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Faeries of London: Midnight Never Come (Marie Brennan)

October 17, 2011

Midnight Never Come starts with a hauntingly great premise.  A sinister faerie queen holds court in a labyrinthine hall beneath Elizabethan London, and our two protagonists must tread carefully to survive the intrigue and espionage that dominate both the mortal and faerie realms.  If you’re into historical fantasy or English folklore, you’ll probably like the book.  But if your tastes are like mine, I’m not sure you’ll love it.

Title: Midnight Never Come

Author: Marie Brennan

Read this: if you can’t wait for this fall’s Anonymous, and your favorite Shakespeare play is A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

The short version: A dramatic urban faerie caper that doesn’t quite live up to its potential.

There’s a lot to enjoy about Midnight Never Come.  You can tell Brennan has done a lot of solid research, and she delivers convincing renderings of actual historical cast members and events from Elizabeth and Walsingham to the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots.  The world she’s built–the subterranean faerie court of the Onyx Hall–is cold and dark, but fascinating.  It manages to be both consistent with English folklore and a fresh new take on the Fair Folk.  Villainous faerie queen Invidiana and faerie protagonist Lune are both smart, unpredictable, and fun to watch.

In fact, the fey half of the cast, from Lune’s brownie friends the Goodemeades to the commanding ambassador from the French faerie court, are highly compelling.  Brennan doesn’t really dig into the systems of faerie magic in her world (it’s definitely present, but often left unexplained), but the book doesn’t suffer for that.

It does suffer from a few key pitfalls, though.  One is the mortal half of our heroic duo, Michael Deven.  As an ordinary member of Elizabeth’s court–the son of a successful member of the Stationers’ Guild, trying to achieve an even higher rank than his father–Michael comes across as rather boring.  There are a few potentially interesting moments when his devotion to his sovereign might conflict with his feelings for Lune, but those are over almost before you notice them.  I got to know Michael well enough by the end of the book, but I never felt like he was someone I wanted to know.  Compared to Lune, he has a tough time carrying his scenes.

The book starts off choppily, skipping forward a couple of years after the first few scenes, and again a bit later.  I’ve seen that used to great effect in other books, but here, it skips some crucial story and character development that could at least have helped with my lack of interest in Michael.  Michael doesn’t ever have to work very hard (unless it’s offstage, so to speak) to earn his place in Elizabeth’s court or get the Queen’s ear.  Lune’s sudden appearance at court, I had less of a problem with: she’s a faerie.  She’s already tricking the whole court into thinking she’s a mortal; of course she can get a plum lady-in-waiting gig with little trouble.  Worse, though, the beginning of the book skips right over Lune-in-disguise and Michael’s first meeting.  Their first couple of years of meetings, actually.  This seems rather important, as they’re meant to be in love.  Partly as a result, the romantic subplot felt like a given; it never made sparks fly.

If I’m being harsh, it’s only because I saw so much potential in Midnight Never Come that was never realized.  Not to mention the literal deus-ex-machina moment at the end of the book, which comes out of nowhere and left me, at least, extremely dissatisfied with what would otherwise be a pleasantly surprising and well-resolved ending.  Perhaps I can’t have everything.  But based on this first book, I doubt I’ll finish the series.

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