The simplest way to describe Eoin Macken’s debut novel Kingdom is Scars would be to say that it’s about an Irish boy just living his life and experiencing the things that teenage boys go through: trying to fit in and become a part of a group, being bullied at school, disrespecting authority, flirting with petty crime, first sexual encounters, being unsure how to deal with girls, drinking, smoking, and all other kinds of things.
And while this may make it seem like just another one of those novels trying to be ultra profound about growing up and coming into manhood, Kingdom of Scars doesn’t seem to try and be extremely poetic about the experiences at all; that is not to say that there is no skill in the writing, but the story told just plays out as if to say, “it is what it is”. In fact, I have difficulty describing what the overall plot of action would be in this novel, as it comes across almost as a series of connected vignettes of one boy’s experiences that come to affect him, his actions, his relationships, and his understandings of the world. Our lives are a series of moments and experiences that shape us, and that is what I see Kingdom of Scars as describing.
The protagonist of the novel is young Sam, who lacks a circle of friends at school (save for one boy), and is trying desperately to be fully accepted by a group of boys who he lives by that he likes to hang out with on a regular basis. The novel follows Sam for a period of time as he engages in different acts and experiences with the boys he wants to be a part of, as he is introduced to a girl and takes his first steps into the world of dating and sex, and as he learns what it means to assert yourself when you need to. In the middle part of the novel I got a little excited by the prospect of there possibly even being a little bit of a surprise paranormal element to the story, but that didn’t really play out like I thought it might (not that that’s a bad thing, I just really like supernatural stuff).
More than anything, however, I was struck by how Kingdom of Scars seems to examine this idea of the illusions we hold of people (though that might just be my interpretation of it): Sam would be seen holding people in such high regard and wanting to be closer to them, only to find that perhaps people are not all that they seem once we do break the barriers and come to know them better. People float in and out of our good graces as our illusions of them are broken by their actions or our new understandings of things, and the more you learn about someone or go through your life experiences, the more you come to grow in terms of seeing people for who they truly are, and seeing yourself for you who are. These are the things that I ended up thinking about while I was reading this novel, and I particularly enjoyed the fact that it got my mind going about such topics.
Overall, I read Kingdom of Scars quickly, and it’s not difficult to get through as the language is reasonably straightforward and effective. While many may be tired of reading angsty teenage stories about growing up and experiencing the world, I found the novel to be illustrative on the experiences that many may have, and to be presented in a way that was simple and not exhausting like I often find some of the more weighty writing styles to be. But then again, that’s just me!
[As always, this review–along with all the others– is also posted on my blog.]