Up to Eric's Home Page To Index Sat Jul 20 22:15:46 EDT 1991

Raymond's Reviews #127

%T King of Morning, Queen of Day
%A Ian McDonald
%I Bantam
%D June 1991
%O paperback, US$4.99
%P 389
%G 0-553-29049-5

Ian McDonald's previous novels (Desolation Road, Out On Blue Six) have attracted lots of critical praise, but they read to me like too much writing talent chasing not enough idea --- gorgeous, but rambling and self-indulgent and a bit too self-consciously clever. In this, his third, he finally hits his stride, treating more idea content with a new maturity and discipline. The result is a work of surpassing excellence that bears comparison with the best of Tim Powers, Robert Holdstock, or Charles De Lint.

The premise is that the human unconscious has access to the Universe's fundamental forces, and human mythmaking has created a sort of esoteric geography of `mythlines' overlaying the geological landscape. Some humans can sense the mythlines; a very few can create fairies, gods and demons to haunt them. Fantasy? SF? Who cares?

The novel is set in Ireland, which is just naturally crawling with mythlines. In 1913, an adolescent girl, driven by her repressed sexuality and drunk on the Celtic Twilight romanticism of Yeats & Co., makes contact with the energy of the mythlines --- the power of Faerie. She becomes fully mythoconscious, able to tap the energy to project thought-forms into the world as the creatures of Fenian myth, and eventually undergoes a bizarre apotheosis.

The potential for mythoconsciousness is a heritable trait. In parts II (set in the 1930s) and III (present-day), her descendents grapple with the consequences of her weird and terrible power. Eventually her great-granddaughter will confront her and the hosts of Faerie, wielding not grimoires or pentagrams but the Two Swords of Kendo and a personal computer.

There's lots of terrific writing here; strong characters, evocative description, joy and pathos and catharsis. MacDonald's always had this, but...in Desolation Road, the fireworks weren't really about anything, they (dis)organized into a loosely connected series of vignettes that trailed off into a weak ending. In Out On Blue Six MacDonald had an idea, all right, but it was a pretty hackneyed one that got overwhelmed by all the gorgeous imagery he wanted to hang off it. This novel is leaner, with more sinew and a real plot that really moves.

Oh, there are defects here and there. The dreadful secret of the great-granddaughter's childhood seems a bit too pat, too obvious, too 1991-fashionable, and that hurts the ending a bit. There's a touch of earnest Marxist silliness that sticks out in the middle of an otherwise gripping interior monologue on the complexity of modern evil. And, though the possibility of other mythoconscious humans and their impact on the history of religion is raised, the entities we see remain sealed off from the thought-forms of living religions. But these minor flaws stick out only because of the remarkable and consistent quality of the rest.

If McDonald has any more novels in him of this calibre, we can count ourselves fortunate indeed.

Up to Eric's Home Page To Index Sat Jul 20 22:15:46 EDT 1991

Eric S. Raymond <esr@snark.thyrsus.com>