Author: Marie Brennan
Publisher: Orbit • 400 pages • £6.99
The back cover announces that this is “A Book of the Fae”. That will immediately draw some readers in; others struggle to contain spontaneous vomiting at the prospect of tweeness. But wait! Even if you generally dislike this sort of thing, Midnight Never Come is really very good.
It’s firmly rooted in real history, set in a convincingly-constructed Elizabethan England, but with a secret faerie court existing beneath London. Its ruler, Invidiana, is a cruel capricious sort, whose subjects live in dread of her schemes and whims. A sinister pact exists between the two queens. We follow two courtiers, Michael Deven of the mortal court and Lady Lune of the fae, as they uncover the truth behind it.
The result, refreshingly for this genre, is a political thriller, with conspiracies, spies and shady machinations. We’d call it highly original, except that it’s more than a little reminiscent of Neil Gaiman’s work – the Elizabethan age is a favourite era of his, and Neverwhere featured a magic realm below London. That’s not a problem; in fact, Brennan’s plotting is stronger than Gaiman’s. The novel starts slowly, concentrating first on world-building and putting pieces on the board, but it keeps you hooked until the plot really kicks in.
The writing occasionally succumbs to cod-Shakespearianisms, but is largely pleasingly direct, as thrillers should be, and the characters don’t feel clichéd. It takes itself a little too seriously, but it’s usually engaging enough to get away with it. Unlike the fae, who wear human guise but are perfect underneath, this novel is much more grounded and textured than it looks on the surface.