Salt on the Midnight Fire

This is the fourth and final book in the Fallow Sisters series by Liz Williams. At one time Williams was muttering about there possibly being five books, but she has managed to wrap the series up in four and I think most fans will be pleased.

The main plot of Salt on the Midnight Fire is of a dispute amongst otherworldy beings. The Wild Hunt, currently led by Aiken Drum, hunts human souls. But they are not the only people who do this. Out at sea is a pirate ship that does the same. It is captained by a chap called the Morlader, and he has ambitions. Currently he is reliant on smugglers and wreckers to bring him souls. He wants the right to hunt on land. That requires him to challenge Drum for the leadership of the Wild Hunt. As part of that, both opponents will need a champion.

Regular readers of the series will remember that the sisters’ mother, Alys Fallow, has taken to riding with Aiken Drum, and appears to be one of his senior lieutenants.

Very cleverly, Ian Whates arranged for this book to be published on the Summer Solstice (at least for us Northern Hemisphere folks). The book starts in the run-up to the Solstice. Luna’s baby is due, and Serena’s partner, Ward Garner, is due to star in a new production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which will have a special preview performance in Glastonbury on Midsummer’s Day. It is all very nicely timed.

However, the majority of the action has to take place in Cornwall because that is the Morlader’s stronghold. ‘Morlader’ is simply the Cornish word for a pirate. The name literally means ‘sea thief’. Some of you may wonder about the setting, but Williams has clearly made up some of the geography.

The only largish town west of Penzance is St Buryan. You don’t need to go through Mousehole to get there. I have a sneaking suspicion that the large house on the coast that the Fallow Sisters rent for their vacation is based on the one owned by John le Carré (and where Nick Harkaway grew up).

Mount St. Michael plays a starring role in the story and the lady of the castle, Azenor, is straight out of Cornish folklore. She’s the Mermaid of Zennor, and the town is supposed to be named after her. Originally she was a Breton princess who was falsely accused of adultery by her husband and set adrift in a barrel, whereby she found her way to Cornwall. She is also known as Saint Senara.

I was slightly surprised that there was no mention of the Minack Theatre because I’m sure Ward would love it, but you can’t have everything. As far as I know, there is no Coastival festival in Cornwall (there is one in Scarborough), but if it is an invention it is entirely appropriate.

The other major thread of the book involves one Elizabeth Tudor, sometime Queen of England. The books already have a connection to her. Mooncote, the Fallow family home in Somerset, dates back to Elizabethan times, and Bee’s partner, Ned Dark, is the ghost of a man who sailed with Drake. Stella met Elizabeth briefly in a previous volume. To find out what role she has in the story, you will need to read the book. Suffice it to say that everything gets tied up remarkably neatly in the space of a very few pages. That sort of thing takes skill.

I should note that there are parts of this book that might class as horror. Certainly they would if they were filmed. I find books considerably less scary.

Oh, and I’m perversely happy to have Aiken Drum feature in another fantasy series. In Julian May’s Saga of the Exiles he’s a lot of fun. And the book named after him, The Nonborn King, is the one in which Felice Landry opens the Straits of Gibraltar and creates the Mediterranean, which is an amazing scene.

Anyway, I’m delighted that Williams, and NewCon Press, have had such success with these books. It just goes to show that a good writer can stay a good writer for life, despite what mainstream publishing might think.

book cover
Title: Salt on the Midnight Fire
By: Liz Williams
Publisher: NewCon Press
Purchase links:
Amazon UK
Amazon US
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