Midnight Never Come by Marie Brennan
Published by Orbit (UK) May 2008, Orbit (US) June 2008
379 pages (Plus Extras)
Review by Mark Yon / Hobbit
Now hast thou but one hower to live
And then thou must be damnd perpetually:
Stand stil you ever moving spheres of heaven
That time may cease, and midnight never come!
Christopher Marlowe, The tragicall history of D. Faustus
Marie is a relatively new name to Fantasy (here in the UK at least: in the US it is her third novel) but one that, based on this book at least, is deserving of a stellar future.
At first glance, and as the title might suggest, the book reads as a historical novel. Set in the England of the 1500’s, the story tells of the rise (and further rise!) of Elizabeth I, with all of the difficulties of political intrigue, backstabbing and danger that a life in court in those days could be. However, what makes this a Fantasy novel is that Marie embellishes it with a story of a hidden underworld, a world beneath. For here the story is also that of Invidiana, ruler of faerie England, a dark doppelganger, mirroring the golden age of Elizabethan England above. Indeed, if it were not for the influence of Invidiana and the Fae (the Faerie world), Elizabeth would’ve been executed by Mary at the Tower of London.
Now thirty years since Elizabeth came to power, the links between the near-immortal fae and mortal politics have become increasingly complicated, with secret alliances and ruthless betrayals everywhere, and yet whose existence is suspected only by a few. To this, two courtiers, (one, Michael Deven, courting for the favour of Queen Elizabeth in the Elizabethan court, the other, Lady Lune, for the favour of Queen Invidiana in the Onyx Court), work in similar ways but for different purposes, and in doing so uncover the secrets that lie behind and interconnect their respective thrones.
This is a surprisingly skilful and confident book, with a great deal of research drip-fed through the plot. The book manages to convincingly portray a great deal of historical backstory, using characters from the ‘real’ history such as Elizabeth I and her aide, Francis Walsingham, as well as John Dee, Francis Drake and (Walter) Ralegh (sic), whilst at the same time having realistic characterisation, with the right tone and ambience expected from a novel set in those times. This creates a logical feel to this historical urban fantasy.
Similarly, the Fantasy folklore aspect of the novel is clearly thought through and delivered with a pleasing degree of complexity, with aspects such as brownies, Hobs and the Wild Hunt included to assist the power-politics of the Fae, that enhance the mood of sensible unreality the author tries so hard to cultivate. The differences between the Elizabethan world and the Fae world are skilfully written, with Invidiana and her court being rational yet eerily surreal. Invidiana herself, for reasons revealed later in the book, is startlingly cruel, whose whim could be to execute a court member rather than look at them. In counterpoint, Elizabeth is marginally less severe, though her demeanour is often caused through necessity rather than through cruelty.
The plot is nicely driven throughout and not always what might be expected. There is a romance or two, though pleasingly not as mawkish as they could be. I found myself unable to guess parts of the plots, one of the signs (for me) of an engrossing read. Above anything else, the book creates an entertainment that feels enchantingly appropriate.
In summary, this book pleasingly yielded more than I expected. This is a novel that is the first of a proposed series, with others set at the time of the Great Fire of 1666 (And Ashes Lie, due 2009) and Victorian England. I look forward to the next!
Mark Yon / Hobbit, May 2008
Copyright © sffworld.com. If quoted please credit "sffworld.com, name of reviewer".