(Gollancz, 326 pages, trade paperback, £10.99, published 20 November
Ax, Sage and Fiorinda are hiding out in
recovering from their recent escapades, when they are approached by
Harry Lopez. Lopez represents Digital Artists, but his offer of a virtual
film deal is a cover story to get the former rulers of England to follow
him north. A pattern of ritual human sacrifice is emerging in America,
with apparent Celtic connections; Lopez has been sent by the President
himself, to solicit the rock stars' informed advice on the matter. It
sounds like a magician to rival the late Rufus O'Niall could be on the
verge of seizing power in the US -- but could Fiorinda herself be the
problem this time?
The third -- but apparently not the last -- in Gwyneth Jones' Bold
As Love series has a bit of an odd feel to it. We've already had
the rise and fall of the Rock 'n' Roll Reich in the first two books;
now we have the further adventures of the rock Triumvirate on location
overseas. It feels more like a sidestep than a direct follow-on, like
a 'Bold As Love Christmas Special', if that's not too flippant an analogy.
It's a welcome break for the lead characters, I suppose, who deserve
a holiday after the titanic fight with Fiorinda's father that concluded
Castles Made Of Sand. This is not to suggest that Midnight
Lamp lacks incident, but the atmosphere generally seems more laid-back
this time round. Perhaps it's just me. The time it takes the narrative
to kick in is, if anything, faster than before, and Jones as ever cranks
the emotional pace up to "rollercoaster", so there's no danger of the
reader's interest flagging.
The central trio continue to mature and develop in relation to each
other, and after a quiet first half of the novel they're at it like
knives again. To think, life in Camelot might have worked out better
all round if only Arthur and Lancelot had buried their differences (to
coin a phrase) ... Here we see the once and future King of England and
his Queen and Champion -- both with something of the Other World about
them -- pulled together rather than driven apart by their quest, and
looking like they might actually return in England's hour of need. And
like all good quests, theirs is a quest for self-knowledge. By the close
of play, Fiorinda has come to terms with her monstrous father and her
own magical ability, Sage and Ax have learned to cut her loose once
in a while, and an older and wiser Ax is prepared to take control of
England again -- even if he does need a little nudging.
What's particularly nice about Jones' writing is that events and characters'
actions dovetail in a natural-seeming way. A chance remark by one character
to another here might impact on a third character there; events unseen
by the protagonists (and by us) may spring sudden consequences on all;
loose ends aren't necessarily resolved, but those that are, are resolved
for a reason. Such verisimilitude makes Midnight Lamp feel much
more genuine, much more a slice of life than a self-contained adventure
(or even part of a self-contained adventure). There's the sensation
of an entire world revolving behind the story. As a consequence, Midnight
Lamp has the capacity to stand in its own right, or (as seems more
likely, if the listings on Amazon are anything to go by) lead on into
Well-crafted and emotionally rich, Midnight Lamp is a novel
to be reckoned with; but the way is open for another volume to bring
the story full circle, and that's a book I'm looking forward to.
Review by John Toon.
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