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Marie Brennan's Midnight Never Come

Midnight Never Come by Marie Brennan is a rock-solid, highly entertaining tale of intrigue, magic, and adventure. It received a starred review in Publishers Weekly, which read in part: "Stunningly conceived and exquisitely achieved, this rich historical fantasy portrays the Elizabethan court 30 years into the reign of the Virgin Queen, often called Gloriana. Far below ground, her dark counterpart, heartless Invidiana, rules England's fae. Brennan pairs handsome young courtier Michael Deven, an aspiring agent under spymaster Sir Francis Walsingham, with bewitching fae Lune, who attempts to avoid Invidiana's wrath by infiltrating Walsingham's network in mortal guise. History and fantasy blend seamlessly as Deven and Lune tread their precarious tightropes between loyalty and betrayal." This novel is definitely worth seeking out.

I interviewed Brennan via email recently. For more information on Brennan and the novel, check out the official website for the novel (they're running a contest with a $500 prize). Why is underground London so compelling?
Marie Brennan: Underground things of any stripe are neat because they're hidden--the original meaning of "occult." The notion of there being a secret world right next to the ordinary one produces an interesting frisson for the reader or writer--that's the appeal of urban fantasy, at least for me--and if it's underground, it's dark, it's buried, it's a good place to find creepy things or relics of the past.

It isn't just London, of course; Ekaterina Sedia, for example, does it to Moscow in her debut novel. London works well, though, because it's familiar enough to be recognized by your average Anglophone reader. You need a city old enough to have a buried history--I don't think it would work in a suburban housing development, though I suppose you could try--and you need your reader not to feel totally lost. As much as I'd love to read a fantasy about, say, underground Hong Kong, I know nothing about the city or its history, and so much of what's cool in such a book would be lost on me.

  Midnight How does your archaeology and folklore degree influence your fiction writing?
Marie Brennan: More than anything, I'd say it's given me perspective. People have not always lived the way we do; they have not always believed the things we believe. (For that matter, the "we" in that sentence is bogus; my way of life isn't identical to yours, nor to those of the people reading this.)

I love, and would like more of, fantasy that extends its imagination to the world the characters live in. Not just in the ways that are plot-centric: what do the characters eat? What clothes do they wear? How does religion figure into their lives? I have nothing against medieval or Renaissance Europe, nor fantasy based on it, but there's thousands of years of a whole world out there to explore. Mind you, it's a bit ironic for me to be saying that when my most recent novel is set in Elizabethan England, but my first two books, and a lot of my short fiction, and many projects I want to do in the future, are dedicated in part to that notion of cultural diversity. Also, I'm not afraid of heavy-duty research. You’ve written a kind of dual fantasy/historical novel. What was the hardest part of that?
Marie Brennan: Deciding where to place the boundary between them. Strange as it sounds, this was something of a moral question for me: I hate secret histories that take away all the achievements of real people and say they were the work of hidden vampire masters or the Illuminati or whoever. But at the same time, I want the fae to have an effect on things. So I have to look for the cracks in history: the things that are random or unexplained, the events that could have another cause added to their existing list. It's a constant tension between the facts as we know them and what I choose to invent, and I tried as hard as humanly possible to get the facts right, and not to jar them out of place while telling my own story. How long have you been writing, and can you tell us a little about your other books? How is the new one different?
Marie Brennan: The first story I remember writing was for school when I was seven; I started in on fantasy when I was nine or ten; I got serious when I was eighteen. My first book came out when I was twenty-five. I have two other novels out; their original titles were Doppelganger and Warrior and Witch, but they're being reissued in August as Warrior and Witch, respectively. Unlike Midnight Never Come, they're secondary-world fantasies, and more adventure-based--not in the epic "quest to find and/or destroy a magical object" sense, but that's the closest I can come to assigning them a sub-genre. I honestly just think of them as fantasies, as opposed to urban or historical or whatever. Tell us a secret. What’s personal in your novels that might not seem like it to a reader who doesn’t know you?
Marie Brennan: Not all that secret (since I have it posted on my website), but Midnight Never Come is based on a role-playing game I ran. It's immensely fleshed out from what started as a very small skeleton, but the backstory and a handful of key plot points came from a particular segment of the game, which was set across 650 years of English history.

But let me add something new to that, which I haven't been mentioning to all and sundry: because of the RPG background to the book, I have a different relationship to some of the characters than I normally would. My players in the game had their own characters, who were the protagonists of the original version of the story (now relaced by Deven and Lune), but all the rest of the characters were my responsibility to play. So I've semi-performed the Goodemeades, Tiresias, Invidiana--spoken as them in conversation, decided on the fly what they would do in response to the protagonists' actions, etc. (I was never able to play Invidiana as well as I wanted to, but when you get right down to it, I'm not nearly scary enough as a person. Which is a good thing.) That's much of the reason why the pivot point in Act III is my favorite: I got to spring a fairly similar plot twist on my players in person, playing out one role myself, and it was fun to watch their heads explode. Finally, you’re stuck in old underground London with some food, water, fairy-repellent, a flashlight, a knife, and four books. You may never get out. What four books have you brought with you?
Marie Brennan: Some kind of urban survival manual, because that food and water won't last forever, and I'll need to know how to trap rats. Some City of London publication mapping out the underground works -- sewers, crypts, subway lines, etc.--so I won't get lost. The biggest, fattest anthology of fantasy I can find, so I have a lot of stories to read, and can (with much regret) burn the pages when my flashlight batteries die. And my own novel, which I will burn first, because if I hadn't written it I never would have been hypothetically stuck in London sewers forever in the first place.


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Hi Jeff -

Alas, the prize competition closing date was a few weeks back and the winner has most probably spent their winnings already (you might be pleased to know that they chose an voucher!), but the quiz questions are still online if anyone wants to pit their wits...

Darren T
Orbit Books UK

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