Midnight Never Come, by Marie Brennan. Orbit Books, 2008. 379 pp. 978-0-316-02029-9.
...in which we see how England under the Virgin Queen Elizabeth was also ruled by a secret faerie queen Invidiana.
This book is a nice addition to a small subcategory of fantasy that I've recently started searching out: historical fantasy. This category consists of books set in a real historical context, in this case, Elizabethan England. We see real historical events taking place, but this time, these events are often happening with some influence from a hidden, unseen immortal faerie court. This secret faerie court exists alongside the human court, but is hidden from the eyes of most humans. The faerie queen, Invidiana, rules her court cruelly, leaving most of her subjects afraid of her. She also holds Elizabeth in her debt, as Elizabeth's rise from prisoner in the Tower of London to Queen of England was partially engineered by Invidiana. One member of the faerie court, Lady Lune, had once been in favor with Invidiana but has quickly fallen from grace. She ends up being sent from the underground catacombs of Invidiana's court, to masquerade as a human in Elizabeth's court. Along the way, she meets and falls in love with a human man in Elizabeth's court. Together, the two of them seek to find a way to break Invidiana's hold over Queen Elizabeth.
This period of England's history is already full of courtly intrigue, political strife, and social change. The Tudor dynasty has been covered in great length by authors of historical fiction, most notably by Philippa Gregory. Brennan does a very nice job of fleshing out the human side of England, without rehashing ground already covered by other authors. Her depiction of England's faerie court is very richly developed, conveying a real sense of what the mood of the court was, and how faerie culture differed from human culture. The main character, Lune, is nicely portrayed as an appropriately three dimensional character, when it could have been easy for Brennan to portray Lune as simply another courtier vying for her queen's favor. The main human character, Michael Deven, is slightly less developed than Lune, but not to the detriment of the story.
The plot is nicely developed, and for the most part it moves forward at a good pace. It lags a little in the middle, but picks back up in the last third. My major complaint with the pacing of the novel would be in the conclusion, where events accelerate enough that it gets a little muddled. It's not clear to me exactly how one of the final results came about, but I was generally satisfied with the positions in which the characters ended the novel.
I would recommend this to anyone with an interest in both English historical fiction and fantasy. It's not really for people with a strong preference for swords-and-sorcery type fantasy fiction, but if you like your fantasy to be a little subtler and more rooted in traditional folklore, with a dash of political intrigue, this is a book for you. Brennan also followed up with a sequel, In Ashes Lie, which is also a good read, and could probably be read without having read this one.