Having been lucky enough to read the book, I can tell you right now that it is every bit as epic as this cover, and then some.
And today, I get to tell you just how much I loved this book.
Margaret Coventry is already on the train that will carry her away from family disgrace and England, to Naples and her last hopes for a respectable match, when she is kidnapped by Rupert de la Mare, the Overlord-in-waiting to Plenilune, who is under instructions from the lord electors of Plenilune to demonstrate a capacity for humanity by winning a wife...
Trapped on a strange planet in a house of secrets by a man she can neither thwart nor escape, the three chief weapons of Margaret Coventry, pawn, are these: the memory of a burned book, a fox, and a map.
In the great game for the fate of Plenilune, Margaret Coventry is about to become a queen.
So, here’s the thing about recent books: I just don’t know how they will stand up to history. One can guess, of course, whether a book published last week contains a spark of the divine fire or not. But whether a book is really a classic is something that can only be decided by humanity as a whole. So I can’t tell you whether Jennifer Freitag’s Plenilune is a great book. All I can tell you is that I liked it better than any other book I can remember having read for quite a number of years, that there were passages where I more or less forgot to breathe, and that one day I hope to be able to create something like the literary fireworks Jennifer Freitag sets off in every other line of her writing.
Plenilune isn’t perfect, of course. I can see faults, and there are times when I wonder if they’re glaring faults, and I’m sure there are people out there who, unlike me, will find those faults a little too much. In response, all I can say (somewhat helplessly) is that I am equally certain of there being people like me, for whom Plenilune will be one long experience of delight and revels.
And so: the first thing that will strike you about Plenilune is the writing, lush and dense and full of ornament. “The first blaze of rage had died out into a low firedrake smoulder.” “She had the feeling of being disconnected from herself by a sharp blade of terror.” “Candid-coloured skirts.” “The gown in the cold of her room, flood-lit in firelight and the backlash of jewel-glitter.” It’s glorious, and it’s like that all the way through.
The second thing might be the suspense. In the new world in which she finds herself, Margaret Coventry observes every detail of action and interaction among the gracious and glittering lords and ladies of Plenilune with the hyper-awareness of a very reserved personality falling in love, for the first time, with a whole new land and people. When I interviewed Jennifer Freitag on her debut novel The Shadow Things, she told me that from her favourite authors she had learned “the poignancy of and the emotional importance in detail.” There is a lot of detail in Plenilune, all of it positively staggering under the weight of emotional importance. The melodrama, for want of a better word, never lets up.
Why did all the silences of this place sound like the silence before a scream? Why did the stillness of this house feel like the stillness before a storm?All to the good if you love dense melodrama as much as I do. All the same, I can imagine it being said (as Toby Sumpter said of the Les Miserables movie) that “by about half way through the story, it wasn’t that I didn’t want to care, it was that I couldn’t. All my cares were used up.”
So I would caution you not to make the mistake I made (plebeian that I am), and gulp down Plenilune in a handful of sittings. I felt greedy and surfeited, as though scarfing a ten-pound fruitcake all at once, and yet Jennifer has such an amazing gift with words that I could not bring myself to wish the novel pruned by a paragraph.
In other ways, Plenilune surprised me. I’m trying not to give away much of the plot here, but there was a goodish stretch at the beginning of the novel when I suspected that the book was shaping up in the image of a Mary Stewart or a Charlotte Bronte gothic romance novel: a lushly written antagonistic love affair between a plucky heroine and a darkly brooding man. I was wrong. How wrong I was. Jennifer Freitag takes the well-known Jane Eyre cast and subverts them up, down, left, right and inside-out. There was, actually, a moment further on in the plot when I paused to ask myself if I was, after all, simply reading the tale of a number of ridiculously attractive men all wrangling over the heroine’s affections. But if this is so, it must be admitted that this is the best ever story of a number of ridiculously attractive men wrangling over the heroine’s affections. And there is much more to the story: the epic war waged for the future of a planet, a woman finding her courage, necks getting snapped...Plenilune has everything.
