A Star Shall Fall by Marie Brennan
Published by Tor Books, September 2010.
Review by Mark Yon.
As we get to the third in Marie’s Faerie series (Midnight Never Come, (2008) reviewed HERE; In Ashes Lie, (2009) reviewed HERE) we reach the Age of Enlightenment in England, the time when historically science superseded superstition and religion.
Here we have Marie’s entertaining take on it: that in 1757 the Faerie Court under London still exists, though diminished in power since the last novel. The exile of the fire dragon that was the cause of the Great Fire of London in 1666 (in the previous book) seems to have led to a more settled time in the court of the Faerie Queen Lune. As time has rolled on, however, again we see many of the cast of previous books now gone.
Edmond Halley’s calculations that propose comets travel elliptical orbits and that the comet will return in 1759 suggests that the previous problem may not have disappeared. A comet is traditionally often seen as a bad omen: and it so proves here. Facing both the return of the great dragon and the difficulties created by science upon faerie magic may just be too much for Lune and the fae this time.
As this series has developed there has been change in both worlds, though it is perhaps the human world that has changed most. After the removal of four-fifths of London in the Great Fire, it is here that we begin to see the reconstruction and urbanisation that leads to the historic elements of London today. There is also the social reconstruction after the debacle of the English Civil War. London here is a growing, thriving centre of commerce as well as ideas.
The crisis here for the Faerie world is a fundamental one: one of science versus magic, of rationalism versus mysticism. As the world above becomes more concerned with facts, there becomes less room for the superstition and the supernatural of the world below. This is the crisis that Lune faces, because she is aware, unlike the world above, that the two co-exist. It is further echoed in the fact that as the Onyx Court is fraying at its edges, Lune’s monarchy is under threat from a rival group, the Sanists, who feel that Lune needs replacing.
To convince the reader that the Human and Faerie worlds go together in a logical, well-rounded way is not easy and yet here Marie has managed it supremely well. We not only see the growth and development of London above but the magnificence and other-worldliness of the Onyx Court below.
In terms of characters, we see Irrith make decisions that are not always for the best, and also the consequences of Prince Galen, the Prince of the Stone’s actions, as he searches for a mortal wife. Above all is Queen Lune, whose imperious governance oversees all and yet maintains a front behind which there lies a much more fragile figure.
In some ways this tale is less complex than In Ashes Lie, and all the better for it. Although there is some, we have less of the frenetic to-ing and fro-ing forwards and backwards in time that seemed to me to be an unnecessary element of Ashes. Instead, we have a stronger narrative, with better realised characterisation and a much better sense of drive.
The ending is terrific and one I found most moving: there is a major sacrifice and the loss of a major character. The solution to the plot problem is one which emphasises both human and faerie responsibilities and yet simultaneously their fundamental differences. The end is a bitter-sweet moment, where some sacrifice all and there are also future opportunities for both human and fae to work together.
Though Ashes was a little disappointing in consequence, this one really works. An ambitious tale and a pleasing triumph. Wonderful.
Mark Yon, August 2010.
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