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Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 441

This second novel by a promising fantasy writer clearly is influenced by Robert P. Holdstock’s Mythago series, begun in 1984, and probably by Thomas Burnett Swann (1928-1976). The novel, however, has an individuality and freshness all its own.

In some respects, A Different Kingdom is connected to Paul Kearney’s earlier...

(The entire section contains 441 words.)

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This second novel by a promising fantasy writer clearly is influenced by Robert P. Holdstock’s Mythago series, begun in 1984, and probably by Thomas Burnett Swann (1928-1976). The novel, however, has an individuality and freshness all its own.

In some respects, A Different Kingdom is connected to Paul Kearney’s earlier work, The Way to Babylon (1992). The Myrcans reappear, and Kearney explains that their appearance is different because considerable time has passed and they have lost their roles. Some other beings, notably the wood-wolves, also appeared in the previous book. Nevertheless, the link is tenuous, particularly in the light of the fact that A Different Kingdom is a reversal of the previous book’s concern with maintaining order.

Kearney concerns himself directly with the modern Irish experience. A Different Kingdom, as may be surmised from its title, may be read as an allegory of the relatively static qualities of Ulster life and character being menaced by the wilder Catholic world. It is fair to say, however, that Kearney’s later treatment of Catholicism, by no means totally unsympathetic, militates against this view.

The book has several strengths. The depiction of the 1950’s farm household at first appears so strong that the fantasy cannot rival it. The characterization also is strong, and the picture of growing up in a seemingly idyllic environment is portrayed convincingly. The fey qualities of the old farm laborer Mullan, a friend to young Michael, not only seem realistic for the unmodernized time but form a prediction of the forthcoming eruption of wildness into the stable environment of the farm.

Kearney shows mastery of the individual scene. From the Myrcan slaughter of the werewolf to the scene in which the Wyrin come for the failing adult Michael, covering his girlfriend with acorns and rowan berries, the stench and force of the alternate world are vivid. Kearney’s elves, werewolves, trolls, and goblins, which collectively form the Wyrin, avoid the clichés that such names impart in other fantasy works.

Above all, the reader gets a feeling for the trees and wood, which are central to the book. The wood-wolves are genuinely chilling, and the priests who are absorbed into the trees are thought in some ways to be saved as well as damned. The conclusion, defiantly pagan though by no means atheistic, is a more literary statement of such male role revisionary works as Robert Bly’s Iron John: A Book About Men (1990).

Historical influences on the book include the Spanish conquest of America. The most prominent fictional in-fluence is Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book (1894), particularly the analogies to the characters Ringbone, Mirkady, Dwarmo, and the Horseman.

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