darragh completely dismissing his mission to the degree that he does so.

But other characters arrive to take hold of your affections, chief among them is Rabbit, a young boy of extreme resourcefulness and rough charm.  He actually became my favorite at the end.

King of Dublin has much to recommend it, great characters, intense storytelling, and a realistic dystopian Irish society.  If you find that the descriptions and scenes of graphic abuse are ones that you can adjust to, then I recommend this book to you.  If, on the other hand, sexual violence and scenes of non consent are outside your comfort zone, then I would look to many of these authors other stories. I am sure you will find one there to love.

Cover Art by Vongue, http://vongue.deviantart.com.  This cover is well done in conveying the characters and the setting in Dublin.

Book Details:

ebook, 375 pages
Published February 24th 2014 by Riptide Publishing (first published February 22nd 2014)

Behind the Scenes with Lisa Henry and Heidi Belleau on their King of Dublin Tour!

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Hi! We’re Lisa Henry and Heidi Belleau, authors of the new post-apocalyptic romance King of Dublin. We’re touring the web talking about Ireland, the post-apocalyptic genre, a behind-the-scenes look at our book, and even a sneak peek or two! And what would a blog tour be without a contest? We’re giving away two ebooks and a souvenir from Ireland to one lucky commenter, so KingOfDublin_150x300(1)read on!

Thanks so much to Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words for having us, and to all you readers for following along. And now without further ado, today’s look at King of Dublin!

What’s in a Name? A behind the scenes look at names in King of Dublin

One of the things we really enjoyed playing around with and exploring in King of Dublin was names and naming conventions. King of Dublin takes place in Ireland (obviously, unless of course we were writing about Dublin, California I guess!), so we had to take Irish culture into account when naming our characters, especially in the case of one of our characters, who comes from a predominantly Irish-speaking culture. Our story also takes place in a country ruled by anarchy, where things like birth certificates and social insurance numbers and passports and legal name changes are a thing of the past, so that adds a whole new complexity we could play with.

So here’s a character-by-character sneak peek into character names. Enjoy!

Darragh Fearghal Anluan

Darragh is the hero of our story: the Irish Gaelic-speaking wanderer who comes to Dublin in search of medicine for his village. When he swears fealty to the king of Dublin, he states his name as Darragh Fearghal Anluan, but did you know that’s not his legal name? He was actually born Darragh Calhoun. Darragh Fearghal Anluan is an approximation of how people in his village would have likely addressed him. Fearghal isn’t his middle name, nor is Anluan his last. He may not even remember his legal last name!

So why does he call himself that? Darragh comes from the Irish Gaeltacht, which is a part of the country where Irish Gaelic (Gaelige) is spoken as a first language. Here, people refer to themselves by their given name, and the names of their father and grandfather, or sometimes mother and grandmother. So rather than his legal name of Darragh Calhoun, Darragh goes by Darragh son of Fearghal son of Anluan, although I have to admit to not mucking about with using those names in the genitive case, as would be proper. Mea culpa, Irish speakers! (And Latin speakers now too, probably!)

So what do his names mean?

Darragh: A variant of “Dara”, which means “oak tree.” We thought naming him after a tree suited his stoic, solid, tolerant nature.

Fearghal: An Irish name meaning “man of valour”, referring to the courage in his character.

Anluan: From the Irish “an”, which means “great”, and “luan” which means “hero” or “warrior” (which is kinda the same thing in Irish mythology).

Of course, the name he gets called most often isn’t one given to him by birth at all, and is far less glamorous than any of the ones above: Culchie. Which is a term used in Ireland to describe people who live in rural areas, and not usually in a complimentary way.

Ciaran Daly

Ciaran is King of Dublin’s second hero, and Darragh’s love interest. When we meet him first, he is the King’s pampered pet . . . or is that tortured slave? He’s a status object for the king, as much as the plundered gold he wears. His name is much more “standard” than Darragh’s, but there’s still a bit of story to be teased out of it.

His first name, Ciaran, is a bit ironic. In Irish, it means “Little dark one,” while the text (and Darragh) make quite the show of how pale and golden Ciaran is, from the gold collar and cuffs he wears to the blond colour of his hair.

As for his last name, Daly? Well, Daly comes from Ó Dálaigh, or “Son of Dalach”. Dalach, in turn, comes from “dáil”, which means “assembly”, and also happens to be the name for the Irish lower parliament. The Ó Dalaigh, according to Irish history, were an important bardic family, part of a class of elite poets and musicians (yes, really) charged with carrying on and passing down the history, culture, and knowledge of Ireland. Ciaran, with his knowledge of the time before the collapse of Irish society, often takes on this role in the novel.

King Boru

The titular King of Dublin, Boru was a petty criminal in the days before the epidemic, and rose to power in the lawless years after. Having reinvented himself from gangster to monarch, he took on a new name to go with it. Although it’s never mentioned in the book (having likely been lost to time), Boru’s real name is Brian Menzies. It’s a completely ordinary name, but it has a little bit in common with a much more famous, royal moniker.

The real Brian Boru was an Irish chieftan credited with becoming the first High King of Ireland. King Boru, with his penchant for using his country’s history to solidify his own dictatorship (as many other dictators have done), must have jumped at the chance to re-name himself after a much more famous Brian than “Menzies”!

Rabbit

An orphaned child taken in by Irish Travellers, Rabbit has no (known) legal or given name, only one informally and affectionately given him based on his personality. He goes by Rabbit because of his tendency to “rabbit on”–that is, to chatter excitedly–which Rabbit most certainly does.

