In Ashes Lie by Marie Brennan

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In Ashes Lie by Marie Brennan

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Category: Historical Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Elaine Dingsdale
Reviewed by Elaine Dingsdale
Summary: Second in the series of the Onyx Court, the novel follows events in London - both in the real world, and its underground faerie equivalent, to which the former is strongly linked. New monarchs prevail, catastrophes abound (Plague, and the Fire of London), which threaten not only the real world, but its mirror image in the faerie realm.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 464 Date: June 2009
Publisher: Orbit
ISBN: 978-1841497181

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It's September 1666 and although the mortals' Civil War is over the war amongst the fae is still raging in London. There's now a greater threat to the Onyx Court and it could destroy everything when a spark starts a fire which for three days spreads through the city devouring everything in its path. Can the mortals and the fae unite to find a way to defeat a foe which neither can better on their own?

Although it would be possible to read this without having read the first in the series, I would strongly recommend reading its predecessor. Most readers would be able to pick up and understand the human element of the novel, if only on a rudimentary historical level. However, there is much background detail given in the first novel about the realm of faerie, its history, infrastructure and traditions, so reading this would be wise indeed, in order to get a fuller understanding and appreciation of this unique new world that Brennan has created. In both of the novels to date, the emphasis is on the world of faerie, so again, much would be lost, if the novels aren't read in sequence: although I have referred to the novels as a series, it would be closer to the mark to consider them as a serial/saga. So if tempted by In Ashes Lie, please make time for the first novel - you won't regret it.

Brennan has woven a magical world, peopled by vibrant characters, particularly in the world of faerie. The wicked Queen of the first novel has been replaced by a more compassionate (dare I say, almost human?) monarch, who strives with her consort (from the mortal world), to protect and enhance the lives of faerie and mortal alike. The Queen and her consort complement and contrast very well, working together as a homogenous unit. I was particularly impressed by the depth of their characterisation.

Lune (the Queen), is a marvellous creation - her strength, bravery and compassion know no bounds, and how we long for her world to be a peaceful and happy one. She faces all adversaries and challenges with a huge amount of compassion, truly living for her people and serving them to the best of her ability. Yet her contacts with the real world have coloured her, and give her human touches and tendencies - particularly her capacity to love human characters, a trait which grows with her through the course of the novel. Indeed, it would be no exagerration to say that Lune's tale is a wonderful love story. Her undying love for her former consort is moving in the extreme - and knowing that she is fated to repeat this throughout her eternal life (as the faerie queen must have a mortal consort), adds great pathos to the narrative, and I found myself profoundly moved at the scenes of her grieving in her secret garden.

Lesser characters, especially in the world of faerie were also well depicted, bringing a real vibrancy and at times humour, to the narrative. The Goodmead sisters, in particular, were tremendous, and injected many a humorous touch. As local innkeepers, they have a foot in both worlds. They also guard one of the entrances to the faerie world - which is accessed by talking to a rose bush (how else?!) - clearly disturbing for the mortal characters on their first visit. Sadly the human characters in general weren't nearly as appealing, and in fact were rather two dimensional, and insubstantial, not lending much weight to either plot or character development. The main human characters - three in total - were well depicted, but the rest lacked substance - even the real, real characters such as Charles Stuart.

But the true focus of the novel/series is the faerie world - there are interesting scenes in the real world, but they serve mainly to move the action forward in the world of faerie - a conventional historical novel this is not, by any manner of means. Rather, it is an interesting departure from a fantasy series which incorporates real events - such as the Plague and Fire of London - into its narrative. The plot is rather slow and convoluted at times, but the many descriptive scenes do give it an added twist, and most definitely have a central role to fulfil - showing us how the characters behave out with their native environments, explaining their strengths and weaknesses, and generally adding to the overall historical flavour of the novel.

My main criticism would be the lack of chronology. I found the jumping around through times only years apart quite irritating, and even by the conclusion, have no real explanation as to why the novel was constructed this way. For me it served more as a hindrance, than a help. But overall, this is an excellent read, very much in the fantasy vein - so it would not perhaps be terribly appealing for historical purists. Nonetheless, it was good fun and exciting in places - especially the scenes concerning the Fire, which fairly sizzled along!

Without doubt, the faerie characters formed the real backbone and strength of this novel - as indeed they did in the first. I very much look forward to the next instalment - will the nasty Scottish and Irish faeries behave (I'm Scottish, so loved this angle!) - or will they return, to deviously cause more trouble for Lune and her human consort? Whichever route the author chooses for Lune and the Onyx Court to follow, I think I can safely say we will be assured of a wonderful fantasy adventure, peopled by some magnificent faeries…and hobs, brownies, giants… and perhaps even another dragon!

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

If this book appeals, we hope that you'll have read the first in the series already, but you might also enjoy Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke.

Buy In Ashes Lie by Marie Brennan at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy In Ashes Lie by Marie Brennan at

Buy In Ashes Lie by Marie Brennan at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy In Ashes Lie by Marie Brennan at


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