During November, I read fantasy novels were also fairy stories to help inspire NaNoWriMo. They were: The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle, The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope, and Stardust by Neil Gaiman. I read Midnight Never Come by Marie Brennan some time ago, but never got around to writing about it, so I’ll throw it in here.
The Last Unicorn is one of my all-time favorite stories. I grew up watching the film version, and it wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized it was based on a novel. The film is actually an amazingly faithful adaptation, so I wasn’t disappointed by going from the film to the novel, instead of vice versa. One day a unicorn overhears hunters in her forest remarking that she was the last unicorn in all the world. The unicorn then sets out into the world to find out if this is true; to find the others, help them if she can, or join them. She has many adventures outside in the world, and along the way picks up two companions: Schmendrick the magician and the ever-practical Molly Grue. Their quest leads them all the way to King Haggard’s castle and the sea.
Stardust by Neil Gaiman has a similar feel to The Last Unicorn, mainly because they both inhabit worlds of fantasy and their characters are aware of the conventions of fairy tales and quests, and their roles within them. (It is also a film, but I have not seen the adaptation.) Tristran Thorn makes a rash promise to his lady love, that he would bring back the star they had just seen fall, and thus win whatever he desired. And so, he sets off beyond the Wall into Faerie to find the star. He is not the only one seeking the star, however: there is also a witch and the three sons of the dead Lord of Stormhold. As expected, Tristran has many an adventure in Faerie, many of which include the star, and which eventually raise the curious question of his birth. Once again, Neil Gaiman proves his worth as a storyteller.
The Perilous Gard and Midnight Never Come can also be discussed as a pair: both take place in Tudor England deal with faerie folklore. Midnight Never Come by Marie Brennan is a story about the two courts in London: Elizabeth I’s mortal court, and the immortal Faerie court below London. Lune is a fae sent as a spy in the human court, but must tread carefully because she has lost favor with her queen, Invidiana. In the human court, Deven and his employer, Walsingham, are trying to determine the secret force that seems to be influencing their own queen. While holding much potential as an interesting story, and with great insight into Faerie and its workings, Midnight Never Come actually falls short. The prologue solves the mystery before the reader even knows its a mystery, the flashbacks remove all suspense, and the second problem the characters must solve has a deus ex machina ending that didn’t seem to fit—all things an editor should have caught, and I feel more sorry for Marie Brennan than annoyed, because this could have been an amazing book otherwise.
The Perilous Gard, however, manages to successfully treat both the Elizabethan court and the Old Religion of faerie. Kate Sutton is exiled by Queen Mary to a remote castle in Derbyshire, the Perilous Gard. While there, Kate becomes involved with the mysterious disappearance of Sir Geoffrey Heron’s daughter, resulting in a series of events which lead both Kate and Sir Geoffrey’s brother, Christopher, to the underground world of the Fairy Folk. The Fairy Folk are remote, distant, immortal; they are a people older than the Druids and who still demand human sacrifice. This book had me staying up into the wee hours of the morning, and reading it at breakfast (and thus being late to work) because I had to find out what would happen to them. I won’t say what happens, but this book did give me a ballad that I will probably use in my thesis.
Both The Last Unicorn and The Perilous Gard are illustrated. I am enchanted by illustrated books; when done well, illustrations truly do enhance the reading experience.