King of Morning, Queen of Day: A fairy tale of unforgettable power

fantasy book reviews Ian McDonald King of Morning, Queen of DayKing of Morning, Queen of Day by Ian McDonald

I knew, just by reading the back cover blurb, that King of Morning, Queen of Day was right up my alley. Women with mystical powers? Check. Faeries? Check. Ireland? Check. In fact, I think the only reason I didn’t discover this book earlier is that it was published in 1991, and I only started reading fantasy sometime in the late nineties.

The story begins with Emily, a bratty but endearing girl of fifteen, poised on the edge of adulthood in the early 20th century. Emily knows she is special — set apart — and when she sees the faeries in the wood by her family’s home, she knows she will never be satisfied with ordinary life. Emily makes a colossal mess of things, as bratty fifteen-year-olds will do, and sets in motion events that will affect generations to come.

What follows is a fairy tale, but not precisely a tale of faeries; it’s more of an exploration of the nature of reality and of myth, as seen through the eyes of Emily and two other women: Jessica, a glib-tongued teenager of the 1930s whose tall tales have an uncanny way of coming true; and Enye, a woman of the late 1980s, torn between everyday life and a battle with supernatural forces from the world beyond.

King of Morning, Queen of Day is a stunning story and one that I’ll probably reread over and over again. It doesn’t suffer one bit from the ailment that afflicts so many multigenerational novels — the tendency for one or more of the intertwined stories to lack luster. All three of the women, and their lives and times, are vivid and passionate. And I must say, there are few male authors who can write such nuanced and three-dimensional female characters. Get your hands on a used copy of this. I wish they’d reprint it…

(1991) The dangerous allure of the faerie lover manifests itself through three generations of women in this tour-de-force by the author of Desolation Road ( LJ 2/15/88). The spirits that haunt Ireland’s Bridestone Wood first claim Emily Desmond in the early 1900s; in the 1930s, working girl Jessica Caldwell follows the man of her dreams into a dreamlike world; and in the near future, writer Enye MacColl battles the invisible forces of faerie. McDonald’s power as a storyteller lies in his stylistic versatility and intensity of language as well as in his capacity to create vivid and memorable characters.


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KELLY LASITER is a mild-mannered academic administrative assistant by day, but at night she rules over a private empire of tottering bookshelves. Kelly is most fond of fantasy set in a historical setting (a la Jo Graham) or in a setting that echoes a real historical period (a la George RR Martin and Jacqueline Carey). She also enjoys urban fantasy and its close cousin, paranormal romance, though she believes these subgenres’ recent burst in popularity has resulted in an excess of dreck. She is a sucker for pretty prose (she majored in English, after all) and mythological themes.

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