Marie Brennan: Midnight Never Come
Because I am an impoverished student, a whinging leftie, and an avid reader, I love a good library (for value for money, visible sign of taxes being used for good, and books!!! respectively). And one of the things I really love about libraries is that I can read books that I’d never think of buying. For one thing, I made a deal with myself not to buy books unless I was certain I’d keep re-reading them; for another, fantasy as a genre is full of fail, so it’s a good idea to try before you buy.
For instance, a little while ago, I took out a couple of fairly standard-looking fantasy novels. One was The Wanderer’s Tale, by David Billsborough. And it was shit. Truly, I-can’t-believe-this-even-got-published shit. It was standard-looking on the outside. On the inside, it had two major flaws. One: in the first few pages, I was introduced to approximately eleventy-billion “main” characters. That kind of thing always gets my “Tolkien-alike” alarm bells ringing.* Especially when they’re talking about going on a quest. And two: in the first few pages, I was introduced to precisely no female characters. Not a single one. Not even a concerned mother, or a serving wench in some inn somewhere. Fantasy’s all about the willing suspension of disbelief, but, to misquote Blackadder, I was soon staring in disbelief at his willy suspension! I couldn’t read it. I actually couldn’t finish reading the bloody book, or even the first chapter, because I couldn’t get past wondering where the fuck these men had spawned from, since clearly there were no women at all in the entire world.
So, starting there, Midnight Never Come had a lot of ground to make up, because I was somewhat unusually starting to read it whilst furious. (Reading to calm down is a trick I’ve used often in life, but never normally with a book I haven’t read before. It seems unfair, somehow. But this time, I was desperate to find out whether I’d managed to choose one book out of two that I didn’t want to hurl into a fire.)
It had the edge, to be fair, because it turned out to be slightly more than just another bog-standard fantasy novel by sneakily working some Elizabethan England into the story. Well, quite a lot actually. The story jumps between above-ground Elizabethan London and below-ground faerie England, ruled by another strong, single Queen, and follows the entwined lives of two courtiers, one mortal, one faerie. Without giving too much away, it’s a story about power, in all its many forms.
It caught my attention because I’m a sucker for books with “midnight” in the title. It held my attention because I simply couldn’t fault it. It was a fantastic story, never moving too fast or too slow, and always managing to weave different themes together without being overly complex. And each and every character has character, which is to say, they seem like more than just handy plot devices, even when that clearly is their role in the book.
Elizabethan England is a good place to go if you want a good, solid period drama in which you occasionally glimpse a powerful woman, and Brennan did well in keeping the numbers of men and women both sensible and historically accurate. In the faerie underworld, she has more freedom, and it’s there that we find more women than men, which means that by the end of the book, I felt as though I’d seen roughly equal numbers of each. Perhaps, to some, this will sound like I’m nit-picking, or fussing over nothing. All I can say to that is: it’s not nice to feel as though you don’t exist. (And on that note, I should add that racism is slightly touched on in the book, via the different treatment given to different types of fae characters – brownies as opposed to faeries, say. Which is a nice method of acknowledgement in a story that is otherwise concerned with the famous characters of the period and thus full of white people.)
It’s a book that has more depth and more dimension to it than the fantasy I usually read (that is, young adult fantasy – I comfort read a lot!), but while it’s complex enough to make you feel suitably grown up, it’s gentle enough that I could read it late at night, with my glasses off. I’d certainly recommend it to any fantasy lover, although – seeing as it builds an entire city under Elizabethan London – I’d hold off on suggesting it to people who like their historical stories pure and unsullied, as far as possible, by outright fabrication. Having said that, she might be forgiven, considering the amount of research she did on the subject. And on that note, to finish, I should probably say that Marie Brennan is also on the internets, giving all kinds of fascinating information on her books. Which, now that I’ve read about them, I may have to buy.
*Yes, I’ve read The Lord Of The Rings. And no, I didn’t like it. At all. The man might have been great at languages, but he was a shit storyteller.