MIDNIGHT NEVER COME, by Marie Brennan
Set during the reign of Elizabeth I, Midnight Never Come tells of two Englands: one a realm of mortals ruled by Elizabeth, and one a realm of fairies, ruled by the heartless and exceedingly ruthless Invidiana. The two realms and the two rulers are linked by a pact which brought both queens to their thrones. But while Elizabeth has no interest in interfering with Invidiana and her subjects, the fairy queen’s agenda leads her to both help and hinder Elizabeth. She has spies in the mortal court, and has manipulated events in such a way that Elizabeth has sometimes had no choice but to act as Invidiana chooses, not as she would choose herself.
Because much of the plot hinges on politics and espionage we see little of the pageantry and color of Elizabeth’s court, but we do get to see its darker corners, and meet some of history’s most fascinating characters, like Doctor John Dee.
The protagonists of the tale are Lune, who hopes to better her precarious position within the cut-throat politics of Invididana’s “Onyx Court” by accepting an assignment to disguise herself as a mortal and spy on the humans, and Michael Deven, a young Englishman whose family has recently been elevated to the gentry, and whose ambitions lead him to work for Sir Francis Walsingham, Elizabeth’s spymaster. It is inevitable, of course, that these two should meet, and that their agendas should clash over developing events The difference is that Lune knows most of what is afoot, and for much of the book Michael is ignorant. However, once he is assigned to uncover a suspected secret influence on the queen, it is not in his nature to leave any possibilities unexplored.
The pacing of the first part of the story is slow, as Brennan sets up past and present events. Just as I was becoming interested in one group of characters, she would switch to another. But I have some familiarity with the period and with fairy lore and I was intrigued by the way she wove real events so cleverly with the folklore. Then, about halfway through the book, when the various strands of the plot began to come together, and when the personalities of the main characters were more established, the story itself began to hook me.
As well as Invidiana’s role in manipulating English politics, there is the mystery of her own origins, the creation of the vast underground Onyx Court, and her ascension to the throne, which Lune and Michael join forces to discover. There is also a developing romance, where I would have liked to see more depth of emotion, but the tragedy inherent in a mortal and an immortal falling in love are sufficiently obvious, perhaps the author decided to leave that aspect to the readers’ imaginations.
Brennan is able to inject quite a bit of darkness and suspense, without resorting to much in the way of violence or gore. Vicious and ruthless as the fairy queen is, it is the subtlety of her methods and punishments that makes her the most dangerous. Overall, I found this a clever and entertaining book, and went straight to Amazon after finishing it, to order the sequel.