And Then I Read: THE QUEEN OF SUMMER’S TWILIGHT by Charles Vess

I’ve known Charles for many years, and have long been a fan of his art. This is his first novel, years in the making, and I enjoyed reading it. I was a little disappointed not to find more illustrations, there are just two: the excellent cover above and a small one on the title page.

Janet Ravenscroft lives in a mansion in Scotland that’s more like a private prison. Her father, a wealthy businessman, does all he can to keep her there, and will never speak about Janet’s mother. Their relationship is hostile, and Janet escapes to nearby Inverness whenever she can to have some fun, drown her sorrows, and express her anger. Meanwhile, at a long-abandoned farmhouse in the countryside, a man with oddly antique clothing is exploring the family graveyard and finding a way into the locked garage, where an old motorcycle waits to take him on a new adventure. This is Tom Lynn, and the farm was once his home many decades ago before he accidentally found himself in Faery. There he became the consort of the Queen, and served her for years, until the Queen fell into madness, and Thomas learned that she sent part of herself into the mundane world. Thomas is on a quest to find those missing parts of the Queen so that she may regain her sanity and restore her kingdom, which has fallen into ruin.

When Thomas meets Janet in Inverness, the wheels of chance and fate spin them together onto a whirlwind journey, pursued by the agents of Faery’s Lord of Darkness, who also wants the elements of the Queen which seem to be buried deep in Janet’s mind. In time they are drawn into Faery, where they become prisoners of the Lord of Darkness and all hope seems lost, but is it?

This book draws on Scottish folk ballads, especially those about Tam Lin, long an interest of Charles, but the story adds modern elements and takes surprising turns. It’s both a visual story, with descriptions from a painter’s viewpoint, and a musical story, with many ballad quotes and ideas. At first I found Janet’s anger hard to take, but I came around to her eventually. Thomas seemed more appealing, but later in the story he becomes such a foolish slave to his honor that I liked him less. Other characters, like Janet’s father John and the elderly witch Mother Hainter, have important parts to play, and the wonders of Faery, both light and dark, infuse the story alongside the realities of the modern mundane world, providing appealing contrast.

I recommend this book, though as a friend of Charles, how could I not be rooting for him? Still, if you like fantasy, I think you’ll find much to entertain you within. Well done!

The Queen of Summer’s Twilight by Charles Vess

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