Fiction Reviews

Consorts of Heaven

(2009) Jaine Fenn, Gollancz, £18.99, hrdbk, 333 pp, ISBN 978-0-575-08322-6

This novel is a sequel to 'Principles of Angels' (2008). The two novels initiate a series set in a future where humanity occupies a region of interstellar space once dominated, a thousand years before, by entities called the Sidhe who can pass for human, but have the mental power to compel us to obey them. Note the present tense: it is believed with the force of a myth that the Sidhe are extinct, but both novels turn on the revelation that they aren’t. In the two novels different groups of people find this out, but the link between them is that a major character of 'Principles' is the sister of one in 'Consorts'.

'Principles' followed the fortunes of a range of characters including sisters Elarn and Raul, both from the planet Kathryn but with Elarn now seeking Raul, under Sidhe compulsion, on the planet Vellarn in a Confederacy of three cities built by the Sidhe. The machinations of the other characters bring them into local conflicts and alliances, ultimately defeating a Sidhe plot to destroy the city. In the process it becomes clear that the Sidhe do survive and are still active in human affairs, with several of the characters acting under their compulsion.

'Consorts of Heaven' is set on a very different world, apparently a fantasy setting in which rare individuals with paranormal powers make a pilgrimage to a mountain city to be tested, inducted into the priesthood or killed. The widowed Kerin has to make the journey as the mother of the ‘skytouched’ Damaru, but also as guardian of 'Sais', a stranger with amnesia who has apparently fallen from the sky – as we realise he has, even before the names 'Elarn' and 'Nual' surface in his flashbacks. There is another clue when the pilgrims are attacked by degenerate humans, who are driven off by Damaru’s powers. So we are not totally surprised when the holy city proves to have a space elevator rising from its summit, 'Sais' turns out to be Elarn/Nual/Lia’s brother, and the whole settlement of the planet turns out to be a secret genetic project of the Sidhe’s.

There are questions one might ask: as Lawrence Osbourn pointed out in Interzone, July-Aug 2009, it’s not obvious why the Sidhe need to dedicate a whole world to their purpose and to rely on a relatively unreliable pseudo-religion to harvest the results. But as he hadn’t read the precursor 'Principles of Angels', he hasn’t seen the full implication that the Sidhe are power freaks, and are still another version of mankind, who have been involved with us for much longer than the human occupation of the space region they previously dominated. I had been wondering why their word for themselves is the same as our word for them, and why that word is the ancient Celtic name for the shape-changing inhabitants of the Hollow Hills. By the end of 'Consorts of Heaven', we can guess why. Being half-English (and half human) myself, I will not make anything out of the fact that 'Sais' is Welsh for ‘Englishman’.

Both novels are well-written and worth reading, even if the plot structures are a touch familiar, and either could be read on its own. But having read them in sequence, and compared my reaction to 'Consorts' with Lawrence Osbourn’s Interzone review, I feel that I got more from it because I recognised the references to Elarn and Raul as they came up, as well as the further revelations about the Sidhe and their interactions with mankind. It will be interesting to see how these themes develop as the series continues.

Duncan Lunan

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