Review: Marie Brennan’s Midnight Never Come

I don’t reach much historical fantasy.  I like history and all, but I tend to like my fantasy in created worlds, and there are sadly big chunks of history that my education has not left me as confident with as I’d like.  I can ramble all night about samurai-era Japan or early China, but I’ve never been that great on European history.

Luckily, this doesn’t matter for Marie Brennan’s Midnight Never Come. which occurs during the reign of Elizabeth the 1st, putting up a faerie queen called Invidiana as Elizabeth’s shadowy counterpart, ruler of the Onyx Court of fae under London.  Brennan finds that lovely balance between using history as a Hollywood backdrop and burying the plot in historical detail.  Instead, she doles out information here and there in neat packages, so that a reader such as myself with only a cursory knowledge of Elizabethan history can follow along quite confidently.

The novel follows two courtiers, one mortal and one fae.  Michael Deven is a mortal man seeking to make a name for himself and serve his queen and country.  Lady Lune is a disgraced faerie courtier trying to reclaim her former status.  The intricate overlapping stories contained in Midnight Never Come bring these two characters together in a fashion that delivers in several genre modes: romance, intrigue and mystery.

Something especially notable for this blog is that Midnight Never Come was inspired by a tabletop RPG campaign, most specifically a flashback segment of an ongoing game of Changeling: The Dreaming that Brennan ran several years ago. The Changeling-specific bits have been ironed off and the player-characters replaced by Brennan’s original creations, but it’s interesting to see honest-to-goodness RPG-generated fiction that’s, well, good.  I haven’t done extensive research into which of the many fantasy novels that seem like they’re cribbed from someone’s D&D game actually are, but I do know one very successful RPG->novel adaptation, and that’s the Wild Cards series.

Here’s the geek subcultural complex in action.  Writers like Brennan who are gamer geeks (I know this because I know Brennan–she’s currently in a Scion game that I’m running) in addition to being speculative fiction creators take inspiration from a different aspect of the overal geek subculture, creating a novel that appeals to fans of Elizabethan history as well as those who enjoy reading narratives about the fae.  Writers get inspiration from anywhere and everywhere, of course, but when that inspiration comes specifically from another not-as-often-used (well) aspect of geek culture, it’s notable.

But back to the novel itself. Brennan’s prose is lush and polished, her pacing is muscular, and the emotional lives of the characters reaches out from the page to the reader, so you can feel the struggles of the characters as they try to serve their kingdoms, their people, and themselves while trying to figure out how to deal with someone who has come into their life and stolen their heart at a time when quite frankly, it’s highly inconvenient to be distracted.

Midnight Never Come is a solid departure from Brennan’s first two novels, the action-adventure rides of Doppelganger and Warrior & Witch (being re-published as Warrior and Witch, respectively), but the change is one that Brennan seems very comfortable with.  More novels in the Onyx Court are expected in the future, interconnected but stand-alone novels set at various points in London’s history.  Give it a read, especially if you are a fan of Changeling, historical fantasy and/or Elizabethan England.

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