Review of MIDNIGHT NEVER COME by MARIE BRENNAN
(first in the ONYX COURT series)
"A great light casts a great shadow." The truth behind that line echoes in every page of MIDNIGHT NEVER COME, a historical fantasy set in late 1500s England under the rule of Queen Elizabeth. What history textbooks forget is the second queen, the darker fey queen, Invidiana, who rules her own faerie court, the Onyx Hall, beneath the city of London.
As one might expect given their mischievous reputation, the fey do interfere in mortal matters — sometimes in minor ways, sometimes in major ways. Queen Invidiana in particular works hard to ensure the politics in the human city above suit her purposes below. Brennan does an impressive job fitting fantastical events seamlessly into a historical context and the book left me with a desire to research this time period a bit more so I can fully appreciate each fey-related event slipped into the cracks of a mortal history.
The story alternates between the mortal Michael Deven and the faerie Lune. Michael recently joined Queen Elizabeth's bodyguard, the Gentleman Pensioners, with faint hopes that the right connections could save him from his massive debt, a reasonable goal that takes turns he never could have foreseen. In the mirror image of Michael's new arrival and fresh opportunities, Lune finds herself shunned down in the Onyx Hall for a negotiation with the folk of the sea that didn't go as Invidiana wished. Predictably, Michael and Lune's stories collide, but exactly how came as an intriguing surprise, so I won't spoil that twist for new readers.
Like most historical fiction, everyone's goals and motivations revolve around the monarch. While Lune grovels, begs, and scrapes to regain her position in the fey court, Michael adjusts his interests and priorities around Queen Elizabeth's desires and needs. Everyone, mortal and fey alike, climbs over others for favors and status, a dynamic that only makes selfless gestures and freely given kindness all the more heartwarming.
Though it exists, the romance element here is very light. Nonetheless the development feels real and natural and the fact that the romance doesn't constantly challenge the other plot lines for the spotlight is actually refreshing!
There's more to this story, though, than the novelty of a troublesome faerie court. Lune's disfavor leads her through a series of darker and darker revelations about her faerie queen until she understands that mortals aren't the only ones Invidiana deceives.
The fast pace and frequent, unpredictable turns held my attention from start to finish, not to mention the beautiful writing style, at times invisible and at times stepping forward with a particularly lovely turn of phrase. MIDNIGHT NEVER COME combines the historical fiction nostalgia of "what was" with fantasy's wonder at "what could be."