Review Rerun: In Ashes Lie by Marie Brennan
My review originally appeared on November 12th, 2010, and is reprinted below.
Title: IN ASHES LIE
Author: Marie Brennan
Series: this is the second Onyx Court novel, but it works as a standalone
Publication Date: June 2008
In Ashes Lie for purchase on The Book Depository
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I’m strongly anti-spoiler so far as fiction goes, but I figure history is fair game. With that in mind, this review contains some spoilers for the seventeenth century.
Wow. I expected to like IN ASHES LIE well enough, but I never imagined I’d love it to the point where I want to push it on everyone. I’m currently a very happy girl.
IN ASHES LIE, which traces thirty years of human and faerie upheaval in seventeenth century London and the Onyx Court beneath it, is essentially a political thriller with a slow-burning fuse. The story itself is fascinating, but for the first half I almost found myself more interested in the structure than the actual tale. Brennan gives us three separate, intertwined stories. We follow the fae and their human counterparts in real-time, beginning in 1639. Each part (there are no chapters) leaps forward a few years and contains a series of brief, to-the-point slices of story that build off of and add to the central conflict. In between these lengthier segments, we watch Londoners of both the human and fae varieties contend with the great fire of 1666. Since the fire segments take place a good deal after the rest, they let us in on a few secrets and give us a tantalizing glimpse of the Onyx Court’s future. We know what's coming, but we don't know the hows or whys of it--and damn, do we ever want to find out. It’s a wonderful approach, and one that serves to draw the reader in deep.
The human side of the core story deals with the English civil war and the overthrow of the monarchy. I knew little about the period, going in, and I appreciated the chance to expand my knowledge. While I knew about Cromwell, and about the Puritans and the restoration of the monarchy, I was unfamiliar with the ins and outs of the coup and was surprised to learn how small a role Cromwell played overall. (Prior to reading IN ASHES LIE, I'd always thought of this time in history as "that stuff with Cromwell." Talk about a shock.) Brennan pulls off a rare feat: she assumes little prior knowledge on the reader’s part, but neither does she treat us as wholly uniformed. She feeds us information in such a way that those who don’t know much about English history can easily follow along, while those who know what’s to come can see all the little bits and pieces that lead to the inevitable conclusion.
The fae’s story runs parallel to human events as Brennan explores the effect human political upheaval has on faerie politics. Since the Onyx Court and London itself are intimately entwined, one cannot fail to impact the other. This is interesting in and of itself, but the foreknowledge provided by the fire-centric storyline makes it all the richer. Brennan pulls it off with flair. There are some fascinating (and heartbreaking) repercussions for all involved. It’s complex, engaging, and durned near impossible to put down. I typically read a hunddred or more pages at a stretch, and even lost sleep to the narrative.
If you like historical fiction, political thrillers or fae-centric fantasy, you must read this. It does follow MIDNIGHT NEVER COME, but it’s set so far after that earlier novel that you can easily read it as a standalone. Just beware of a few spoilers for MNC, if you take that route, and be prepared to go back and read the earlier book if you decide to continue with the Onyx Court.
4 stars - loved it
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