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Book Review: Midnight Never Come by Marie Brennan

* Genre: Historical Fantasy
* ISBN: 031602029X
* ISBN-13: 9780316020299
* Format: Paperback, 400pp
* Publisher: Orbit
* Pub. Date: June 2008

Historical Fantasy is a difficult subgenre in which to write. The author must both create a story using the elements of fantasy, like wizards, elves, and faerie beings, and must try to maintain historical accuracy for the period of history in which the novel is set. It is a tricky business, but Marie Brennan, a relatively new author whose books are being published by Orbit, manages to pull it off rather well in Midnight Never Come, her tale of Elizabethan intrigue and faerie power.

The author, who has a degree in archeology and folklore, is uniquely suited to write a book of this stripe. She has the research acumen and the creative spark to write such a tale. And Midnight Never Come is the better for it.

Midnight Never Come is set in the latter days of the reign of Elizabeth the First, Queen of England, sometimes called Gloriana. Her court has been one of internal peace, even as outside enemies have threatened, but under her reign England has prospered. Michael Deven is a young man who has come to Elizabeth�s court to seek personal advancement. Coming from humble beginnings, he has managed to become one of the Queen�s personal bodyguards. But that is not quite enough to make his fortune in a court where one�s job can cost more than to maintain that what one makes. So Deven seeks out Sir Francis Walsingham, queen�s spymaster. What occurs brings Deven into a close contact with the realm of the Fae, a shadow court that exists beneath the streets of London, and separate from it in time and space. Lune is a courtier of that shadow court, a Machiavellian world whose queen derives great pleasure from causing emotional and physical pain in her subjects. Lune is very much like Deven, seeking advancement in her own court. But the two of them soon discover a secret that could destroy both courts, as well as Lune herself, and they must race against time to solve a riddle and overthrow the evil Faerie Queen Invidiana.

Many readers of historical fantasy will enjoy this novel, as the Elizabethan courts are not an area of history in which very many fantasy writers have set their novels, preferring the court of another queen, Victoria, as seen in books like Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell and the steampunk subgenre. Brennan worked very hard to both use characters from history, make them a large part of the story, but without compromising our understanding of them as historical personages. Walsingham and Elizabeth are not just background characters placed on the back cover blurb to generate reader interest, but take real, actual roles in the story. Brennan also manages to make historical facts, such as the beheading of Mary Stewart and the attack of the Spanish Armada integral parts of the story. Both are necessary to the story, and Brennan doesn�t shy away from telling the whole story of Elizabeth�s reign. This is no slice of history story, which ignores all that has come before to tell a tale in a particular historical setting but without reference to its causes. Brennan has done the research, and her history is accurate.

Brennan�s wholly made up characters, and her fictional Faerie Court will appeal to readers of Neil Gaiman. Like him, Brennan has brought the magical into the mundane, and interwoven it into the very fabric of what we know to be true. Her characters Deven and Lune are believable and easy to become attached to. Their fates become ones the reader will care about, even as they try to reconcile her magic to his practicality.

If the book falls down a bit, it is in Deven�s rather casual acceptance of the Faerie Realm. Although he had been searching for it without knowing it, when he discovers its existence, his reaction was overly subdued, and Brennan might have done better to show the reaction of a character who up until that point had never believed such a thing existed. Readers may also find the ending unsatisfying. Brennan does not go for a typical destruction of the evil as might be found in a standard epic fantasy, and those looking for a story in which the evil villain dies horribly will likely be left unsatisfied. That is not to say that the ending is disappointing, in fact, it comes in line with many of the folk tales and legends on which it is based in many ways replicating the sense of sadness mixed with hope many of them evoke.

And that, ultimately, is the true feel of this novel. It is a protracted fairy tale. Readers familiar with Andrew Lang or the Brothers Grimm will notice that Midnight Never Come has much the same tenor as their works. It could also be likened to some of the Greek myths. In fact, Brennan makes a nod to some of those myths by having some of the characters share names with some of the human heroes of the Greek sagas.

Written in five acts (really sections of the book), it also brings to mind comparisons to Shakespeare and Marlowe’s fantasy plays. Brennan has chosen to write the tale a sequence of scenes, each introduced by a particular date, sometimes current and sometimes past. Although written in prose, the reader can almost see the novel being staged, with scenes moving in and out from the wings, or even relying wholly on the power of the actor’s to evoke the imagination.

I highly recommend Midnight Never Come to any lover of stories about the Fae, those interested in historical novels of Elizabethan England, or those who enjoyed or still enjoy fairy tales and myths. Brennan�s ability to maintain historical accuracy while writing an exciting and fast-paced novel filled with elves, fairies, the Wild Hunt, and brownies makes this story worth reading.

More about Marie Brennan can be found at her website. Or you can check out supplemental material for the novel at the Midnight Never Come website.