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Contest

Thanks for following our tour! To celebrate our release, we’re giving away a great pair of prizes! Up for grabs are: a book from BOTH of our backlists (that’s one Lisa Henry title and one Heidi Belleau one!) and a King of Dublin-themed souvenir from the National Irish museum, mailed straight to your door! All you have to do is leave a comment on this post with a way for us to contact you, be it your email, your twitter, or a link to your facebook or goodreads account. Please put your email in the body of the comment, not just in email section of the comment form, because we won’t be able to see it otherwise! Two weeks after King of Dublin’s release, on March 8th, we’ll draw a winner from all eligible comments! Be sure to follow the whole tour, because the more comments you leave, the more chances you have to win this awesome prize!

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ARC fullcoverAbout King of Dublin

Title: King of Dublin by Lisa Henry Heidi Belleau
Publisher: Riptide Publishing
Genre: Post-apocalyptic, Erotic, M/M, Romance
Length: 382 pages/Word Count: 100,900
Buy at Riptide Publishing

Twenty years after a deadly pandemic ravaged the world, Darragh Fearghal Anluan and the people of his village have carved out a hard but simple life in the Irish countryside. But with winter comes sickness, and Darragh must travel to Dublin in search of medicine. What he finds there is a ruined city ruled by a madman, where scavenging is punishable by death . . . or conscription.

Ciaran Daly came to Ireland with aid and optimism, but instead was enslaved by the so-called King of Dublin. After months of abuse from the king and his men, he has no reason to believe this newcomer will be any different. Except Ciaran finds himself increasingly drawn to Darragh, whose brutish looks mask how sweet and gentle he really is.

The tenderness Darragh feels for the king’s treasured pet is treason, but it’s hardly the only betrayal brewing in this rotten kingdom. Rebellions and rival gangs threaten the king’s power, but not nearly as much as Darragh and Ciaran—whose only hope for freedom is the fall of the king.

You can read an excerpt and purchase King of Dublin here.

About the Authors

Lisa Henry lives in tropical North Queensland, Australia. She doesn’t know why, because she hates the heat, but suspects she’s too lazy to move. She spends half her time slaving away as a government minion, and the other half plotting her escape.

She attended university at sixteen, not because she was a child prodigy or anything, but because of a mix-up between international school systems early in life. She studied History and English, neither of them very thoroughly.

She shares her house with too many cats, a dog, a green tree frog that swims in the toilet, and as many possums as can break in every night. This is not how she imagined life as a grown-up.

You can visit Lisa her website, at Goodreads, or on Facebook or Twitter..

Heidi Belleau was born and raised in small town New Brunswick, Canada. She now lives in the rugged oil-patch frontier of Northern BC with her husband, an Irish ex-pat whose long work hours in the trades leave her plenty of quiet time to write.

Her writing reflects everything she loves: diverse casts of characters, a sense of history and place, equal parts witty and filthy dialogue, the occasional mythological twist, and most of all, love—in all its weird and wonderful forms.

When not writing, you might catch her trying to explain British television to her daughter or sipping a drink at her favourite coffee shop.

She also writes queer-flavoured M/F as Heloise Belleau.

The Wanda Alston Foundation and the Week Ahead in ReviewQ

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Wanda Alston Foundation logo

So, great news! The Washington DC Metro Area now has a shelter for LGBT youth, the Wanda Alston Foundation.  For those of you familiar with our area, this name may sound familiar and it should.  Wanda Alston was a LGBTQ activist in Washington, DC. She was a cabinet member of the DC government and served on the Board of Directors for National Organization of Women. Highly respected and admired, she worked and campaigned for the Democratic party and Human Rights Campaign. Sadly she was killed inside her home in the District in 2005.  Her activism and legacy lives on today in the Wanda Alston Foundation.

The Wanda Alston House was the name of a previous organization that operated a shelter for LGBTQ youth that closed.  Now newly restructured and reorganized, the Wanda Alston Foundation is fully operational and needs our help and support.

First, it needs donations.  Here is a list from the director of immediate needs for their shelter:

  • Toiletries: Toothbrushes; Toothpaste; Brushes, Combs; Deodorants and lotions
  • Houseware: New blankets; pillows; sheets and towels.
  • Travel: token and fare cards for youth travel to appointments such as interviews
  • Donations: Donations to support programmatic needs are great too: visit our website for information or now donate via credit card/pay pal.

Secondly, it needs volunteers.  If you live in the Washington, DC area and have a skill or craft that you believe could beneficial to residents ( ie. math tutor), then contact the foundation’s director at the address listed below.  I also have a link to the foundation located to the right of the blog itself.

Or connect with them online at Facebook, Twitter, YouTube

Organization Contact Info:

Kenneth J. Pettigrew
Director of Programs
Wanda Alston Foundation
300 New Jersey Ave NW Suite 900
Washington DC 20001  (202) 465-8794 Phone (202) 347-0130 Fax

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Now for the week ahead in reviews:

Monday, March 3:         Convergence by Talya Andor

Tuesday, March 4:         Heidi Belleau/Lisa Henry’s King of Dublin Book Tour & Contest

Tuesday, March 4:         The Professor #4 Every Inch of the Way Book Tour

Wed., March 5                 Song of the Spring Moon Waning by E.E. Ottoman

Thursday, March 6:       King of Dublin by Heidi Belleau & Lisa Henry

Friday, March 7:              Come to Me by Megan Derr

Sat., March 8:                  Know Not Why by Hannah Johnson