And this, I think, comes down to the nub of exactly what it is that makes Plenilune, and other good books, so very good. The books I like, classics or not, are full of blood and thunder—epic battles, tormented love stories, green-skinned space women, prophesied deliverer-kings, huge gothic mansions, or outlaw queens tossing their captives off a cliff into the loch—just the same as the pulps, but dignified by good writing and mature thinking. After all, nobody likes a cold cup of tea, and stories in which nothing much happens are a relatively recent phenomenon. We do not love slack and safe and mediocre things—and Plenilune is nothing if not a love letter to unabashed romance and adventure:
What did she want? she asked herself with a sudden unkind fierceness. To tidy the place like a nursery, free of any sharp objects that might hurt someone, to be sure of a happy outcome like a little girl reading a fairytale? But that was not what had at first repulsed her from these people, and what had eventually drawn her. With their thin skins, quick to take offence and to defend their bantam plumage, these were men who lived among danger and swords and blood and put a great price on honour. They had not turned their world into a nursery. They loved their world fiercely and their world loved them still more fiercely back.Part of this delight in the outrageously melodramatic comes out in the author's focus on man as the image of God. Man is fallen, but from a dizzying height. Even in sin, he bears the image of God, and as Margaret observes,
“Half of us is legend,” she said, “and the rest is pain.”With too great an emphasis on the brokenness of sin we can forget that man justly wields dominion power over creation. As in all good fantasies, Plenilune uses magic as a symbol of that dominion power. In the author's words:
The “magic” of Plenilune (and, indeed, of any of my fantasies) is based off of an appreciation for the uniqueness, authority, and power of man. Due to the corruption of sin, most of us no longer exercise any kind of visible authority over creation, but within my novels some people still can. It may look like magic if interpreted in the modern fantasy sense, but it is in fact a exhibition of an innate authority borne by man... There is an element of demonic interaction (although I have permitted it to be very subtle) in Plenilune, but only because this is a thing which people sometimes do and I never for a moment suppose it to be a good thing, or even explore it in the novel.Another aspect that I loved about this book was the main character's characterisation as a feminine woman who learns to exercise authority in her own right. Eventually our heroine becomes a powerful and even a martial figure (as you can tell from the cover), without deserting her created feminine role. We live in a day when both Christians and heathens find it difficult to imagine a woman who is both feminine and capable, and I loved the fact that the more time the heroine spends in the company of strong and Christlike men, the more plucky and fierce and “terrible as an army with banners” she becomes. And, for fear of spoilers, I will stop there.
Finally, I should give a brief advisory. Plenilune wasn’t written for young or immature readers and so I wouldn’t recommend it to them on account of violence, occasional implied sexual misbehaviour and one line that gets a little explicit. Otherwise, I was a little disappointed by the main character’s bitter attitude toward her family, which never seems to resolve. (Perhaps the author's unpublished novel Adamantine, which is about Margaret’s scandalous cousin, fleshes out some of the backstory for this.)
Plenilune was wonderful: a love-letter to all the things for which we yearn: to goodness and grace, to mystery and melodrama, to battle and boldness, to legend and pain. As I sat down to polish off the final few chapters, one thing seemed fitting.
I said grace.
I thoroughly and delightedly recommend Plenilune to everyone who loves melodramatic epic novels of love and war. BATTEN DOWN, PEOPLE. THE DE LA MARES ARE COMING.
by Jennifer Freitag
The fate of Plenilune hangs on the election of the Overlord, for which Rupert de la Mare and his brother are the only contenders, but when Rupert’s unwilling bride-to-be uncovers his plot to murder his brother, the conflict explodes into civil war.
To assure the minds of the lord-electors of Plenilune that he has some capacity for humanity, Rupert de la Mare has been asked to woo and win a lady before he can become the Overlord, and he will do it—even if he has to kidnap her.
En route to Naples to catch a suitor, Margaret Coventry was not expecting a suitor to catch her.
JENNIFER FREITAG lives with her husband in a house they call Clickitting, with their two cats Minnow and Aquila, and their own fox kit due to be born in early December. Jennifer writes in no particular genre because she never learned how, she is make of sparks like Boys of Blur, and if she could grasp the elements, she would bend them like lightning. Until then, she sets words on fire.
Living with her must be excruciating.
Living with her must be excruciating.