Midnight Never Come by Marie Brennan is a fantasy novel set primarily in London in the late 1500s, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I – and also during the reign of another queen. Invidiana rules the not only the magical Onyx Hall which lies beneath London itself, but also all of faerie England. Our story follows two main characters – Michael Deven, a gentleman who seeks to better himself in the service of Queen Elizabeth, and Lune, a recently disgraced faerie Lady trying to win back the cruel Queen Invidiana’s favour – and their discoveries concerning a pact, a curse, and the schemings of both fae and mortal politics.
I’d read another of Marie Brennan’s books – A Natural History Of Dragons – and enjoyed it (though that’s a review for another time), so when I found Midnight Never Come in Waterstones, I thought it’d definitely be worth giving it a go. Plus, I have been known to enjoy books about the fae before. So far, so good – but of course I hadn’t actually opened the book yet. At first, I found it quite confusing; numerous things hinge on small details of Tudor and faerie court protocol, and others on matters of history or politics, some of which required a second reading to make sure I understood them or remembered them. It also took a while to work out the faerie lore that governed how their world worked; every writer seems to do it differently. On top of that, the dialogue refuses to allow you to make the mistake of forgetting you’re in Tudor England: while of course none of the characters speak actual Early Modern English, Brennan does employ a slightly more old-fashioned writing style that evokes the era. And I think it’s the writing style that gives this book its feel of enchantment, while the plot lends its intrigue.
It is a plot-driven book, more focused on the mysteries the characters uncover and solve than on the characters themselves, or the romantic subplot – though it’s more of a thread that’s woven into the main plot than a plot unto itself. It’s a quietly clever plot, and clearly well researched, and with a satisfying ending. Personally I found it slow to start and I didn’t actually notice at what point I was hooked, but at some point I was. It was structured like a play, with five acts, and with the setting and date at the beginning of each scene. I found this very helpful in placing the events of the book in my head. If not for that, I might have been thoroughly confused throughout the book, never mind slightly confused at the beginning.
Both Lune and Deven come across as fairly reserved, though this is no doubt because they’re both trying to fit themselves into the etiquette of their respective courts. Lune especially cloaks herself so well in the cool composure she needs to survive the Onyx Hall, it is a little difficult to tell what’s underneath, other than determination. Deven seems rather like-minded, though he perhaps has less at stake, especially at first. You might expect me to say, then, that I disliked the characters, or that I didn’t feel connected to them, but actually I did. Whereas with some books I’ll feel an intense love for the characters or a sense that I relate to them deeply, I felt more of a quiet kinship with Deven and Lune and the other characters of Midnight Never Come.
Overall, it isn’t the “easy and enjoyable” summer read I was looking for, but instead an interesting and intriguing book with a slightly dark, slightly mystical atmosphere. It’s very hard to tell where the sequels will go – if I hadn’t seen other books from the Onyx Court series on the shelf, I’d easily have thought it a stand-alone – but that almost makes me more interested to read them. I’d recommend Midnight Never Come to anyone who’s looking for a historical fantasy, or who loves a book with a good atmosphere.
Next on my reading list is Twelve Kings by Bradley Beaulieu!