Review: A Star Shall Fall, Marie Brennan

I could swear I wrote this review already. I wonder if I dreamed it. I frequently have vivid, detailed dreams where I do things that need to get done, which I think is my subconscious’s way of trying to keep me asleep. One day last month I dreamed I checked my email and we had a snow day and I could sleep in (but we didn’t really) (fortunately, I didn’t fall for this). Today when I woke up all sickly and went back to sleep feeling like I was going to die, I dreamed that I had texted and facebook-messaged the people I was supposed to have brunch with, to tell them I wasn’t going to be able to make it. In my dream I felt so crappy and nauseated I kept making typos when I was writing the messages.

A Star Shall Fall will probably contain some spoilers for Midnight Never Come. Also presumably for the second book, In Ashes Lie, but I don’t know because I haven’t read it. Darn library.

So after I read and enjoyed Midnight Never Come, I went to the library and signally failed to find In Ashes Lie, the second book in the series. On the other hand, I don’t care at all about the seventeenth century, so I didn’t mind so much skipping on to A Star Shall Fall. Set in the world of Midnight Never Come, A Star Shall Fall focuses on the mid-1700s Prince of the Stone, Michael Deven, who is trying (along with the rest of the Onyx Court) to find out a way of destroying the scary-scary dragon that is coming back to kill everyone.

The Good Stuff

Irrith, the country fairy who comes to court to help sort out the dragon problem, is an excellent character. I liked her because she kept bucking my expectations of what fairy characters are like. She isn’t a good liar, she isn’t icy elegance all the time, she didn’t like court politics, and she didn’t (here’s a spoiler) fall wildly in love with the human character just because they spent a lot of time together. When (a really huge spoiler right here) (why don’t we just assume this whole review is spoilers? I can’t talk about what I liked without spoilers) Michael Deven sacrifices himself for the fairy court at the end, Irrith is sad but not in a, like, time for fairy suicide way. She was close with him, she was sorry she didn’t love him enough to save him, and that was that. I liked it.

Marie Brennan incorporated the 1752 calendar change into her plot! A plot point hinged on the changing of the calendar. Marie Brennan, you are my hero.

The Royal Society of London features in the book. Granted, they do not do much with the fairies, but it was nice to see them doing their royal society thing. I should read that Bill Bryson book. I love the notion of a bunch of smart dudes getting together to talk about Knowledge.

Michael Deven’s search for a wife. As the oldest son in a well-born but impoverished family, Michael has to marry rich in order to provide for his three younger sisters. He doesn’t want to do this, naturally enough, as he is in love with the fairy queen, Lune, and he hates the idea of lying to his wife. It would have been easy for him to reconcile himself to his conscience and marry some nothing character, but instead he marries a cool, clever woman and tells her everything. Yay for honesty! Delphia was an excellent character and I’d have liked to see more of her. I hope the next Onyx Court book at least talks about her Legacy.

Bad Stuff

I hated, hated, hated that Michael Deven was in love with the fairy queen. Really, Michael Deven? You’re in love with the achingly beautiful, radiantly good moon Queen? HOW ORIGINAL. I couldn’t become interested in him as a character because I wanted to smack him and make him fall in love with his interesting, intelligent wife.

Although some of the ideas the fairies came up with for defeating the dragon were clever, some of them didn’t make any sense. I don’t mind an author inventing her own rules for her own magic world, but it frustrated me that a character would stop dead and have a stroke of intuition, and it didn’t make any sense to me. On the other hand, this could just be me being dumb.

Wow, I had a lot of thoughts. This just goes to show that I was in the mood for books in a series, where you have more than one book to think over. A sign that I should reread Harry Potter again.

Review: Midnight Never Come, Marie Brennan

Occasionally, when I am planning meals on the weekend, I get depressed from meal-planning and take a break to do book-planning. Book-planning consists of me combing through my TBR list and making a shortlist of books to read next. I find this relaxing. I start by making a list of categories of books (gender-issues nonfiction, something in translation, fantasy, kids’ book), depending on what I am in the mood for, and then pick things from my TBR list to fit my criteria. When I did this last weekend, my list was this:

something in translation
something from Africa
something zany
something fantasyish that Memory loved

Midnight Never Come is the something fantasyish that Memory loved. By choice I’d have gone with The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms for this category, but I am still fourth on the holds list for that, so I substituted Midnight Never Come. This is a testament to my trust in Memory’s fantasy taste, because ordinarily I do not like books about fairies (or faerie). I am over fairies. They think they’re so damn clever. I feel like if you’re going to act like you’re as terrifying as fairies in stories act like they are, you shouldn’t have gossamer wings. JUST A THOUGHT. The only fairy-type book I like in the whole world is The Moorchild. And Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, also. A Midsummer Night’s Dream is not my favorite Shakespeare, and I don’t much care for the fairies in Sandman. So.

Long ago, at her coronation, Elizabeth I struck a bargain with the queen of faerie, a bargain that somehow helps both of them stay on their thrones. Now, thirty years later, mortal Michael Deven (on staff with my boy Sir Francis Walsingham) and Lune, fallen from favor in the viciously political faerie court of Queen Invidiana, are beginning to discover secrets about the bargain, and the intertwining of the faerie and mortal court.

(Yes, the wicked faerie queen is called Invidiana. Deal.)

I really, really enjoyed the parts of the book that dealt with Elizabethan history. Marie Brennan had obviously done her homework, but she didn’t do the thing of inserting tons of unnecessary information just to show how well-informed she was (unlike some historical fantasy writers that I am reading right now). I loved almost everything set in the mortal world, except I didn’t care much for Michael Deven. And indeed I wasn’t altogether in love with Lune. The world of the book, the intertwining of the mortal and faerie spheres, drew me in,  but the characters did not. Fortunately it’s the world that continues in the sequels, not the characters.

I was excited to read the sequels to Midnight Never Come, and glad I had bothered getting A Star Shall Fall from the library at the same time that I got Midnight Never Come. In Ashes Lie, the second book in the Onyx Court series, claimed to be in at the library but wasn’t. So I skipped it. Don’t judge. I asked Memory if it was okay first.

Other reviews:

Stella Matutina
Graeme’s Fantasy Book Review
Fantasy Book Critic
Grasping for the Wind
The Book Swede

Tell me if I missed yours!