Midnight Never Come by Marie Brennan

Midnight Never Come was published in the US in 2008 but was first published in the UK last month.

mnc-titan-lgThe woman’s laugh echoed around the chamber walls like shattering crystal. “I do not serve the devil. I offer you a bond of mutual aid. With my help, you may be freed from the Tower and raised to your sister’s throne. Your father’s throne. Without it, your life will surely end soon.”
Elizabeth knew too much of politics to even consider an offer without hearing it in full. “And in return? What gift — no doubt a minor, insignificant trifle — would you require from me?”
“Oh, ’tis not minor.” The faintest of smiles touched the stranger’s lips. “As I will raise you to your throne, you will raise me to mine.”

Just as Queen Elizabeth I reigns over England, so another queen, Invidiana, reigns over faerie England from a palace — the Onyx Court — in the catacombs below London. The Lady Lune is a disgraced faerie from Invidiana’s court, and is forced to take an assignment to spy on Elizabeth’s private secretary, Sir Francis Walsingham. Meanwhile, Walsingham and his protégée, Michael Deven, suspect that there is an unknown person with undue influence over Elizabeth’s court, and resolve to find out who that person might be. Together, Lune and Deven must track down the truth about the pact made between the two queens and the source of Invidiana’s power.

I love historical fiction, so this historical fantasy story had much to recommend it. I really enjoyed the way that some of the real historical events of the period were explained in terms of faerie alliances, politics and motivations — this was done very cleverly, so that the alternate explanations were believable and held together really well. Likewise, the plot was really neat — sometimes plots that are based on court intrigue can either be ludicrously over-complicated or else so simple that it’s obvious who’s doing what, but this struck the balance exactly right.

Both Deven and Lune are jostling for position in their respective courts. Deven is a member of the minor nobility, desperate for a patron, and having to borrow vast sums to money in the meantime to maintain the lifestyle that the court expects from a retainer. Lune has the opposite problem — she was once one of the Queen’s favourites, but after she mishandled a diplomatic negotiation she is on the bottom rung of the ladder, and must use all her cunning to make a place for herself once again. Elizabeth’s court may seem a cutthroat one, with the threat of execution hanging over those who displease her, but it’s nothing to Invidiana’s, where the capricious Queen torments her subjects for sport.

Finally, the setting is really great. Tudor London is drawn really well, and the Onyx court below ground is impressively eerie — this gives a pleasing blend of urban fantasy elements with the more traditional fantasy Faerie Queen narrative. There are three sequels, each set in a different century but still in London — they will be published over the coming two years, and I look forward to them eagerly.

Midnight Never Come is available from Amazon.

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