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The Court of the Midnight King
Freda Warrington
Pocket Books, 575 pages

Larry Rostant and Ruby
The Court of the Midnight King
Freda Warrington
Freda Warrington was born in Leicestershire and, after training at Loughborough College of Art, worked in medical art, graphic design and illustration while writing in her spare time. Her first novel, A Blackbird in Silver, was published in 1986. She is now a full-time writer living in Derbyshire.

Freda Warrington Website
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Past Feature Reviews
A review by Cindy Lynn Speer

For August, a modern day history major, the obsession began with a movie, Sir Lawrence Olivier's version of Shakespeare's Richard III. She is spellbound by him, even as her fellow students argue whether he was truly the evil, malformed creature history has named him, or if, in fact, he was the best king England ever had. That night, she begins to see the story, in a place like ours, but not quite. The clothes aren't quite the same, and a mother goddess is still worshiped, though the monks of another religion seek to put aside for good.

We hear from Gus only rarely after that, and instead we see the story of Lady Katherine, who, upon learning that she is to wed someone she can't stand, flees to the forest, praying to her goddess to give her a new path. That path leads her to the arms of the then Duke of Gloucester. This effectively scuppers the marriage plans, and she is sent to serve as a lady to Anne Beauchamp's daughters. She can never deny that she loves Richard, even as she tries to ignore it and find pleasure in the kind Raphael, a man she was fond of as a boy and now finds herself his lover. For Raphael, Richard is someone to follow, a direction in life. Raphael is one of his most trusted knights, whose way with animals and unswerving loyalty has earned him a place in Richard's intimate circle. We see the history mostly though their eyes, the political struggles between the house of York and Lancaster are far from over, and much more blood will be spilled as plans go awry and would be kings jockey for the throne. The Richard here is a reluctant king, someone who wants to do right, who is connected to the otherworldly and its magic, but fights against it, sure that he will be cursed for even considering the wonder of it. The visions of the other Richard, the one who populates Shakespeare and popular myth does haunt the edges, not only through Gus's comparisons of what she sees to what she's been taught, but through the prophetic seeming, vivid dreams that haunt Raphael, telling him that his hero is as murderous as they come. They are like a canker in his heart, but he refuses to believe.

The Court of the Midnight King is a fascinating book. You're not sure if this other version of our world is merely a dark mirror -- a slightly different version of our past where the history runs the same, only colored by the supernatural -- or if it is an entirely different place. This removes the inevitability inherent in this type of tale, for even though we have no real hope that Richard will survive, there is a tiny, tiny glimmer. That makes this even more of a strong moving story. Katherine, whose worship of Auset and struggle to keep her "alive" in a society that is quickly pushing such worship into the underground makes an interesting and strong under plot, and the people she meets while she's in service to these different historical figures are interestingly drawn. She's a really good character. If she's hard hearted, it's because she has no choice if she wants to survive. Raphael's reactions to the visions are genuinely sad, because he's such a nice person, gentle despite the things he has to do, and you hate to see him suffer as much as you hate the thought of Richard actually murdering the old King Henry or the two young princes, his own nephews.

The differences in the setting are subtle, too. The Auset worship is pretty huge, but since it's being persecuted, you can almost believe that it has just been expunged from our history. There are things like Katherine listening to water being pumped, the fact that Gus notices that men's pants aren't the usual hose, but laced up breeches, the fact they call the major river the Isis, not the Thames. Just small things that give you an idea that this is, indeed, a different reality, but so small that you can ignore them, and think that what's happening is actually in our past. It's an interesting way of handling it, because it adds to the air of mystery surrounding the story and its outcome.

The imagery in the story, the exploration of a fascinating time in English history and the strong characterization of both fictional and non-fictional characters make this and engaging read, one that despite its fictional aspect makes you wonder what the real truth is about Richard the III, and makes you look at accepted history with new eyes.

Copyright © 2003 Cindy Lynn Speer

Cindy Lynn Speer loves books so much that she's designed most of her life around them, both as a librarian and a writer. Her books aren't due out anywhere soon, but she's trying. You can find her site at

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