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This is the third of Marie Brennan's Onyx Court books, which take place in a faerie court under London. If you haven't read the first two, I don't think this is the place to start-- you could probably come in on either of the previous, but by this time the emotional resonances and the consequences of previous plots are significant. I think this book would be understandable if picked up as a stand-alone, and I admire that, but you wouldn't be seeing it at its best.

And its best is quite good. The conceit of these books is that the Onyx Court is a shadow of the world above, and its Queen, Lune, reigns jointly with a mortal consort. Each book takes place in a different time period, so of course the mortal consorts are all different. The first book is Elizabethan, the second during the 1660s, and this one is Georgian. I liked the first one fine, although it felt like a well-done riff on things I've seen done before repeatedly (seriously, there is no time period more used for books about fairies). I loved the second one, because nobody does fantasy about Charles II and the book feels new and fresh and different in ways I really appreciate. And I like the third one more than the first, but not quite as well as the second.

I think it's a matter of the people involved. Lune never changes, much, though the way we see her through others' eyes does; but her consorts are men of their times. There was a bitterness to the Princes in the second book that felt out of the contemporary sources, to me, a sense of people caught in politics that had gone mad around them. The Prince in this one, Galen St. Clair, is a young man and an idealistic one and, as is appropriate for the times, skirting the edge of having the beginnings of a scientific mindset but not there yet. There are ways in which he is resolutely ordinary. And... hm. I may have been spending too much time with the great men of that century. I mean, there is still a bust of Diderot ten feet to my right, and I cannot remember the last time in conversation with my household that I bothered to add 'Rousseau' to 'Jean-Jacques'. I can see why Galen is ordinary (and a decent person): some people are, and it's a fair artistic choice for the book. But as a reflection of those times, when the world as many, many people see it today was formed on the points of various pens, not quite, and so the book doesn't feel as much of its era to me as the previous.

I like Galen very much, though, and the way he has to deal with having this immortal Queen in his life in a position of incredible importance that is nonetheless not actually romantic. And the overall plot is very fine, and has alchemy and visiting Vauxhall and the King in a bathhouse with whores and a genie and weapons made of ice borrowed from the jotuns and of course various sorts of political intrigue. I look forward to the next one, which will be Victorian, and that should be interesting both for itself and because that era is a serious contender for the title of time period people write the second greatest number of fairy books about, but I expect Brennan not to do the usual things with it; there's too much momentum in the series by this time. These books consistently do not do the usual things, and I appreciate that about them.


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March 2017

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