King of Morning, Queen of Day

King of Morning, Queen of Day

by Ian McDonald

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Winner of the Philip K. Dick Award and the Prix Imaginales: Three generations of women share a mysterious power—one that threatens to destroy them

In early-twentieth-century Ireland, life for Emily Desmond is that of the average teenage girl: She reads, she’s bored with school, and she has a powerful imagination. Then things begin to change.


Winner of the Philip K. Dick Award and the Prix Imaginales: Three generations of women share a mysterious power—one that threatens to destroy them

In early-twentieth-century Ireland, life for Emily Desmond is that of the average teenage girl: She reads, she’s bored with school, and she has a powerful imagination. Then things begin to change. Her imagination is so powerful, in fact, that she wills a faerie into existence—an ability called mythoconsciousness. It’s this power that opens a dangerous door that she will never want to close, and whose repercussions will reverberate across time.

First to be affected is her daughter, Jessica, who, in the mid-1930s, finds that she must face her mother’s power by using the very same gift against her. Then, in the near future, Jessica’s granddaughter, Enye, must end the cycle once and for all—but it may prove too powerful to overcome.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
The dangerous allure of the faerie lover manifests itself through three generations of women in this tour-de-force by the author of Desolation Road ( LJ 2/15/88). The spirits that haunt Ireland's Bridestone Wood first claim Emily Desmond in the early 1900s; in the 1930s, working girl Jessica Caldwell follows the man of her dreams into a dreamlike world; and in the near future, writer Enye MacColl battles the invisible forces of faerie. McDonald's power as a storyteller lies in his stylistic versatility and intensity of language as well as in his capacity to create vivid and memorable characters. Highly recommended.

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King of Morning, Queen of Day

By Ian McDonald


Copyright © 1991 Ian McDonald
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4804-3215-4



We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts ...

—The General Confession: Book of Common Prayer

    To My Faery Lover

    OH, WOULD THAT WE were many things,
    My golden-shining love and I;
    Bright-flashing scales, a pair of wings
    That draw the moonlight down the sky,
    Two hazel trees beside the stream
    Wherein our fruit in autumn drop,
    A trout, a stag, a wild swan's dream,
    An eagle cry from mountaintop.
    For we have both been many things:
    A thousand lifetimes we have known
    Each other, and our love yet sings.
    But there is more that I would own.
    Oh, would that we could naked run
    Through forests deep and forests fair,
    Our breasts laid open to the sun,
    Our flesh caressed by summer's air,
    And in some hidden, leafy glen
    My striving body you would take;
    Impale me on your lust and then
    Me Queen of Daybreak you would make.
    And we would dance and we would sing,
    And we in passion's fist would cry;
    Loud with our love the woods would ring,
    If we were lovers, you and I.
    If we were lovers, I and you,
    I would cast off all mortal ills
    And you would take me, Shining Lugh,
    To feast within the hollow hills.
    For the world of men is filled with tears
    And swift the night of science falls
    And I would leave these tears and fears
    To dance with you in Danu's halls,
    So let us cast our cares away
    And live like bright stars in the sky,
    Dance dream-clad till the break of day,
    For we are lovers, you and I.

    —Emily Desmond     Class 4a, Cross and Passion School

Emily's Diary: February 14, 1913

Hail to thee, St. Valentine, Prince of Love. Hail to thee on this, thy festive day!

We, thy adoring servants, praise thee!

We stole the statue of St. Valentine from its niche in the corridor by the Chapel and smuggled it up to the dormitory. If the Sisters were ever to find out what we did to it we would all be expelled, every last one of us, but I have made all the girls take blood oaths of utter secrecy, and we will have it back in its rightful place before even Mother Superior comes on her rounds. At the last stroke of midnight, the first stroke of St. Valentine's Day, we stood the statue on a chair we had placed on a table and decorated it with the snowdrops and crocuses I had instructed the others to collect in botany class. We placed a crown made from chocolate wrappers on his head and, with much giggling, Charlotte and Amy got the thing they had made out of stolen modelling clay and erected it in front of the statue. Then we all performed the St. Valentine's dance in our déshabille and went up one at a time to kiss the clay tiling and dedicate ourselves to the service of love. Then we sat down in a circle around the statue to read, by the light of one small candle which we passed around, the love poems we had written. Everyone thought mine was the best, but then they always think my ideas are the best; the whole St. Valentine's Day celebration was one of my ideas.

Charlotte told me that Gabriel O'Byrne, the groundsman's son, had told her that he had been trying to give me a letter for over a week but hadn't been able. I wonder, she said, what it's about? and nodded at the clay thing she had made for St. Valentine.

I should wonder: as if I didn't know, from the way Gabriel O'Byrne stops work every time I pass, and doffs his cap and smiles at me. All that waving and smiling. Well, she can just tell him I don't want any letters from Gabriel the groundsman's son. I don't want his dirty little affections; I want, I deserve, better than him. I deserve a faery prince, a warrior hero, strong-thewed and iron-willed, with raven black hair and lips like blood.

