‘Midnight Never Come’ by Marie Brennan tells the tale of two queens, two courts and two pairs of lovers. The plot unfurls during the reign of the Virgin Queen in London. It all begins 1554 with a pact between two ambitious women, the young Elizabeth and the fae Invidiana. The pact results in both ladies becoming monarchs of their respective realms soon after. So, just note: there are actually two queens in 16th century England, Elizabeth in the human realm and Invidiana ruling the Onyx Court of the fae below London. The Onyx Court is kind of a dark mirror image of Elizabeth’s court.
The first part of the novel introduces us to the two main protagonists and their exploits. It starts in 1588 with the young Michael Deven becoming one of Elizabeth’s pensioners (‘The Honourable Band Of Gentlemen Pensioners’ of course being the bodyguard of the monarch since 1534. Nowadays, they are called ‘Her Majesty’s Bodyguard of the Honourable Corps Of Gentlemen At Arms’). He improves his position by working as spy for Walsingham and, later, he climbs the social ladder even more by becoming his confidant. Walsingham trusts him enough to involve him in the search for a secret player who influences the politics of the court. In the faerie realm, we get acquainted with Lady Lune who, after an unsuccessful stint as ambassador to the merfolk, tries to get back into favour with her queen. To this end, she not only becomes one of the many spies of the Onyx Court at the mortal court, she also has to navigate the truly Machiavellian labyrinth of faerie politics with care.
As you may have guessed, Invidiana is the secret player at the Elizabethan court, influencing happenings above ground. Soon, their work leads to Michael Deven and Lady Lune crossing paths, which complicates life for both of them. When they find that not all is as it seems concerning the Onyx Court, they start thinking about ways to end the pact and Invidiana’s hold over Elizabeth. In order to topple Invidiana’s regime, they just need the help of Doctor Dee, an angel and the Wild Hunt…
Even though it starts a bit slow, Marie Brennan’s ‘Midnight Never Come’ is a nicely told tale of curses, intrigue, love and faeries. Each of the five acts which constitute the novel picks up the narrative speed, so that in the end you can’t put the novel down until you’ve reached the end. The story is compelling and well-plotted. The world-building is excellent and you notice right from the start that author Marie Brennan has done extensive research into Elizabethan times and British faerie lore. She is able to evoke not a generic English fantasy setting but the atmosphere of a very real place and time.
However, ‘Midnight Never Come’ is surely not for readers who want to indulge in non-stop action and you have to warm up to the characters first. But if you like to read Elizabethan fantasy with faeries thrown into the mix or historical urban fantasy, you definitely should read this book. The ‘Onyx Court’ series encompasses four novels in all, by two different publishers, playing with different historical settings in English history. Just to quicken the appetite: The second novel covers a story round the Glorious Revolution. We will see if Marie Brennan can convey a different setting with the same eye for detail.
(pub: Orbit. 379 page enlarged paperback. Price: £ 6.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-84149-717-4)
check out website: www.orbitbooks.net