Marie Brennan’s historical fantasy series about the Onyx Court, the realm of the fae, that lies hidden below Queen Victoria’s London was too big, too grand in scale for a mere trilogy. To do the job of writing about it sufficiently well, four books were needed, at minimum. Going against the trend of trilogies, Marie’s With Fate Conspire is an excellent addition to the Onyx Court series, and is perhaps her best novel to date.
Queen Lune and her realm are threatened as never before by the Industrial Age. The presence of iron is anathema to the existence of elves and the other fae, and London is becoming a city where iron is everywhere, in pipes, bridges, railways, trains, and buildings. She realizes that the conitnued existence of her realm is much in doubt, and that it will only be a matter of time until it collapses. The most she can do is to prolong its life through her sheer determination, indomitable will and the power of her magic.
One of her past human consorts, the Prince of the Stone Benjamin Hodge, tried to talk others into not tearing down a part of the ancient wall that surrounded London, but he was unsuccessful. With the destruction of the wall, like that of the gates that General Monck had commanded to be torn down fifty years previously, to when the Great Fire burned part of the entrance to the Onyx Court, the details of which are mentioned in the other books in the series, Lune has feared what these changes would mean to the survival of the Onyx Court. Will her best efforts finaly prove to be not enough in this finale to the series?
Marie Brennan skillfully weaves into her tale several Dicksenian themes, like those of social injustice, poverty, the unjustness of the class system and the presence of ignorance and enlightenment amongst every class, and a playful sense of humor into her writing. One of her most villainous characters is one of the results of this: that of Nadrett, the gangster lord of the Goblin Market. The underworld of the Goblin Market reminded me of Fagen’s London, where he enlisted the aid of children to do the dirty work of picking pockets for him. Brennan’s research into the London of the past, including its sewer system, makes With Fate Conspire and the London within it come alive for the readers of this book, as with the other novels in the series, Midnight Never Come, In Ashes Lie, and the marvelously entertaining A Star Shall Fall. Then, there’s the seemingly unrelated question of why are large chunks of the memories of certain prominent citizens disappearing, and how is that, if at all, connected to the other developments in the novel.
There is a large cast of characters in With Fate Conspire, again a trait of Dickens and another one of the greatest writers who depicted social injustices, Victor Hugo. Brennan handles this extremely well, and creates some of the most fascinating and realistic characters of any fantasy novel ever written. For example, there’s Elizabeth (Eliza) O’Malley, one of the Whitechapel Irish people brennan writes about. Her childhood sweetheart, Owen Darragh, was stolen away from her seven years ago by the faeries of the Goblin Market, but she still has not given up her search for him. It is hard for her to get anyone to help her, because no one believes her account.
Benjamin Hodge, the current Prince of the Stone, is left–along with the remnants of the Onyx Court–to maintain order in the realm after Queen Lune’s disappearance and presumed death. But, how can a mere mortal, even if he is the Prince of the Stone, hope to succeed in keeping the Onyx Court going, with so many people and evil fae working against him?
Besides the lord of the Goblin Market, Nadrett, there is, for instance, his servant Dead Rick. Dead Rick is a shape-shifting Black Dog, who is held as a slave by Nadrett to do his will by the memories Nadrett stole from him. Benjamin Hodge definitely has his work cut out for him.
Dead Rick is one of the only people or fae that believes Eliza, and he sympathizes with her. Eliza gets a break when she overhears a conversation between two women referencing faeries in the city. She applies to be a maid for one of the women, Miss Louisa Kittering, and discovers that the real Miss Kittering has been replaced by a faerie changeling. Though the changeling helps her connect with her lost love, Eliza faces many further obstacles in her attempts to restore him to his former self.
With Fate Conspire by Marie Brennan is a magical, awe-inspiring conclusion to her Onyx Court series. The lines between good and evil are rearranged, and both mortals and faeries must work together to save the faerie kingdom and maintain the safety of London. Marie Brennan has written a dramatic and page-turning final to her series that is a Must-Read for the fans of her Onyx Court series, and for anyone who loves reading historical fantasy novels.
–Douglas R. Cobb–