‘With Fate Conspire’ concludes ‘The Onyx Court Quartet’ by Marie Brennan, the finale taking place around the end of the nineteenth century. Just to remind you: The Onyx Court, a fae shadow court situated somewhat ‘below’ London, has existed for over three centuries with humanity mostly being unaware of it. The bond forged long ago by Lune and Michael Deven between the mortal and the fae realm has strengthened it. Thus Michael Deven became the first Prince of the Stone, to be followed by a new human male when the old Prince dies. The Princes serve as link between mortal and fae realms and keep the Onyx Court stable.
We follow two story threads through the novel. On the one hand, we have the mortal girl Eliza(beth) O’Malley whose childhood friend, Owen, has been kidnapped by faeries seven years ago. She has been searching for him ever since. On the other hand, we have the faerie, Dead Rick, who struggles to get out from under the heel of the faerie crime boss, Nadrett, who holds his memories and therefore him hostage.
The Onyx Court is threatened by the consequences of the Industrial Revolution. That is, the urban development of London that is changing the face of the city, beginning with the breaking of the London wall. The emerging industries affect the faerie court below London as well, especially the construction of the underground railroads. Fae cannot abide iron, you see, and fae constructs too close to underground tunnels are destabilised. The deterioration of the palace has changed the palace’s face and there is not much left of the splendour described in ‘A Star Shall Fall’. The area of the former Night Garden is now known as ‘Goblin Market’, a place controlled by faerie crime bosses who seek their own advantages and sell humans as slaves.
In the mortal world, Eliza is questioned by the Special Irish Branch of Scotland Yard investigating her possible involvement with Irish bombings. In fact, Eliza was at the crime scene to pursue the bombers, still trying to find a way to rescue her lost love. But you cannot tell the police there were actually faeries involved in the kidnapping, right? Naturally, nobody would believe wild stories like this. Eliza gets in touch with the London Faerie Society, a promising new lead to find the kidnappers, even though it means the Irish working class girl has to work as a maid for a posh member of the London Upper Class. She will do anything to find Owen.
In the fae realm, on the other hand, Dead Rick’s desperate attempts to get his memories back consequently cause problems with the various fae factions that have emerged to fill the power vacuum Lune left by going into reclusion. In the end, most of the groups will have to work together to save all the faeries in London. Faerie and mortal science dovetailed against a vicious threat! Will our heroes win the race against time, before the circle of the underground is closed and the Onyx Court destroyed?
The story switches viewpoints between Eliza O’Malley and Dead Rick quite often but does so in an almost organic way so you don’t lose your momentum as a reader. Interwoven into these two storylines are glimpses of Lune and Hodge, the present Prince of the Stone, who struggle to hold the Onyx Court together. Lune has refused to receive any visitors for years and only Hodge, who is supporting her as well as he can, is aware that she needs all her remaining strength to keep the court intact.
A couple of flashbacks are supporting the plotlines by providing insights into what led to the present events. The finale is not really unexpected but, surprising enough, well thought out and quite satisfying. The prose is elegant, the world-building excellent and Marie Brennan’s research into nineteenth-century Britain and faerie lore is as extensive as ever. She not only evokes the brimming life in Victorian London without overloading the story, she also manages to convey the overall atmosphere of a falling empire amidst the hustle and bustle of an early modern metropolis. The book once again offers a map of London and a Dramatis Personae, so you can easily track the locations and look up who is part of which faction.
‘With Fate Conspire’ is a well-plotted and compelling novel which is not suited for readers who want to indulge in non-stop action or a human-fae love story. But if you like historical fantasy and enjoy rich world-building, you definitely should give this book a try. ‘The Onyx Court’ series encompasses four novels in all, playing with different historical settings in English history. You could read ‘With Fate Conspire’ as a standalone novel but it can be much better appreciated as the end of a story which develops over four novels.
(pub: TOR/Forge. 524 page hardback. Price: $ 27.99 (US), $ 31.99 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-76532-537-2)