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Drinking Midnight Wine
Simon R. Green
Roc, 352 pages

Drinking Midnight Wine
Simon R. Green
Simon R. Green was born in 1955 in Bradford-on-Avon, Wiltshire, England. He obtained an M.A. in Modern English and American Literature from Leicester University and he also studied history and has a combined Humanities degree. After several years of publishers' rejection letters, he sold seven novels in 1988, just two days after he started working at Bilbo's bookshop in Bath. This was followed by a commission to write the novelization of the Kevin Costner film Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. He is a British Fantasy Society (BFS) member and still finds time to do some Shakespearean acting.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Good, The Bad, And The Uncanny
SF Site Review: From Hell With Love
SF Site Review: Just Another Judgement Day
SF Site Review: Deathstalker
SF Site Review: Deathstalker Coda
SF Site Review: Deathstalker Return
SF Site Review: Deathstalker Return
SF Site Review: Drinking Midnight Wine
SF Site Review: Beyond The Blue Moon
SF Site Interview: Simon R. Green
SF Site Review: Deathstalker Destiny
SF Site Review: Swords of Haven
SF Site Review: Deathstalker Honor
SF Site Review: Twilight of the Empire
SF Site Review: Deathstalker Rebellion

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Nathan Brazil

'If Hob had returned, then raising the dead was just the sort of unpleasantness you'd expect from the Serpent's Son. He was a Power and a Domination, and more besides. Nicholas Scratch, Hob. Old names for the Devil, the Enemy of Man. And Hob was all that.'
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Drinking Midnight Wine was my first dip into the worlds of Simon R. Green. I chose it partly because it is a stand-alone title, but mainly because it looked as if it would be a whole lot of fun. The premise is standard fantasy fodder; ordinary bloke follows a woman through a door that shouldn't exist, and finds himself in a magical world. But, as is invariably the case with the better works of top flight writers, what is done within these genre standard definitions shows how the familiar can be coaxed and cajoled into something that has charm and style. The main protagonist is Toby Dexter, a bookshop sales assistant, who for some time has been quietly besotted with Gayle, a woman of flawless beauty, who just happens to catch the same train home as himself. Toby admires her from a distance, never quite working up the courage to speak, until one night when he witnesses her walking through a door that he knows did not exist the day, or even the minute, before. Intrigued, Toby follows, and begins an adventure that will change his life forever.

The setting is the small English town of Bradford-on-Avon, a real place, which is also the home of the author. Green portrays the town as a nexus of supernatural power, which has form on two coexisting planes; the normal, real world, referred to as Veritie, and its supernatural counterpart, Mysterie. In Veritie, citizens can only be human, are mostly subject to the same laws of physics that govern humanity, but can grow and develop. In Mysterie, super-nature is fixed; the fantastic is possible, but cannot be more or less. It simply is, and always will be.

Mysterie is a fantasy world that is home to demi-gods, forces of nature, immortals, etc. Gayle, the object of Toby's desire, is a semi-retired goddess who deliberately stepped away from her higher form, in order to gain the individual perspective of a human life. Her sister, Luna, is powerful, and almost completely mad due to having been raped by the Serpent in the Sun. Then there's Jimmy Thunder, a direct if somewhat diluted descendant of Thor. Jimmy is a Private Eye, and carries Thor's mighty hammer. The only problem is the hammer Mjolnir is now so old that it has gone senile, and sometimes doesn't come back when thrown! Another terrific supporting character is the reluctant werewolf, Leo Morn, who is in telepathic contact with his "Brother Under the Hill," a being from the dawn of mankind. Pitted against them are two excellent bad guys, one of whom is actually a woman. The other is Hob, who is more or less Satan.

Early on, Toby discovers that following Gayle to where he does not belong has resulted in him becoming a focal point. He is fated to be in a position where his choice will affect both worlds. Not even Carys Galloway, the Waking Beauty, who seems to know everything else, can predict exactly where or when Toby's moment will come. Only that the decision he makes is his alone. Gayle also warns Toby that he should not love her, because mortal cannot love immortal, but like any hopeless romantic, he completely ignores this advice. The plot, which always plays second fiddle to the characterisations, concerns the machinations of the Serpent in the Sun. This ultimate evil works through his son and agent on Earth, Nicolas Hob. At Hob's side is Angel, a terrifyingly powerful fallen angel who cannot remember her former existence, or why she was cast down to Earth. The Serpent's heinous plan is to erase humanity and start again, with something a little less troublesome and a little more predictable. Can a ramshackle band of has-beens and reluctant heroes save the day? Yes, of course they can, and knowing that makes not a jot of difference. Because this is the kind of book where, by design, the journey is far more interesting than the outcome.

It is a testament to Simon R. Green's skill as a storyteller, that he gets away with a novel where a good three quarters is taken up with characters doing little more than sitting around talking to each other. Quite often these talks involve great dollops of exposition, or historical data concerning Bradford-on-Avon and its environs. Yet at no point are these conversations ever boring. The plot occasional leaps for the throat of the reader, such as when our awkward hero is shot dead, for a short time, but refreshingly, even this "total death" experience is not used as an excuse to turn him into anything more than he already is; a middle-aged man with sharp wits, bravery when circumstances demand, and the will to follow an impossible dream, for love. The rest of the cast are similarly portrayed as who they are as opposed to what they are. A subtle difference which serves to imbue them with warmth, humour, the illusion of depth, and a likeability that is so often missing from fantasy characters. The entire story takes place in one 24-hour period, and despite the large amount of sitting down, moves along at a nippy pace. I can honestly say that I was entertained by every page of this book, and can recommend it most highly.

Copyright © 2010 Nathan Brazil

Nathan Brazil
If Nathan Brazil were dyslexic, he'd be the dog of the Well world. In reality, he's an English bloke who lives on an island, reading, writing and throwing chips to the seagulls. Drop by his web site at www.inkdigital.org.


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