I am loathe to call Eli Lang’s Half an urban fantasy as for me, this always conjures up scenes of gritty violence and dystopian futures, and Half could not be more different. In fact, I might have enjoyed a little gritty violence. So I’m going to say that it’s a standalone novel set in the comtemporary world, but one in which the sidthe, fey, water sprites, and brownies exist alongside humans, who are unaware of these magical beings all around them. These beings are presented fairly matter-of-factly through the everyday point of view of the main protagonist, Luca.
Luca is a young male who is half human, half fey an almost unheard of combination. His father is a ruling fey, although we do not meet him in the book. Luca’s mother is now dead and he has a wholly fey half-sister, Saben, whose only real function in the story appears to be that of a go-between. Luca has lived in two worlds all his life, with holiday time spent with his father in the fey world of nature and magic, and the rest with his mother in the human one. I did at first, suspect an analogy related to children of divorced parents. Although the fey world knows of Luca, he is treated as an outsider and there is a feeling that his conception was shameful in some way. I should mention here that the lives and world of the magical beings is not extensively described, and does not present a pretty or interesting counterpoint to the main plot.
Ever since he was born, Luca has suffered from a chronic illness, which has proved a mystery to fey healers and human doctors alike. For six years he travelled the world experiencing new things and searching for a cure, but the novel opens after he has returned home because his condition is degenerating.
Through his sister, Luca learns that his father has instructed a new type of healer to see him in the hope of effecting a cure. The healer turns out to be Kin, a gorgeous male with scales on his cheekbones and hips plus folding fins on his arms and legs. Luca first sees him at a gay club and is mesmerised by him but they don’t meet. When they do meet it is as healer and patient, something Luca is not pleased about.
Kin is Yokai and Ningyo, two types of Japanese magical beings – although he is not Japanese. The Ningyo are water fey, hence his scales. In fact even as we progress through the book Kin’s origins are not clear – at least not to this reader.
Kin and Luca fall for each other fairly speedily despite misgivings on Luca’s part regarding his terminal illness. It seems his fey half is eating his human half and he is only going to get sicker. Kin uses various potions which seem to do little to help Luca. Then Kin reveals a legend about his kind that may provide a solution although it comes with a rather major side effect. This side effect overshadows the whole story.
Personally, I found this novel far too melancholy. I understand that a story featuring two people falling in love when one of them is dying is not going to be all fun, but there should be light and shade. Every page in this story is introspective and full of philosophical discussion. Even a day out to see an amazingly wise old friend turns into a metaphysical diatribe on the fruit, persimmon and how worn and sad this long-lived being is.
Without giving anything away, a large part of Half is just a philosophical look at immortality and death. This tract is mainly set around the lovers Luca and Kin, as there are few other characters to add changes of mood or lightness to the story. The secondary characters that do appear are all old, wise or profound. Any sex scenes are of the fade to black variety except for one which lasts a tad longer. Yes, these scenes reveal progress in the relationship but are not really romantic. The romance is presented through Luca’s deep thoughts and descriptions of how beautiful Kin is, and other people giving the couple knowing looks and comments.
The writing is good and I am sure there are many who will enjoy this novel for what it is. However, I need variance in mood even in stories with a serious foundation. Without humour or lighter passages providing relief or another viewpoint, a sad or romantic story becomes morose and ultimately a little boring. Half was not for me.