Plenilune: An Elemental Landscape of Justice and Mercy

29 December 2014

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Though Flannery O'Connor and Jennifer Freitag are polar opposites when it comes to writing style and subject matter, I'd like to begin with the former's words from her collection of essays on the art of writing, Mystery and Manners. "Art," O'Connor says, "never responds to the wish to make it democratic; it is not for everybody; it is only for those who are willing to undergo the effort needed to understand it." She might as well have been speaking of Plenilune. I'm going to say this up front: this is not a story for everyone. At its heart, Plenilune is a fiery tangle of history and fantasy, an epic that only supports its own weight because it balances on the traditional framework of the great masters that have come before it. Not everyone is apt to find its bold, tongue-in-cheek, fire-and-spice nature to his liking.

Those who do, however, are in for an adventure.

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.

We meet Margaret Coventry, Englishwoman to the core, on the train station platform, and like her, we're prepared for a trip. What we get, however, is a journey that nearly rivals Frodo Baggins' for length, peril, and awe. Plenilune reaches out and plucks you from your comfortable chair into a world of high beauty and splendor, where men walk as gods and wield their magic at will. It's a story to heighten the senses through its lavish setting and plot filled with light and thunder. It may delight you, it may shock you, it may even frighten you, but one thing's for certain: you'll be invested.

"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?"

When you first open Plenilune, the description envelops you with its energy. Freitag suffuses her image-driven prose with a singularly arresting beauty. It's thick. It's warm. It's alive. The reader learns to see common things in brighter shades; in some respects, this novel opens the eyes with its rich narrative. Does it have a tendency to grow so ornate as to distract from the forward progression of the plot? In places, yes. It would be dishonest to say there were not instances where certain details could have been slimmed down in the narrative. The overall tone, however, never wanes in its appeal. Not for nothing has Freitag been called a penslayer.

"How peacefully I am killed by you, she told the landscape. How quietly you break me into pieces."

You will love these characters. Firm and wild, fierce and gentle, they are so large that they squeeze the breath from one's chest. Freitag draws each detail of their natures with striking precision, and from Orzelon-gang to Dondonné and back again, each is threaded so deeply into his world that they are practically one and the same. You will be swiftly acquainted with the great kindness of Skander Rime, the rough warmth of Lord Gro FitzDraco, the tragedy of Kinloss, the grace of Romage, the mystery of the White Ones, and the wit and brilliance of the fox himself. Together they and the other lords are the blooming flower of Plenilune, and standing at their blood-red heart is Margaret, the English rose who slowly learns to take on the crown and scepter of a strange world she has come to call her own.

"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."

The true joy of Plenilune does not come in analyzing its various literary merits, however. I finished the novel Saturday evening, and I am still not fully rid of its lingering effects. I've re-read certain scenes multiple times; for that matter, I've re-read certain lines until they are stamped on my mind. ("Nay, sirrah," she spoke low, huskily. "Do not look to us for mercy. Our hearts are iron-clad.") I never want to forget the sensation of boldness and bravery and beauty that's been washing over me in waves since I first opened Plenilune many months ago. That is its strongest merit. Plenilune unlocks something in the soul and sends it soaring. You will touch the thrumming beat of a grace almost too overwhelming for comprehension, and you will step away changed.

In truth, there is really no shorter way in which to sum up the burning, elemental landscape of justice and mercy that is Plenilune than to fall back on O'Connor's wisdom once more and tell you to go read it for yourself. 

After all, couldn't your new year use a little fire and spice?

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Read more about Jennifer Freitag at The Penslayer

1 epistles:

  1. Elizabeth, this is a wonderful review! It is not easy to review Plenilune, but you've done a fine job indeed. I am currently reading "Plenilune" at the moment (I think I am in chapter 23 or something like that, when Margaret is captured by Lord Bloodburn) and already I feel much of the same emotions and feelings you express here for the book. It is definitely not for everyone! But for those who can, it is a rich cake of prose/high legend and poignant emotion that will stir your heart. I love the philosophical stuff in there as well, and the discussions. . .

    I love the fox.
    And I am so curious to see what happens with Rupert. :P

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