I finished reading Freda Warrington’s Midsummer Night a couple of days ago. It’s taken me the intervening time to be ready to write a review on the 2010 release. Why so long? Well, to put it simply, I was disappointed. Not disappointed in the book itself – far from it. No, I was disappointed that the story had come to an end, and I was going to have to return to the real, non-Aetherially populated world. I put off writing this review, because doing so would signal the end of one of the most amazing adventures I’ve had in a long time.
Midsummer Night is Warrington’s 19th book published in the UK, and the secondpublished in the US. It’s the second of her Aetherial tales, although both are stand-alone novels that take place in the same ‘world’. I have to admit, I haven’t read the first of the series (yet!), Elfland, but had no difficulty in getting involved in this book.
The plot of Midsummer Night is, itself, quite simple. When I say this, I don’t mean that it’s unrefined, unsophisticated, or base in any way. Rather, it is uncomplicated and easily understood. But this isn’t a plot-driven story; no, this is a tale of characters. And what a host of amazing, beautiful, terrible, mysterious, and complicated characters they are. Each one is beautifully rendered; like sculptures of stained-glass that reveal different facets of itself under different lights and from different angles.
Gill Sharma is the character from whose point of view we see much of the story unfold. We meet her as she arrives, terrified and depressed after suffering an accident that ended her running career, on to the grounds of Cairndonan Estate. The property itself is owned by Dame Juliana Flagg, a famous sculptor with a prickly exterior and a horde of dark secrets and suspicions. The two women are seemingly unreleated, and should have no reason to even interact with each other. But as the story progresses, they become the centre around which everything, and everyone, else pivots.
There are five other characters on the grounds of Cairndonan, each one of which is exquisitely realised through the eyes of one or both of the two ladies. Peta Lyons is a vivacious red-headed hippy who is teaching one of Juliana’s summer art classes, but has her own hidden agenda on the property. Colin is Juliana’s young assistant and would-be devotee. Ned Badger is an old, spindly Dickensian-style butler, man-at-arms, and all-round dogsbody who has been at Cairndonan Estate longer than Juliana itself. Flora is Ned’s wife, a matronly housekeeper and cook with a traumatic history. Finally, there is Leith, a mysterious stranger without a memory who appears out of a storm and sets everything in motion.
As well as these seven beautifully realised characters, many of whom I fell in love with during my reading of the book, there are the Aetherials. Aetherials, as you may have guessed, are the “fair folk”; the dubh sidhe; a race of long-lived ethereal beauties who live in a magical realm that borders our own. The most notable of these is Rufus, the clear antagonist; a man who exudes confidence, sexuality, and hedonism from every pore. Even he is wreathed in mystery and intrigue, and is more of a selfish narcissist than a stereotypical “bad guy”.
One of the things that I particularly liked about Midsummer Night, and the setting as a whole, is that the Aetherials don’t suffer from the curse of Tolkien-esque elves and Mary Poppins – that is, they aren’t “practically perfect in every way”. Although they may live for much longer than a human life span, and have access to realms and magics that humans don’t, they have their own weaknesses and hubris.
I really enjoyed Midsummer Night, and highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys romantic urban fantasy stories with exquisitely-crafted characters set in an amazingly realised world. Or, in fact, anyone else.