I haven't done a book review in a long time, and as it happens I just read a new urban fantasy that I really liked, so it seemed like a good time to offer a review here. The book is 'The Knowing' by Kevan Manwaring and is available on ebook through amazon (there is no print edition at this point to my knowledge).
One of the better urban fantasies out there taking on the subject of traditional fairies in the modern world, 'The Knowing' stands apart from most fiction because of the amount of research that obviously went into it. The story is built on the actual history of Reverend Robert Kirk and his 17th century book 'The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns, and Fairies' but takes that history and then conjectures, what if? What if everything he wrote was true? What if Kirk actually was taken by the fairies, as folklore says he was? What if he is still their prisoner? And then it builds it's own story from there, creating a tale of one of Kirk's descendants, her own tragedy and struggles, and her own possibly inevitable entanglement with Fairy.
Its hard not to get pulled into the tale, and I found myself quickly wanting to know what would happen to Janey, the main character, if she'd overcome her own personal challenges, if she'd win out in the end. The other characters also have stories that are intriguing, and its not often that I find myself as pulled in by the minor characters as the protagonist, but in this case I was just as invested in the tidbits about Kirk, and even Fingal and the Xaeveax. Actually I kind of found myself rooting for the Xaeveax even though they are they antagonists in the story. I also found the way the minor characters' points of view were woven into the larger tale interesting.
There are a few minor things an American reader might take issue with, points where its clear that the book, set mostly in America, wasn't written by someone intimately familiar with the culture, but the story is strong enough that I think that can be overlooked. If you aren't familiar with British terms for things, like solicitor for lawyer and flat for apartment, you may find it breaks your immersion a bit. However I do grade this one on a significant curve, given the enormous number of American authors who write material set in Ireland or the UK without any knowledge of those cultures and produce utterly culturally tone deaf pieces. With that in mind this book did very well in setting the story where it did, and the issues are mostly minor.
The characters are likable and realistically flawed, quirky without being caricatures, and the fairies are true-to-folklore scary. I was impressed with how well the characterization was done, because I know how hard it is to write a character that isn't perfect and makes some big mistakes during the book but remains likable. I found that even when Janey was doing things that were rather cringeworthy I was still rooting for her to win out, and that said a lot to me about how invested I was in her. I was also really impressed with how well handled the fairies were, as in my opinion most urban fantasy (probably even my own) tends to over-humanize them but this one did not. They remained very alien in their actions and motives and felt very true to folklore even when put into a modern downtown city.
Ultimately the story is one anyone familiar with folklore will know, because blends of Tam Lin and Thomas the Rhymer pulse just beneath the surface, cleverly hidden and reworked so that they are not obvious enough to make the story predictable. Yet they are still there, a nod at the old folklore, and a memory of every fairy tale and ballad where a brave woman must step up and save a man lost to Fairy. Like any good fairy-story The Knowing is ultimately about choices, and I found myself rooting for Janey to make the right ones to triumph in the end and win (or win back, perhaps?) the things she loved most.