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Midnight Never Come, by Marie Brennan

A while back I talked about the dangers of switching series. As a case in point, check out a few of the Amazon reviews of Midnight Never Come [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy], by Marie Brennan (swan_tower). With her latest book, Brennan has moved from more traditional sword & sorcery to intricate historical fantasy, and anyone wanting or expecting more of the same might be disappointed.

I was not. I read and reviewed Brennan's earlier books, and enjoyed them both. This one was different: richer in historical detail and description, but less action-oriented than the earlier books. This is also a far more ambitious story.

Set in the late 16th century, Midnight Never Comes opens with a pact between two women who will soon become the most powerful rulers in England: Elizabeth the Virgin Queen, and Invidiana, faerie ruler of the Onyx Court below London. The Onyx Court is a dark shadow of the city above, a secret place of cruelty and deception. One member of Invidiana's court, a faerie named Lune, struggles to regain the favor of her queen by spying on events above. Lune's counterpart is the human courtier Michael Deven, who has been tasked by spymaster Francis Walsingham with finding the hidden player influencing Queen Elizabeth. As Lune and Deven discover the secrets behind Invidiana's power and the true nature of the faerie queen's pacts, they must choose whether to work together, risking everything to try to break Invidiana's rule.

Lune was a more appealing character to me, in part I think because her stakes were higher. Whereas Deven starts out trying to secure a position in Elizabeth's court, Lune serves a more temperamental and dangerous ruler in a court that makes human politics look as simplistic and straightforward as the squabbling of preschoolers. Watching Lune navigate that court, seeing her fall and struggle to rise again, leaves Deven feeling a little bland by comparison.

I confess to being a poor historian, but even to my eye it's clear Brennan has done a great deal of research for this book. Every detail is meticulous and precise, evoking not a generic English fantasy setting but a very real and concrete place and time. Brennan then blends historical detail with the fantastic so smoothly I barely noticed the seams.

This is a book that invites you to slow down and savor. Broken into five acts, each act builds more tension, moving from a relatively leisurely introduction toward a much more focused struggle in the final act. Let me put it this way. While reading the first half of the book, I enjoyed the story, but it was easy for me to set the book down, knowing I'd be back the next night to read more. Toward the end, I had a much harder time closing the book, and lost quite a bit of sleep as things came to a climax.

If you're looking for nonstop action and excitement, this may not be the book for you. But if you want rich worldbuilding and a story you can truly immerse yourself in, I'd recommend picking this one up. For writers, it's also an excellent example of interweaving the historical and the fantastic.

(Oh, and as a random tidbit, this is a book which was at least partly inspired by a role-playing game. To anyone who bashes RPGs and gaming-inspired fiction as simplistic or somehow inferior, I wave this book at you with a hearty pbbt!)



( 15 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 30th, 2008 07:35 pm (UTC)
I quite agree with you. This book was excellent! :D
Nov. 30th, 2008 11:15 pm (UTC)
May check it out.

I will observe that real writers can be inspired by grocery lists.
Dec. 1st, 2008 12:46 pm (UTC)
I have this book on my TBR list. Marie was kind enough to send it to me and well I am not going to disappoint her. She seems like an amazingly cool lady to be around with. ;)
Dec. 1st, 2008 06:58 pm (UTC)
I have to say, it's been fascinating to see who prefers Lune or Deven, and why. They both have their partisans, and for a whole range of reasons.
Dec. 1st, 2008 07:04 pm (UTC)
Do *you* have a preference? One that you'd be willing to admit, I mean? :-)
Dec. 1st, 2008 07:13 pm (UTC)
Jack. ^_^ But you don't get to see him until the next book.
Dec. 1st, 2008 07:16 pm (UTC)
That is *so* cheating :-P
Dec. 1st, 2008 07:23 pm (UTC)
Yes, but it's also true. Jack is a smartass. I love smartasses.

To keep Plotbunny from coming after me with that stick or whatever it's holding -- my preference shifts depending on which bit of the story you're looking at. Lune's political stakes are higher, but I think Deven has more at stake personally. (Most visibly circa the latter half of Act Three.)
Dec. 1st, 2008 07:34 pm (UTC)
Hm ... Deven certainly has a lot at stake. Financially, politically, and by the end there's the danger to his person, both physical and mental. He's also got more of an emotional investment, as his feelings for Lune appear stronger from the get go.

But I guess Lune's political stakes also felt more personal, given what happens to those who fall into disfavor with Invidiana.

So, because it's so much fun picking another author's brain, can I ask how difficult it was to keep Lune from becoming too human? I know it's something I struggled with, keeping my goblins as goblins and not blue-painted humans. Given that Lune really does change over the book as she eats bread and spends more time among mortals, I'm curious how you dealt with it?
Dec. 1st, 2008 07:46 pm (UTC)
How I dealt with it? I, er, wrote, and hoped it worked. <g> I think it's definitely tough to write extensively from the pov of a faerie protagonist and not have her start to feel human; I don't know if I could have done that with a character not as sympathetic to humanity as Lune is. (Under no circumstances could I have written Invidiana's pov.) If I succeeded at the inhumanity, I think I would fail at getting the reader to sympathize with the character.

Lune's stakes are personal -- it doesn't get much more personal than your life! -- but Deven's emotionally vulnerable in a way she isn't. I've said in the past that the five cruelest words in the entire book are "I did not have to" -- Lune's answer to the question he asks when he's brought her back from Islington.

I will say, since it's Pick An Author's Brain Day here, that the one flaw in the book I really wish I could go back and fix is that I didn't achieve a distinct enough shift in Lune once she makes her choice near the end of the book; there should have been a lot more emotional vulnerability once she did so.
Dec. 1st, 2008 07:58 pm (UTC)
Okay, that makes sense. (The relative emotional vulnerability of the two characters.) And now I'm going to have to go back and reread the "I did not have to" scene.

"If I succeeded at the inhumanity, I think I would fail at getting the reader to sympathize with the character."

Yep. The more alien the POV, the harder for the reader to connect and relate.
Dec. 1st, 2008 08:07 pm (UTC)
Yes. And I don't think I'm capable, as a writer, of making Invidiana's pov sufficiently alien.

Which is a funny statement when you realize I've played Invidiana. Yeah, my players all assure me she scared the crap out of them, but from my own perspective, what I played was maybe 10% as scary as the character ought to have been. I think I could have done better had it been a LARP instead of a tabletop game -- a lot of Invidiana's effect lay in clothing and body language, which were not available to me in my living room armchair. But then I would have been frustrated that I wasn't six feet tall; all but one of my players is taller than I am, and it's tough to loom properly under such circumstances. :-)
Dec. 2nd, 2008 01:23 am (UTC)
Ooooo, cool! Two of my favourite things, fantasy and the Elizabethan era, in one place! ::e-mails title to parents who were asking for Chanukah gift ideas last week::
Dec. 2nd, 2008 02:03 am (UTC)
::Grin:: Books are some of the best gifts for the holidays. Or for any other time, really...
Dec. 2nd, 2008 05:18 pm (UTC)
Oh, well, of course ;^). That's sort of a given in my family -- what my mom actually said, more or less, was, "What books would you and SP and DH like me to send you for Chanukah?"
( 15 comments — Leave a comment )


Jim C. Hines


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