A historical fantasy set in the midst of the War of the Roses, The Court of the Midnight King focuses on the reigns of Edward IV and Richard III. As an unabashed lover of historical fiction, I’d have to say this is one of the more unusual Richard III novels I’ve read. Therefore, a brief warning – if you like your historical fiction more historical than fiction, this is a wish-fulfilling fantasy that you ought to avoid. If, however, you appreciate parallel universes, with elements of new-age paganism and ecofeminism, then this is a book for you.
Myths are more endearing than truth.
Richard III is a king that causes division among historians and authors alike. Either you believe the Tudors and Shakespeare that Richard was an awful king, guilty of poisoning, infanticide, and incest, or you believe that he was a rather good king, innocent until the dastardly ‘winners’ rewrote history. Seen through the eyes of Raphael, an orphaned knight, and Kate, a priestess with whom Richard has a complicated relationship, The Court of the Midnight King apparently tells the truth about Richard III. Whatever you believe, Freda Warrington’s elegant pose conjures up a world of mysterious forests and fantastical creatures, leaving the reader immersed in the intrigues of medieval England.
He is the sort of man one either loves or loathes. I see straight into your kindly, open heart and know that you love him.
It is clear from the outset which side of history Warrington is on – she is fervently pro-Ricardean (as are Raphael and Kate). Her stance is understandable and would be easier to forgive and accept were it not for the constant interruptions to the main storyline. Warrington has framed her fantasy setting with a twenty-first century setting – the life of a history student named August. Obsessed with Richard III to the point of drastically neglecting her coursework, August is apparently dreaming the entire plot. She is determined to find out the truth behind Richard’s terrible reputation yet can do nothing but watch her dreams unfold. If these sections were left out, The Court of the Midnight King would read more like an alternative history than the fan-fiction like style these sections add to it, particularly as both August and Kate have similar thoughts and feelings about Richard (even to the point of thinking similar phrases!). It would be much easier to suspend disbelief if August were not there at the readers shoulder, reminding us that the work is not based in historical fact.
Overall, The Court of the Midnight King is a beautiful piece of writing, and Warrington’s imagery and historical description make up for the anachronistic Motherlodge and most of the silly sections of the work. If you enjoy the style of fantasy present in Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon, and are prepared to skim the painful first-person ramblings of an awed history-student (who may or may not represent the author), you should read this book. However, if historically inaccurate endings annoy you – avoid this book at all costs. It’s not worth the hurl across the room when you reach the end of the 500+ pages and realize that despite the deceptive quotes from sources at the start of each chapter, this isn’t anywhere close to non-fiction.