“If we never experience the chill of a dark winter, it is very unlikely that we will ever cherish the warmth of a bright summer’s day.” – Anthon St. Maarten
J.L. O’Faolain serves up a yin-yang holiday fantasy, in which the Oak King and the Holly King, the keepers of the seasons, battle for supremacy each solstice in Holly and Oak, the story of immortal brothers, and the one of them who has fallen in love with a human.
Loving a human isn’t necessarily forbidden for the Holly King but it certainly does present some interesting issues, namely the fact that Sergio isn’t immortal, not to mention that he and Holly are from two vastly different worlds, which causes some concern on the part of the Oak King for his brother. Where love is concerned, however, the old adage “where there’s a will, there’s away,” is often all one needs, especially when one is as powerful as a god of seasons.
J.L. O’Faolain pours some vivid imagery and great energy into the battle scene between Oak and Holly, the to-the-figurative-death fights that take place each solstice to mark the cycle of change, of death and renewal, and to close the circle of each year.
Depending upon your definition of romance, Holly and Oak might not be what one would call a traditionally romantic story, nor is it a traditional holiday story at all. Holly and Sergio spend slightly less time together in this tale than the plot takes to introduce Sergio to the reader. There’s relationship backstory the reader isn’t offered, so rather than romance, I’d say this is a book whose strength lies in the intrigue of its mythology, with a little love to warm things up just before it ends. What I’d have loved was more word count to build on both its mythology and the relationship between these two men, because what was there was pretty enticing.