When you love a book as much as I do Freda Warrington’s Elfland, there’s always a little bit of fear mixed in with the anticipation for its sequel. Finding a book that resonates with you on many levels at once is like falling under a spell. What if the second book isn’t as good; what if it breaks the spell? Now that I’ve read Midsummer Night, though, I can report that I’m still happily ensorcelled. Midsummer Night lives up to the quality of Elfland and is a terrific novel in its own right.
If Elfland was about love and being oneself, Midsummer Night deals with themes of guilt vs. redemption, loss vs. healing, and the intersection of art and magic. The two point-of-view characters are Gill Sharma, a former world-class runner who has just lost everything she thought defined her; and Dame Juliana Flagg, an imperious sculptor whose perfectionism hides a tangle of guilt and fear. Wanting to get away from everyone and everything, Gill moves into a cottage on Juliana’s remote property of Cairndonan. Before long, Gill finds a hidden path in the forest that leads to a place that simply shouldn’t be there, and when she returns to Cairndonan, a frightened young man follows her.
This young man, called Leith, sets Juliana’s household into an uproar. He might be a shell-shocked WWI soldier who vanished from the estate in 1919; he might be a child who was lost more recently, now grown to manhood; and he might be mentally ill and in need of help. A charismatic man claiming to be Leith’s brother comes looking for him, raising the question of whom to trust. Gill, Juliana, and a vivid cast of secondary characters are swept into an Aetherial power struggle and a mystery that has haunted Cairndonan for generations.
Midsummer Night is beautifully written and gives the reader the sense that Warrington’s world is hiding just one wrong turn away from ours. Gill and Juliana and Cairndonan felt more real than reality for the several days it took me to read the book, and for days afterward I caught myself glancing at trees and old houses and just wondering. There is yet again cause to rejoice that Warrington left some of the Otherworld to our imaginations in Elfland; this means that we have new places to explore through Gill’s and Juliana’s eyes that we haven’t already seen through Rosie’s and Sam’s.
Like Elfland, Midsummer Night makes use of some “family saga” plot elements such as adultery and secret parentage. Unlike in Elfland, many of these elements are set in the novel’s past rather than its present, though their fallout is still being felt. Midsummer Night has a sort of “sadder and wiser” feel compared to Elfland, and the book is not as romantic per se. Yet it’s not without hope, and I really liked the way the character arcs developed.
This book has everything: a big complex plot, emotionally compelling characters, evocative writing, gorgeous settings, a sense of wonder, a bit of humor, great use of tiny little details that might not seem important at first, and a few scenes that will scare your socks off! It shares a cosmology (and a secondary character or two) with Elfland, but can stand alone. You’ll want to read Elfland anyway though, as it’s wonderful; the AETHERIAL TALES are some of the most enchanting fantasies I’ve read in years and I highly recommend them.