Jim C. Hines (jimhines) wrote,
Jim C. Hines
jimhines

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!)
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