Are you a keen fantasy fan that loves tight-wound intrigue interspersed with action? Enjoy a well-constructed, historical setting with a strong sense of danger and ‘otherness’? Appreciate a fantasy that isn’t hip-deep in graphic sex and bad language? If so, you might feel right at home tucking into Marie Brennan’s world of faerie politics set in Elizabethan England – Elizabeth I, that is…
England flourishes under the hand of its Virgin Queen: Elizabeth, Gloriana, last and most powerful of the Tudor monarchs. But a great light casts a great shadow…
In hidden catacombs beneath London, a second Queen holds court: Invidiana, ruler of faerie England, and a dark mirror to the glory above. In the thirty years since Elizabeth ascended her throne, fae and mortal politics have become inextricably entwined in secret alliances and ruthless betrayal whose existence is suspected by only a few.
And two courtiers, struggle for very different royal favours, are about to uncover the secrets that lie behind these thrones…
It is an interesting proposition – and particularly in this first book – I think that Brennan has magnificently succeeded. Her thorough research of the history has given her sufficient command of the subject to portray a real flavour of the age, liberally sprinkling the story with actual historical characters and events, without burying us in a mound of dry historical facts. Her characterisation of Elizabeth certainly gives us a sense of the old Queen’s capriciousness and charm – and the tightrope she was forced to walk all through her reign.
Elizabethan London is also depicted with loving care – becoming a character in its own right, which lays the groundwork for the action-packed sequel In Ashes Lie.
But the heart of this book lies with the protagonist, Lune. After falling out of favour with the ruthless faerie Queen Invidiana, Lune struggles to regain her position in the underground court, agreeing to spend time in the mortal world as a spy. The book charts Lune’s battle for survival as she becomes embroiled in the plots and counter-plots of both the faerie and mortal courts – which impact on each other. Even the outcome of the Armada, we learn, was down to the intervention of some powerful water entities, who Lune managed to persuade to help Elizabeth, at Invidiana’s command. It’s a neat device – and if you are at all interested in historical fiction, this is a real treat. Brennan manages the wealth of detail and scene setting with sure-footed dexterity.
Any quibbles? Well, there are times when I felt that characters could have been given a little more depth with a tad more ‘show not tell’. But when juggling quite so much detail, both historical and supernatural, as Brennan’s faerie court is every bit as hidebound in tradition and history as its human counterpart, I can understand why there were times when she opted to keep the pace going, possibly at the expense of some characterisation. However, it’s a picky point and shouldn’t deter anyone from picking up this novel.
I didn’t start this book with great enthusiasm – I happen to know too much about this particular slice of English history to enjoy reading sloppy fictitious renditions of the era. However, by the time I was a third of the way through this book, I was able to completely relax and enjoy the ride – to the extent that as soon as I completed this book, I immediately ordered the sequel from the library.