Edward Garret Desmond's Personal Diary: February 15, 1913

After three weeks of sleet, snow, and lowering clouds, last night the sky was at last sufficiently clear to permit me my first view of the newly discovered Bell's Comet through the Craigdarragh eighteen-inch reflector. For all its doubtless charms and graces, County Sligo is not blessed with the most equable of climates for the astronomer; namely, those clear-as-crystal skies beloved of the astronomer-priests of ancient Mesopotamia and noble Greece. And since the notification of this object's entrance into our theatre of interest in December last's Irish Astronomical Bulletin, it has been a source of major frustration to me (my dear Caroline would declare that I have become positively ratty on the subject) that I alone of all the country's—no! damn it! Europe's astronomers—have been unable to observe the phenomenon. That is, until today. At about four o'clock, as I was taking my usual ill-tempered post-afternoon-tea turn about the rhododendron gardens, generally bemoaning the nation of Ireland and the county of Sligo in particular, its winds, weathers, and climates, bless me if the wind didn't blow (capriciously as ever in this part of the globe), the clouds part, and a glorious golden late-winter radiance suffuse the countryside! Within half an hour the sky was clear blue all the way to the horizon, a sight so gladdening to the heart that I at once returned to the house and informed Mrs. O'Carolan that I would be taking supper in the observatory that evening. It was some time before I was able to locate the subject of my observations in the eighteen-inch reflector; the comet had moved across a considerable arc since first observed by Hubbard Pierce Bell of the Royal Observatory at Herstmonceux. Finally it lay squarely within my cross hairs and I was without doubt the only man in Ireland for whom this was a novelty.

In my excitement at finally being afforded the opportunity to observe Bell's Comet, I had forgotten how cold the night would be on account of the clear sky. I was shivered to the very pith of my bones. But, oh! Most estimable woman! Most worthy servant! With typical foresight and wisdom, Mrs. O'Carolan came through the frost to provide me with rugs, comforters, a steady stream of bricks warmed in the kitchen range, and, most welcome of all, a bottle of potín, a present, she maintained, from the widows of the parish. Thus fortified, I returned to my labours with enthusiasm.

No tail had yet developed, Bell's Comet being still beyond the orbit of our Earth. I noted positions, luminosity, apparent and proper motions in my observer's notebook and made some sketches. On returning to the telescope, it seemed to me that the object's luminosity had altered, a thing I at the time dismissed as a defect of vision in adapting to the Stygian blackness of space. By now the cold had confounded all Mrs. O'Carolan's ramifications, and for the good of my health, I decided to take a series of timed photographic exposures through the telescope and withdraw indoors to the comforts of hearth and wife. I was familiar with the local meteorology, as an astronomer must be, and I knew that this clear, cold weather would linger for several days.

This morning, on developing the plate, I noticed the anomaly. To be certain that it was not an imperfection in the emulsion (a series of such imperfections had caused me to terminate my arrangement with Pettigrew and Rourke Photographic Suppliers of Sligo, a pretty bundle of rogues, indeed), I quickly produced a full set of prints from all the exposures. Patience is the keystone of professionalism; the amateur would have hurried the job, and in his haste smeared the photographs so badly as to render them worthless. I bided my time, and when the little alarm clock rang was therefore able to see immediately that what I had recorded was no photographic error, but an unprecedented, and quite extraordinary, astronomical phenomenon.

The track of Bell's Comet was quite clear to see, arcing across the paths of the more familiar constellations. At regular intervals this arc was punctuated by what I can only describe, for want of a more elegant term, as blobs of light—concentrations of luminosity so intense they had actually burned away the photographic emulsion. Every other inch or so another of these blobs occurred at regular intervals along the comet's track. For a full minute I was so astounded by my discovery as to be incapable of rational thought. Then I gathered my wits and concluded that Bell's Comet must be emitting bursts of intense light. From the photographs, I calculated these to occur every twenty-eight minutes, a burst of light of such infinitesimally short duration and brilliance as to assume the luminosity of a major planet. Quite extraordinary!

Leafing through Hubbard Pierce Bell's article, I was unable to find the slightest mention of any fluctuation in luminosity. Such a phenomenon could not have been overlooked; the only possible conclusion was that it had not at that time occurred.

Delicious irony! That I, the last astronomer in Europe to observe Bell's Comet, should be the discoverer of its most fascinating secret! I have dashed off a hasty letter to Sir Greville Adams at Dunsink Observatory claiming the discovery; this evening, God willing, I will observe again.

