Review: The Great Night, Chris Adrian

Soooooooooo. So. So. The Great Night. How shall I describe it? The Great Night is like if Neil Gaiman had written A Midsummer Night’s Dream. What’s that you say? He has written “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, and it was nothing like this? Then give me a moment to find another analogy. It’s like if Lev Grossman (about whom more in a few days) wrote A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Actually, that analogy is pretty solid. Lev Grossman and Chris Adrian occupy spaces in my head that are not terribly far apart: I might easily recommend either one of them to someone who had just ploughed her way through Neil Gaiman’s oeuvre and was begging me for more fantasy that was both dark and slightly whimsical.

The Great Night begins with the death of a child. Titania and Oberon’s child. Not the one from the Shakespeare play, but a  mortal child just the same, a child whom Titania and Oberon did not throw out the way they usually do their stolen human children, but whom, instead they grew to love. Then the child died of cancer, and Titania and Oberon’s marriage fell apart, and Titania, lost in grief, did something terrible. Now all of Faerie — located inside a park in San Francisco — is marked for destruction. Molly, Will, and Henry, plus some mechanicals preparing a musical production of Soylent Green, are mortals caught in the park just at the wrong time.

The beginning of the book is very, very strong, with Titania and Oberon in hospital with the boy, desperately fearful for his life. I always think it’s neat when familiar, and familiarly in-charge, characters get yanked out of their appropriate milieux and tossed somewhere where they don’t understand the rules and can’t be in charge. These scenes were not only effective but affecting, and it made a solid emotional foundation for the rest of the book. The point-of-view human characters didn’t interest me at first, but the flashbacks into their lives became more and more gripping as you come to realize that they’re not altogether uninvolved with Faeries to begin with. There is nothing I love better than the judicious and gradual revelation of backstory.

What weakened the book considerably was that the plot in the present was paper-thin. The narrative moved around a lot, covering the whole past histories of the human characters, then returning to the present ongoing destruction of Faerie. The destruction of Faerie, just the whole business of the evil thing that had been unleashed, and how it was going to destroy everything, that whole state of affairs was almost entirely lustreless. Occasionally there would be a chilling moment, but mostly I was counting down pages until I could get back into the flashbacks. The lack of attention to the present-day plot meant that the resolution was, inevitably, unsatisfying. The flashbacks made an excellent story, but damn, they’d have been excellenter by several orders of magnitude if the book’s apparently-primary plotline had had anything to it.

Back to the positive side, the attention The Great Night has been getting means that my library ordered copies of Adrian’s previous book, The Children’s Hospital, which I’ve been wanting to read, you know, forever. So, yay! I started reading it when I was home for Christmas (my home library had it), but didn’t have time to finish. I was only home for a few days, and lots of things happened in those days, including, you know. Christmas. So.

Other reviews:

Conversational Reading
La jongleuse
The Quivering Pen

Did I miss yours?

5 thoughts on “Review: The Great Night, Chris Adrian

  1. I have sensed a theme with the last few books I have read about faerie worlds. For some reason, they are always on the verge of collapsing or becoming extinct. Is that a typical scenario for faerie worlds that I just don’t know about? I admit to being almost clueless about this specific genre of faerie books, but it seems like a lot of them have that in common. I am sorry to hear that the present bits of the story were so lackluster, especially when the flashbacks were so spectacular. It must have made for a really uneven and conflicting read.

  2. Chris Adrian’s The Children’s Hospital was definitely a trip. I almost gave up a third of the way in, but staggered on. There are some virtuoso sections in there but if you do get a chance to finish it, I want to know what you think about the ending.

  3. Hmm. OK, I’m warming to the whole faerie world thing which I usually don’t care for so I may give this one a go. And, I loved your opening to the review — that sold me. 🙂

  4. Hmm. I’m deeply in love with Lev Grossman’s writing right now. There was a version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream as kind of urban fantasy that your review kind of reminds me of…oh yes, it was Orson Scott Card’s Magic Street. This one might be better, despite the lack of luster in the present.

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