Warning: The following review contains mild spoilers. Nothing specific, I just mention that the book doesn't contain any surprises at all. Does that count? If so, my apologies.
Synopsis: It's 1588, Elizabeth is on throne in London, and the ambitious young Michael Deven has just landed a plum job in her private guard. Meanwhile in the stygian city beneath London, Lady Lune finds herself in the notoriously vast bad books of the faerie queen Invidiana. Seeking excitement and prospects, Michael starts working for Walsingham, Elizabeth's spy-master, who has inferred the existence of a mysterious hidden player in the intrigue of the court and wants Michael to help find out who it is. Fearing for her life, Lune is persuaded by Invidiana's sinister lieutenant to infiltrate Elizabeth's court in mortal guise. Can you guess where this might be leading?
Review: I must confess that this is another book that I wouldn't have read were it not for the spec. fic. elements. My knowledge of history is pretty ropey, thanks to a combination of poor teaching and a basic lack of interest. I therefore don't tend to go for historical fiction, for fear that it will name-drop people, places or events that I should recognise but don't, making me feel like I'm missing something and leaving me unsatisfied and frustrated. I had hoped that this book would be more accessible to me, for a couple of reasons. One is that's it's alternate history, which means that at least some of it would be as new to every reader as to me. The other is that it's hopefully written to be accessible to faerie fans as well as history buffs, and therefore wouldn't make too many assumptions of prior knowledge. I turned out to be right: it was unsatisfying and frustrating for entirely different reasons...
The story has little action, being mostly politics or investigation in one or other court. That's not an intrinsic problem, but it founders here because there are so few surprises. Ironically, the central duality (the strap-line is 'A great light casts a great shadow') is the book's downfall: Invidiana and her cronies are obviously essentially evil, Michael, Lune and their allies (including Queen Elizabeth) are equally obviously fundamentally decent. There's not much potential for character drama or political intrigue when each character is clearly either trustworthy or not. Even the characters who are more than they seem reveal this fact and pick a side almost immediately. The investigative elements too lacked excitement, as the protagonists just find the right people, ask the right questions, and are rewarded with the next bit of the answer. It had the feel of a computer RPG where you complete a quest simply by speaking to characters in the correct order. The end result is a book that's perfectly well written and undemanding, but still not worth the effort. It felt like a slow train ride to a dull destination, and while some might have enjoyed the historical scenery on the way, I just wanted the journey to be over. So, can historical political fiction be improved be the addition of faeries? My answer is: not nearly enough.
Suggested pull quotes for the next edition:
Combines the plot surprises of historical fiction with the gritty realism of faerie stories!
Readers of Laura K. Hamilton's faerie fiction will find a refreshing lack of multi-coloured penis shenanigans!
Illustrative excerpt from Amazon reviews:
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If you like the Elizabethan period or are interested in faerie and folklore then this book should be a happy balance for you as it provides both.