A Different Kingdom – Paul Kearney

About the Book

A different kingdom of wolves, woods and stranger, darker, creatures lies in wait for Michael Fay in the woods at the bottom of his family’s farm.

Michael Fay is a normal boy, living with his grandparents on their family farm in rural Ireland. In the woods there are wolves; and other things, dangerous things. He doesn’t tell his family, not even his Aunt Rose, his closest friend.

And then, as Michael wanders through the trees, he finds himself in the Other Place. There are strange people, and monsters, and a girl called Cat.

When the wolves follow him from the Other Place to his family’s doorstep, Michael must choose between locking the doors and looking away – or following Cat on an adventure that may take an entire lifetime in the Other Place.

432 pages (paperback)
Published on January 28, 2014
Published by Solaris

This book was provided for me to review by the publisher.

Here’s the deal. All you really have to do is say, “Ireland” and this bookworm comes running. Now, a book set in Ireland, written by an author from Ireland is…. Well, it’s something that gets my attention right away. Added to that is an amazing cover, and an author’s name that resonates (this dude is well known), and you have something truly special.

A Different Kingdom is, from what I gather, a reprint of one of Kearney’s first novels. The thing is, this doesn’t read like an early novel in an illustrious career. It actually reads like something a well practiced author would churn out after a hell of a lot of work. While the back-cover blurb might put some readers off, as it seems a little been-there-done-that, rest assured, this novel is anything but. In fact, I take some minor issues with the back-cover blurb because it does a very bad job at conveying the sheer depth, scope, and maturity this book contains.

“Maturity?” you ask. A book about a young teenaged kid seems like it would be well, young adult, not adult. You see, that’s where this is misleading. Yes, our protagonist, one Michael Fay, is young, and this book does focus quite a bit on his youth and growth from boy into young man, but the central themes of much of the novel are very, very adult. In Michael’s world, the young have to mature fast. Life on the farm in Northern Ireland in the early 1900’s is nothing to shake a stick at. Life was hard, and it makes the people who live it even harder.

Mixed with that fact is the fact that many of the books central themes are driven, even fueled by desire, including sexual desire. Desire is a common feeling for the teenaged among us to feel, but Kearney’s use of it is a lot more mature than the lust that would fill an angsty young adult book.

With that aside, lets get to the real meat of the novel, and my, what juicy meat….
(I just realized that probably seems a lot “dirtier” than I wanted it to sound. Uh… oops. Note to self: Edit before you hit “post.”)

A Different Kingdom is set in the picturesque countryside of Ireland, and the farm where Michael lives. Alongside this, perhaps on top of it, layered throughout it, is another fantasy world where other creatures live, creatures that seem to spring out of our own myths and legends. The fact that this other world is set in a landscape that has filled many (myself included) with beautiful myths and legends (and truly, I can’t think of a more perfect place to layer with a beautiful fantasy world than Ireland) is just perfect. This is a book for dreamers.

The plot is fast paced, and even when it seems like the only thing you are really learning about is how Michael grows up and his various life experience, things are happening.  Kearney does an incredible job at filling his book with a central, commanding plot, while peppering the book with a ton of background detail. You have Michael, this other fantasy world, and all that drama (sorry, I don’t want to give you spoilers). On top of this you have Michael’s slightly awkward family situation, as well as how society at that time handles awkward situations like pregnancy out of wedlock. How you travel from one location to another. Popular treatment of children, common chores, and all sorts of other things.

You see, Kearney isn’t just telling you a story, but he’s bringing the world alive for you. Ireland under Kearney’s practiced hand isn’t just a country we’ve all heard of, it is a place you live while you read this book, and you’ll love him for it. The world that is layered alongside Michael’s Ireland is truly magical and absolutely intoxicating. But the glory really doesn’t end there. Kearney fills his A Different Kingdom with such incredible emotional intensity it is impossible to put down. So much happens, not just growing pains, but the plot is packed so full of action and developments, and you, the reader, will keenly feel every bit of it.

“Sarah,” you say, “Why don’t you rant a little bit more?”


If you ask me what my absolute favorite part of A Different Kingdom is, it is Kearney’s writing. The first few pages of this book are a description of Ireland, starting wide, and narrowing down to the farm itself, and it is probably the most beautiful, realistic landscape description I’ve ever read in my life. It brought me right back to Ireland and my time there, those weeks I toured that island, saw the farms, ate the food, and laughed with the locals. It rocketed me back in time, and it firmly planted me in that “other” place I’ve been obsessed with most of my life. But the truly glorious thing is the fact that Kearney doesn’t turn off his stunning writing after he’s hooked you with the first few pages. The whole book is written like that. If I am being honest with you I have to admit that I would read books full of Kearney’s landscape descriptions just because he is such a powerfully vivid author and his prose are so unbelievably, stunningly beautiful.

So what am I saying?

I loved this book.

That is all.


5/5 stars

6 Responses

  • This is great news. I need to get to this soon, I’ve had this book for ages. I absolutely loved his Macht trilogy and can’t get enough of the guy.

  • Ironically it was the Ireland part that kept me from reading this so long. I have been told that this is actually his best book, crazy being as it is his first followed by some pretty damn good follow ups.

  • A Different Kingdom is, from what I gather, a reprint of one of Kearney’s first novels. The thing is, this doesn’t read like an early novel in an illustrious career. It actually reads like something a well practiced author would churn out after a hell of a lot of work.

    Oddly, to me, so much of Kearney’s later work doesn’t resemble this one *at all*. The Ten Thousand, or the Hawkwood novels look like the work of a very different author

  • David

    Totally agree. So much about this book is different – from Michael’s life to the vivid descriptions of the Irish countryside to the grim reality of life in the other place. Superb. And a great review.

    Just one thing – I think the book is set in the 50s, not the early 1900s. There are hints of coming Trobles, and it looks back to the First World War.

    • Gah! You’re probably right. For some reason I had it in my head that it was set in the 1920s. Oops.

  • I haven’t read the book (although I might now I’ve seen this review – it looks awesome) but I just wanted to say omg that cover is goregous.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.