From the celestial heights the arbitrary acts of life seem patterned like a fairy-tale landscape, populated by charming and eccentric figures. The glittering observers require vital doses of joy and pain, sudden reversals of fortune, dire portents and untimely deaths. Life itself proceeds in its unpredictable infinite patterns — so unlike the measured dance of stars — until, for the satisfaction of their entertainment, the watchers choose a point at which to stop.
That’s a quote from Ellen Kushner’s Swordspoint, but I kept thinking of it while reading A Star Shall Fall. It’s part of the nature of the ONYX COURT series that the books are tightly focused on specific points in time. Marie Brennan zooms in on her characters as a pivotal period begins, follows them until that situation is resolved, and then zooms back out, leaving only tantalizing glimpses of what happens in the spaces between books. Inevitably, this leaves me wanting more of some of the characters: I still wish we’d seen more of Michael Deven, for example, and Lune the way she was with him (before he died and she closed off her heart forever); and in this volume we see some flashbacks of Jack Ellin of In Ashes Lie and wish we’d had more time to spend with him as well. There’s a new character introduced in A Star Shall Fall, too, who I really wish had more page time.
A Star Shall Fall takes place between the years of 1757 and 1759. At the end of In Ashes Lie, the fae of the Onyx Court imprisoned the Dragon who destroyed most of London by fire. A few years later, the Dragon’s prison began to weaken and the fae banished it to a comet. But as science advanced, it was discovered that this comet would approach Earth again and bring the vengeful Dragon with it. Lune and her court must now figure out a way to prevent the monster from destroying London and the Onyx Court when it returns. Meanwhile, dissension is brewing in the court; many disgruntled fae believe that their troubles are due to Lune no longer being “whole” because of her battle scars, and plots to overthrow her are hatching.
Brennan makes the wise decision of stepping a little away from Lune in terms of point-of-view. This enables Brennan to play a few cards close to her chest, plus there’s the fact that Lune has steadily become an emotionally remote character. These books already have a certain “coolness” or “distance” about them, and narrating this one through Lune’s eyes would probably exacerbate that. Instead, we focus primarily on the tomboyish sprite Dame Irrith and on the current Prince of the Stone, Galen St. Clair. Irrith snoops into the doings of the rebels against the Queen and starts to wonder whether some of their theories might be correct. Galen has an unrequited love for the Queen but is being pressured to marry by his father. The two of them eventually become allies and more.
As in the two previous installments, the plot of A Star Shall Fall builds slowly. The characters are racing against time, but their path to a solution involves many conversations, debates, spying missions, and so on. The prose is elegant, and I found it especially beautiful in the All Hallows’ Eve scene.
Marie Brennan does a good job of portraying the time period in which the novel is set. She works that time period’s science into the plot in clever ways; several theories that have since been debunked are presented as true, or partially true, or true-but-only-in-Faerie, in the world of the novel. The characters, too, are products of their time. Sometimes they express opinions that will sit uncomfortably with readers. Brennan doesn’t write modern characters dressed up in period costumes, and I appreciate this even when it leads to a few moments of unease.
The final scenes are moving; as always, Brennan drops the reserve at the climactic point and lets emotion shine through. The way everything works out is well-thought-out, unexpected, and affecting. Particularly haunting is the scene in which we finally find out what became of the man who was Prince of the Stone before Galen; talk about the stuff of nightmares!
A Star Shall Fall is a well-written novel and a good addition to the series. I recommend it to fans of historical fantasy.