In Marie Brennan’s A Star Shall Fall, it is 1757, and once again the Onyx Court faces destruction. After a terrible battle with a Dragon that set London aflame in 1666, the best the faeries were able to do was fight it to a draw…and then exile it to a comet that happened to be passing in near orbit. That should have been that, but unfortunately they picked Halley’s Comet, buying themselves a mere blink of a century to come up with a Plan B.
The partial success of this earlier gambit had come from a fusion of human and fae ingenuity, so the queen of the fairie court, Lune, turns for aid to her human consort, the Prince of the Stone. Galen St. Clair is barely grown, but he is devoted to Lune—and, unfortunately, besotted with her. He begins his hunt for answers at the Royal Society, buying his way into the Society at a high price. His father gets him in the door: in exchange, Galen agrees to go fortune-hunting for a bride rich enough to solve his family’s myriad financial troubles.
A Star Shall Fall is the third book in a rather cunningly structured series—because the Onyx Court of the fae is eternal, each chapter in its greater story arc takes place in an entirely different era of British history. The human characters come and go: Lune and her court persist. As a result, readers get a fresh cast of mortals with every book, while enough stays the same within the Onyx Court to provide a sense of continuity.
I arrived in this world without having read Midnight Never Come or In Ashes Lie, and getting comfortable with this third installment was, initially, hard going: knowing the Dragon would come back without having seen it before made it harder to care, despite the deeply cool petard-hoist represented by Halley’s Comet. But as Galen grapples with the complex obligations of his double life: his pointless, unrequited love for Lune, the pressure from his family to save his sisters from penury by marrying a wealthy woman, and even the cravings of the flesh, I began to be drawn in.
The real appeal of this tale is that Brennan never goes for the easy solution: no single person arises who can, on her own, fulfill all of Galen’s needs. This is not the standard narrative of love or partnership, where The One turns up and completes the other party. It addresses something that isn’t acknowledged enough in our society: even the most fulfilling and harmonious relationship will inevitably have little gaps, disconnects and incompatibilities that might languish, unexplored, or grow into problems, interests and emotional holes which a friend or another family member may to fill. The myth of perfect, seamless couplehood is just that. In A Star Shall Fall we never see true polyamory developing, but the complex jumble of a life that Galen fashions for himself is intriguing.
As these fractured romances and personal alliances develop, the fae and their human allies begin exploring the potential of alchemy to address their Dragon problem, digging into the question of whether there might be a complete alchemical partner for the incarnation of purified fire that the Dragon represents. There, not surprisingly, the answers prove messy and difficult once again.
But within Galen’s hard-fought struggle to embrace imperfection—to literally make the best thing possible of a bad situation—springs a solution of sorts to the Dragon issue. By the conclusion of A Star Shall Fall, Lune’s reign has been sorely tested, by dissenters within, by the Dragon without, and even by the changing nature of Victorian London.
As for whether she can hang on as England slides into the nineteenth century, readers will have to look to the forthcoming With Fate Conspire.
A.M. Dellamonica writes novels and short fiction and teaches writing online. She is passionate about environmentalism, food and drink, and art in every form, and dabbles in several: photography, choral music, theater, dance, cooking and crafts. Catch up with her on her blog here.