Sunday, July 19, 2015

Review: King of Morning, Queen of Day by Ian McDonald

King of Morning, Queen of Day by Ian McDonald
Published: Bantam Spectra (1991), Open Road Integrated Media (2013)
Awards Nominated: Locus Fantasy Award
Awards won: Philip K. Dick Award and Prix Imagnales

The Book:

“In early-twentieth-century Ireland, life for Emily Desmond is that of the average teenage girl: She reads, she’s bored with school, and she has a powerful imagination. Then things begin to change. Her imagination is so powerful, in fact, that she wills a faerie into existence—an ability called mythoconsciousness. It’s this power that opens a dangerous door that she will never want to close, and whose repercussions will reverberate across time.

First to be affected is her daughter, Jessica, who, in the mid-1930s, finds that she must face her mother’s power by using the very same gift against her. Then, in [the 1980s], Jessica’s granddaughter, Enye, must end the cycle once and for all—but it may prove too powerful to overcome.”

This is the second novel I’ve read by Ian McDonald, the first being The Dervish House. The subject and style are very different in King of Morning, Queen of Day.  It’s very interesting to see what a range of skill McDonald has, and I am interested to read more of his work.

My Thoughts:

King of Morning, Queen of Day is an unusual style of faerie story.  On the surface, especially with Emily’s story, many of the details are as you might expect: fantastical creatures luring away innocent young girls, and a dangerous portal into faerie.  However, as you get deeper into the explanation of ‘mythoconsciousness’ and how its power manifests in reality, everything begins to feel a lot less like magic and more like paranormal science. This feeling becomes progressively stronger as time moves forward through Jessica’s story and finally to Enye’s.  I think this development is intended to show how faerie adapts to fit into a changing world.  Myths and legends of this sort are not simply discarded, but forced to evolve to reflect the values and beliefs of society.  

The direction these changes take, however, is incredibly dark. Even in Emily’s story, the manifestations were dangerous and capable of considerable harm.  Their violence and danger become more extreme in the next two women’s stories, and they lack any of the caprice or trickster nature that I would naively associate with fairies.  Some of the violence, and one scene of disturbingly sexualized violence, seemed gratuitous to me.  In the end, I was not a huge fan of this general atmosphere of the book, especially as it became progressively grittier moving forward in time.

The novel is split into three stories, each following a different heroine in a different time period of Ireland. Each of the stories feel very grounded in history, and even Emily’s faerie obsession reminded me of the famous historical photo hoax .  While all of the heroines are connected by certain personality traits (impulsiveness, brattiness, disregard for authority), they each are very different women with different relationships with their world and their power.  Even the style of the narrative changes to reflect the personality and era of each of the women.  I found the three sections interesting in terms of seeing how the people and the area changed over time, but I never felt especially emotionally engaged with the characters. Overall,  there is quite a lot to like in King of Morning, Queen of Day, even if it did not completely click with me.

My Rating: 3.5/5

King of Morning, Queen of Day is a fantasy that follows several generations of women in Ireland.  Each of three stories that compose the novel is set in a different time period, and it was interesting to see the differences in the form of the supernatural ‘mythoconsciousness’ and the ways the three heroines respond to their power.  I also enjoyed how the writing style changes to reflect the personality of each heroine, and how the stories feel firmly grounded in each woman’s time and place.  I wasn’t a big fan of the style of supernatural grittiness, though, and I was never particularly attached to any of the characters. The novel definitely shows McDonald’s skill and versatility as a writer, but, so far, his science fiction is more up my alley.

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