‘In Ashes Lie’ by Marie Brennan is the second book of ‘The Onyx Court Quartet’ and tells us of the further adventures of the fae Lune, who became queen of the Onyx Court in the first book, ‘Midnight Never Come’, some sixty years down the line. Just to remind you: The Onyx Court is a fae shadow court situated somewhat ‘below’ London. court situated somewhat ‘below’ London. It has strengthened through the more intense bond that Lune and Michael Deven forged between the mortal and the fae realm in the end of ‘Midnight Never Come’. But not all faeries agree that a stronger bond between mortals and fae is a good thing.
The novel tells us about how the Great Fire of 1666 started and how humans and fae from London in the end have to work together to save their city from this devastation. This storyline is interspersed with the second narration, flashing back to the events leading up to 1666 and the fire. Starting with the end of King Charles I’s troubled reign it leads us through Oliver Cromwell’s rise to power right to the eventual restoration of the monarchy. It doesn’t neglect the events unfolding in the faerie realm at the same time, the Onyx Court and Lune being assaulted from the Gyre-Carling of Fife and her allies in Ireland. These flashbacks make up more than two thirds of the book which is justified. In the end, it becomes clear to the reader who will profit from the destruction of London and the Onyx Court. It also becomes quite obvious that the stronger bond between the mortal and the fae realm has consequences in both directions: The events below influence what happens above and vice versa. The execution of Charles Stuart (no spoiler there, I presume) nearly leads to Lune losing control over her realm.
Love has no longer the same importance as in ‘Midnight Never Come’ (with Lune still being the main protagonist, fae truly loving only once and Michael Deven having succumbed to his mortality) but it is not totally forgotten neither. Lune still grieves for her lost mortal love and remembers him, even though a new Prince of the Stone is at her side as her consort. But Prince of the Stone is only the title of the human chosen to rule by her side as symbol of the bond between fae and humans in London. The human bearing that title doesn’t have anything to do with romantic entanglement. ‘In Ashes Lie’ is foremost about power and how it can be used and misused. Lune has been changed by her years as ruler and the sometimes tough decisions she had to make, forever trying not to become as reckless as her predecessor Invidiana. She now has to learn to be herself and not the antithesis of Invidiana.
This novel doesn’t start as slow as ‘Midnight Never Come’ did. Right from the beginning the reader is in the midst of the action which works quite well because Marie Brennan doesn’t have to explain the whole background of her world a second time and so can hit the ground running (you can read book 2 as a standalone novel, but knowing what transpired in the first book definitely enhances the experience here). Naturally, all human protagonists are new to the reader but their fine characterisation makes them as well developed as the fae characters we already know from ‘Midnight Never Come’.
The story is once again compelling and well plotted. The flashback structure is handled very well and perfectly woven together with the present day storyline. The world building stays excellent and Marie Brennan’s research into the Glorious Revolution and British faerie lore is as extensive as before and lets her paint a seventeenth century London with vivid colours, without peppering the story with irrelevant details. In the front of the book, you will find a map of London and a Dramatis Personae, so you can easily track the locations and remember who is part of which faction.
‘In Ashes Lie’ is surely not for readers who want to indulge in non-stop action or read a human-fae love story. But if you like to read historical fantasy and enjoy rich world-building, you definitely should give this book a try. ‘The Onyx Court’ series encompasses four novels in all playing with different historical settings in English history. The first one takes place in Elizabethan times and the third one, ‘A Star Shall Fall’, will describe events in the eighteenth century. Judging by the first two books, I think Lune will learn something new about the human condition in book three as well. I am looking forward to that.
(pub: Orbit. 433 page small enlarged paperback. Price: £ 7.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-84149-718-1)
check out website: www.orbitbooks.net