Midnight Never Comeis the story of two courts, and of two courtiers who must uncover a deadly secret that threatens both mortal and faerie England. Lune is a disgraced lady of the faerie court, trying to win her way back into the good graces of the cruel Queen Invidiana. Michael Deven is a young gentleman of Elizabeth I’s retinue, working with Elizabeth’s spymaster Walsingham to sniff out a “hidden player” in English politics. Neither is quite prepared for what they discover.
Marie Brennan has a lovely, elegant prose style that lends itself well to describing the glittering courts. There’s a certain “iciness” to it, a certain emotional distance between reader and characters, at least at first. Later in the book, emotion does bleed through, unmistakable even when it’s described with great restraint. And speaking of restraint, Midnight Never Come is unusually chaste when compared to many other recent faerie-themed novels. This is fantasy of manners, closer kin to Ellen Kushner‘s Swordspoint than to Laurell Hamilton‘s Meredith Gentry series.
The plot is tightly crafted. At the beginning it feels a little slow, but picks up as Lune and Deven get closer and closer to the secret at the heart of Invidiana’s court. Brennan has done a great deal of research into faerie lore and Elizabethan history, and it shows. Brennan doesn’t infodump, though; the folklore helps drive the plot and flows organically with it. There are layers upon layers of politics and curses and bargains and secrets here, and I loved discovering them along with the characters.
Brennan makes an unusual authorial decision toward the beginning of Midnight Never Come. I initially didn’t like it but eventually decided it worked. [Highlight this spoiler if you want to know why] The early stages of Deven and Lune’s courtship, when Deven first meets Lune in her guise as a mortal lady, are completely skipped over. By the time we realize Deven and Lune have met, they’re discussing marriage, and trouble brews between them not long after. I felt cheated at first, but in retrospect, I don’t think those early months actually matter much. The real development of their relationship begins later, outside the artifice of court. If Brennan had devoted a lot of page space to the romance in the early chapters, it might have resulted in the plot taking too long to get off the ground. [END SPOILER] So, I think this decision turned out well in the end.
Marie Brennan’s treatment of London is delightful. She builds her story around real locations within the city, and the legends that have grown around those locations, creating a tangible sense of place. I only wish she had included a map of the city in Midnight Never Come, so that a reader unfamiliar with London could more easily visualize the places the characters visit. I ended up reading Midnight Never Come with Forever Amber open on the table next to me because it has an excellent map of London in it.)
Overall, a slowish start, but worth it. Brennan’s prose and plotting are particularly good, and I can’t wait to read In Ashes Lie.