Friday, March 25, 2022

"Talia Heir to the Fairy Realm" by Joel C. Flanagan-Grannemann--Fiction Review

Today Obscurists, we’re going on a magical journey with some fairies—through enchanting vistas and sublime locales. Oh, and there will be blood, murder, betrayal, and mayhem in this fantasy novel about statecraft in “Talia Heir to the Fairy Realm” by Joel C. Flanagan-Grannemann. 

Joel C. Flanagan-Grannemann

***The Non-Spoiler part of this review***

What I love about this book:

At first, I thought this book would primarily be about Talia’s affair with the human prince, Bastile, but it turns out that event is really just inciting action, which surprised me. I liked that the book surprised me, especially because the outsider’s perspective looking into the fairy realm would have been a far easier way to do world-building. But the book is called “Talia Heir to the Fairy Realm” and not “Bastile,” so I appreciate that Flanagan-Grannemann stuck to his guns.

The whole story reads like mythic fiction like “Jason and the Argonauts” or the “Odyssey,” but with fairies, and frankly, in terms of numbers, Talia is much better at keeping her people alive than old Odysseus. What I’m driving at is Flanagan-Grannemann’s story has an episodic quality that I enjoyed regarding Talia and her ladies’ adventures. 

Flanagan-Grannemann manages a large number of protagonists as well or better than anyone else I’ve read. There are 19 fairies in Talia’s traveling group, and it was genuinely amazing, to me at least, that he managed to give most of them their time in the sun with their own little backstories.

What I don’t love about this book:

It’s a long book that still somehow manages to end feeling like it’s in the middle. I get it is part of a series, and there is a bit of a cliffhanger ending, but I expected some of the sub-plots to have seen some resolution as opposed to nearly none of them.

There is also the equivalent of a fairy Auschwitz in this story which was distressing to discover. I assumed that when the characters were visiting this particular location, there would be some sort of moral lesson—you know, other than rape and systematic murder are terrible. I’m not putting this observation here because I dislike per se that Flanagan-Grannemann would discuss such topics in a fantasy story. I think that any topic can be examined within the scope of fiction. It’s here because I’m horrified by the idea of forced labor or concentration-like camps, which is, I believe, the intended effect.

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***The Spoiler part of this review***
***Ye be warned to turn back now***

The quick and dirty synopsis:

Talia, and the fairy court at large, are hosting a contingent of humans led by the human prince, Bastile. There has been a war before between the fairy and human realms, so tensions are high during these diplomatic visits. Despite the apparent strain, Talia manages to forge a connection with Bastile and rapidly falls in love with him.

It isn’t to be, though, because of palace intrigue on both sides, loyalties are questioned, and Bastile and his people are told in no uncertain terms that they are to leave the fairy realm. Talia’s mother, the queen, is forced to punish her daughter for her role in the diplomatic disaster that has led to fairies and humans’ deaths, so Talia is banished for a year of exile. Despite not needing to, Talia’s ladies, and their accompanying soldiers, all choose to go into exile with Talia.

On the road to the plantation where Talia will serve out her year of exile, it quickly becomes apparent that Talia is pregnant with Bastile’s child. Unsure of whether or not to keep the child, the fairies, magical beings, have a third option. They use their magic to put Talia’s developing child into a sort of suspended animation until she is ready to decide. 

Once at the plantation, things quickly get worse for Talia and her ladies. The administrator isn’t just strict—she’s downright evil, and the depth of that evil comes out in stages. On top of the slavish conditions for the workers, the high injury rate, the supervisors also abuse their charges sexually. It’s at that point when Talia is made aware of that particular crime that she’s had enough, and through guile and magic, she brings the fairy law down on the administrator—who manages to escape.

Talia discovers that the dangerous working conditions and rape weren’t the only crimes committed on the plantation but that they were also murdering fairies to fuel blood magic. The administrator was just the public face of a dangerous blood cult and had been propped up by powerful allies within the fairy court. Talia suspects, and after conversing with her mother, via magic, that those powerful allies are Talia’s aunts, who are dissatisfied with their sister’s rule, and wish for another war with the humans.

After the plantation, Talia chooses to remain in exile, despite her mother offering her the chance to come home. Talia doesn’t choose to stay at the plantation but decides to travel the hinterlands of the fairy realm with her ladies, investigating the blood cult and righting little wrongs here and there. 

Eventually, Talia and company hit on the quest to learn more about the fairy realm’s legendary exiled queen. They think that by finding her tomb, they might find insight into the current problems the realm faces. The journey to find the tomb is long and hard. Even after arriving, Talia and her ladies still face dangers because the cave in which the tomb is located is well protected by magic and traps. The complex under the mountain they explore is unexpectedly vast and requires more time to explore, but the fairies’ supplies dwindle with winter coming on.

A group is sent to sell their mounts and retrieve supplies for the entire party. With Talia’s aunts and their allies still hunting them—the plan is to retrieve the supplies, and then a small distance outside of town, use a dangerous form of magic to teleport the supplies and fairies back to Talia and the rest of the group. That way, Talia’s aunts won’t know where they are staying.

It almost works. One soldier, the fairy who is the captain of the soldiers with Talia, gets left behind. She manages to fight off the first wave of attackers and flies away, but she’d been injured in the arm by a cursed blade. As she tries to make her way back to the tomb on her own, she becomes increasingly delirious, and it isn’t at all clear if she’ll make it back.


On a superficial level, this story is a fantasy novel about the intrigues of fairies, but it’s also a meditation on several themes at its core. Themes like racism, effective leadership, the cost of power and blind ambition, and romantic entanglements. Flanagan-Grannemann stuffs a lot of things into this book and, for the most part, sticks more landings than not.

I’m still not sold on the concept of a first novel or introductory story having quite so many characters to keep track of while reading. It was the biggest strain for me reading this novel to remember who was who—but that is also true-to-form like I said above with ancient stories such as the “Odyssey.” I can recognize that Flanagan-Grannemann juggled these characters better than I’ve seen almost any other writer do, even if it wasn’t my cup of tea. Plus, “The Nine” is just a cool-sounding name for a military unit, and it would be weird if there weren’t nine, but with another nine fairies attached to each soldier and a maid, nineteen is a lot.

Overall, I enjoyed the plot of this story. It’s a story of love won and lost—betrayal and intrigue—and a fall from grace but also redemption.

Parting thoughts:

For many reasons, “Talia Heir to the Fairy Realm” isn’t in my wheelhouse of stories I would typically pick up to read. I’ve never been deeply fascinated by stories about the fae, and even when reading Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” I wasn’t exactly moved to seek out more stories about fairies.

That being said, I routinely try to push my boundaries when reading and to try and sometimes retry new things. It’s sometimes difficult to get outside of our comfort zones, especially when it comes to fiction, but it’s the little unexpected discoveries that make it worthwhile.

For instance, in this book, I found myself totally absorbed in the conversations these women would have about their lives and how their world worked and their goals. Before reading this story, it wouldn’t have occurred to me that was something I would enjoy so much. So, in the end, I’m glad I picked it up.

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