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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

"Midnight Never Come" by Marie Brennan

Read The Book Swede’s INTERVIEW with Marie Brennan

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Marie Brennan is the pseudonym for Bryn Neuenschwander. Her bibliography includes the “Warrior/Witch” duology, numerous short stories and her third novel, “Midnight Never Come”. Marie holds an undergraduate degree in archaeology & folklore from Harvard and is now pursuing a PhD in anthropology & folklore at Indiana University.

PLOT SUMMARY: England flourishes under the hand of Queen Elizabeth, last and most powerful of the Tudor monarchs. But a great light casts a great shadow…

In hidden catacombs beneath London, a second Queen holds court: Invidiana, ruler of the Onyx Court, a dark mirror to the glory above. In the thirty years since Elizabeth ascended her throne, fae and mortal politics have become inextricably entwined.

Into this world of secret alliances and ruthless betrayals whose existence is suspected by only a few, come two courtiers, both struggling for royal favor. One is the Lady Lune, a fae sent to monitor and manipulate Elizabeth's spymaster, Walsingham. The other is Michael Deven, a mortal of minor gentry and agent of Walsingham's. Together they uncover shocking secrets behind their two thrones, which test Lune's loyalty and Deven's courage alike. Will Lune betray her Queen for the sake of a world that is not hers? And can Michael survive in the alien and Machiavellian realm of the fae? For only together will they be able to find the source of Invidiana's power—and destroy it…

CLASSIFICATION: Set in an alternate Elizabethan Age—mainly between September 1588 and June 1590—where magic and fae are as real as politics, “Midnight Never Come” is a seductive blend of historical fiction, court intrigue, fantasy, mystery and romance. At times the book reminded me of Shakespeare, Neil Gaiman, Susanna Clarke and Faust, but Marie has a style all her own. As a whole I would describe “Midnight Never Come” as a gothic fairy tale…

FORMAT/INFO: Page count is 379 pages divided over five Acts and a prologue/epilogue. Narration is in the third-person and alternates between two main characters: Lune and Michael Deven. Frequently interjected into the narrative are flashbacks—known as ‘Memory’ in the book—and short interludes from minor characters. “Midnight Never Come” is the first in a series, but the book is self-contained with the sequel, “And Ashes Lie” (TBD 2009), taking place over half a century later during the Great Fire of London. Like most
Orbit releases, the book comes with a bunch of Extras including an Author Interview, a behind-the-scenes look at “Midnight Never Come” and an excerpt to Jo Graham’s novel “Black Ships” (Reviewed HERE).

Trade Paperback publication of “Midnight Never Come” is May 1, 2008 (UK) and June 9, 2008 (North America) via
Orbit Books. The cover design is by Ploy Siripant while the artwork is provided by David W. Ortega.

ANALYSIS: Mixing together history and fantasy is hardly a new concept in literature, especially when the historical element in question is the oft-used Elizabethan era and the fantasy part is faeries. When done right however, it can be a potent combination as seen in Marie Brennan’s new novel, “Midnight Never Come”…

Of the historical aspect, “Midnight Never Come” is peppered with factual details like specific dates, places, people and events—Queen Elizabeth’s spymaster Walsingham, the astrologer John Dee, Edward Kelley, Gentlemen Pensioners, the earthquake of 1580, Edmund Spenser’sThe Faerie Queen”, the London Stone, Jack Cade, Christopher Marlowe’s play Doctor Faustus, et cetera—which immediately lends the book credibility. The best thing about the novel’s historical accuracy though is the way Marie uses fantasy to twist actual history—the cause of the 1580 earthquake, what defeated the Spanish Armada, and Dee’s ability to speak with angels—while staying true to the original timeline. I also appreciated the many different references in the book, especially the way Marie used Edmund Spenser’sThe Faerie Queen” ;)

Regarding the novel’s fantasy element, the setup in “Midnight Never Come” is that faeries, or fae—extends to a wide variety of magical creatures including hobs, brownies, river nymphs, pucks, sprites, faun, bogles, goblins, giants, will-o'-the-wisps, et cetera—not only exist, but have their own courts ruled over by faerie kings and queens. What’s impressive about the fae is how much research went into their creation, which rivals the research Marie must have undertaken for the novel’s historical parts. For example, do you know what a fae’s weaknesses are, their magical abilities, what happens when they eat mortal bread, what happens to a mortal who partakes of faerie food & drink, and so on? All that and much more of the faerie mythology can be found in “Midnight Never Come”, and as an added bonus, Marie also includes legends about Gog & Magog, Father Thames and Brutus of Troy, the mythical founder of Britain.

Story-wise, “Midnight Never Come” opens with Princess Elizabeth forging a pact with Invidiana of the fae in 1554. Over thirty years later, both are now Queens of England—Elizabeth the Virgin Queen and Invidiana of the Onyx Court—embroiled in political intrigue and facing threats from such enemies as Spain and the Wild Hunt. From here, the first Act introduces readers to Lune, a disgraced fae courtier trying to regain the favor of Invidiana; and Michael Deven, newly appointed member of the Gentlemen Pensioners (elite bodyguard of Queen Elizabeth) who seeks employment under the spymaster Walsingham, while Act Two is mainly cloak & dagger games including Lune masquerading as a human courtier, a conspiracy against Invidiana, and Ireland. Now I’m a big fan of political intrigue, especially when it’s well-written, so I was already hooked by the book at this point, but Act Three was when I fell in love with “Midnight Never Come” :) Starting in Act Three, the novel shifts into more fantastical territory and by the time readers reach Act Five, “Midnight Never Come” has metamorphosized into a full-blown fairy tale complete with a tragic curse, a pact that needs to be broken, star-crossed love, prophecy, angels, gods, and jaw-dropping secrets…

As far as the writing, there’s little to complain about. A couple of the supporting players could have been fleshed out a bit more as well as the relationship between Michael & Anne, and a few plot points were left unresolved involving Vidar and Edward Kelley, but overall Marie Brennan handled herself extremely well, led by strong prose, tight plotting, mischievous humor, quick pacing and wonderful storytelling that fully engages the reader :)

CONCLUSION: Historical fantasies are hit-or-miss for me, so I was a little wary when starting Marie Brennan’sMidnight Never Come”, but it wasn’t long before the book had me entranced and by the time the ending was in sight, I was doing everything in my power to make the novel last as long as possible :) Spectacularly researched, beautifully imagined, and utterly charming, “Midnight Never Come” is as magical and spellbinding as the fae inhabiting Marie Brennan’s Onyx Court


Peta said...

I'm looking forward to reading this one - sounds interesting. I'm holding out on buying it as I plan to scoop first prize in the competition that Orbit is running on to win signed copies and £250/$500 in book vouchers. Fingers crossed!

Cheryl said...

Great review

Robert said...

Peta, that's a great contest that Orbit is running, so good luck!

Thanks Cheryl :)

Chris, The Book Swede said...

Nice review, Robert :) Glad you enjoyed this one as much as me -- and I agree, historical fantasy can be a bit hit-and-miss for me, too, which is why I was so pleased when it turned out to be a really good book! :D

Thanks for the links, too! ;)

david santos said...

I love it!

Robert said...

Thanks Chris! I'll definitely be reading the sequel :) And you're welcome for the links! Hopefully I'll have my own interview with Marie soon :D

Happy Day to you too David!

AvDB said...

This book might have totally missed my radar if not for you. Thanks for the heads-up; I'm now looking forward to reading it.

Robert said...

Well you're welcome Avery :) I hope you enjoy the book when you get a chance to read it!


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