Is it unprofessional (and, more to the point, unscientific), I find myself asking, to feel elation at the possibility of being the discoverer of a major astronomical event? (Might even the comet be renamed Desmond's Comet? I would even consider double-barrelling acceptable, but only as a last resort: Comet Bell-Desmond.) And there you have it. A quite inappropriately proprietorial attitude toward a lump of stellar matter! Terrible indeed to be reduced to an excitable schoolboy by the vainglorious thought of being the toast of the astronomical societies.

To matters more mundane, and sobering. Typical of Caroline to puncture my mood of ebullience by choosing luncheon today as her platform to raise the unpleasant issue of Emily's schooling. Now, I do not deny that Emily's problems at Cross and Passion are important, and that I, as a father, should be deeply concerned with the improvement of her academic standards; indeed, it is of paramount importance if daughter is to follow father down the noble highway of science. However, there is a time and a place for everything, and Caroline's insistence that we discuss this at length over luncheon so soured my mood of geniality that it is quite impossible for me to develop the tranquility of mind necessary for the proper contemplation of the heavens. Priorities! Like mother, like daughter. Neither, alas, knows the importance of priorities.

Emily's Diary: March 6, 1913

I heard them again last night, I'm sure I did—the Hounds of the Gods, out there among the trees. I heard them give tongue, like the baying of dire wolves it was, as they caught the scent of their quarry. I heard the cries of their faery master. Like the songs of nightingales they were, sweet and lovely. Rathfarnham Woods rang with their song. I imagined the woodland creatures fleeing from their footsteps: Make way, make way, make way, for the Wild Hunt of the Ever-Living Ones! But what could have been their quarry, out there in the rain-lashed wood? What was the scent the hounds tasted that set them baying so? Surely nothing so ignoble as the vulgar fox or badger that O'Byrne sometimes shoots when they raid the school chicken runs, nothing as common as that. Perhaps the noble stag. That would be quarry worthy of the Riders of the Sidhe. Maybe one of Lord Palmerstown's herds, or, is it possible? a faery stag from the pages of legend and story, the stag that is hunted and killed each night by the Wild Hunt only to rise again with the morning sun? Or, most romantic of all, one of their own kind, a manhunt, a faery warrior fleet-footed and daring, laughing as he slips tirelessly between the trees of Rathfarnham, making sport of the hounds and the spearmen dogging his footsteps. Charlotte in the next bed asked what did I think I was doing, sitting up all hours of the night looking out the window, didn't I know that I'd get in trouble if Sister Therese caught me? And just what, she asked, was I looking for out there in the pitch-blackness anyway?

"The hunt of the Ever-Living Ones, chasing a golden-antlered stag through the forest of the night with their red-eared hounds. Listen! Can you hear them, baying out there in the night? Can you hear the jingle of the silver bells on their horses' harnesses?"

Charlotte scrambled out of the sheets and knelt beside me on my bed. We looked out through the barred window and listened as hard as we could. I was certain I heard the call of a hound, very far off, as if the Night Hunt had passed by and moved onward. I asked Charlotte if she had heard anything.

"I think so," she said. "Yes, I think I heard something, too."

March 12, 1913

The Royal Irish Astronomical Society

Dunsink Observatory County Dublin

My Dear Dr. Desmond,

A few lines of admiration and appreciation (and, I must admit, envy) on your success concerning the periodicity of Bell's Comet. For once the quixotic climate of that wretched county of yours has done you a service: interest having waned while you languished beneath your blanket of Celtic mist, yours was indeed the sole eyepiece in the United Kingdom to be trained on the comet at the precise moment it began to display its unique behaviour. Some gossoon from some wretched little city-state university in Germany has lodged a counterclaim; quite frankly, I suspect it is purest jealousy. These Huns will attempt anything to outdo His Britannic Majesty. So, the claim is yours, indisputably and unequivocally, and as a result, all those telescopes that turned away in search of celestial pastures new are turning back with wonderful haste to Bell's Comet. Alas, your name will not be joined with that of the comet's discoverer, but your fame, I think, will be the more enduring for having disclosed an unprecedented astronomical phenomenon. A flashing comet! Quite remarkable!

I have checked your calculations of rotation, angular momentum, velocity, and periodicity against my own observations (forgive my presumption in so doing), and have found that my figures correspond with yours to a high degree of accuracy. However, I am at a loss to furnish some hypothesis which might account for a rotational period of twenty-eight minutes but a maximum luminosity period of only two and three-eighths seconds. In our orderly universe, as strictly controlled and timetabled as Great Southern Railways, such paradoxical behaviour is deeply offensive to we gentlemen of astronomy. Any hypothesis you might provide to explain this phenomenon would find wide general appreciation, and, should such a time arrive when you might wish to make it public, the lecture theatre at the Society is at your disposal. For the meantime I once again congratulate you on your achievement and encourage you to return to your studies.

Yours Sincerely, Sir Greville Adams


Excerpted from King of Morning, Queen of Day by Ian McDonald. Copyright © 1991 Ian McDonald. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author

Ian McDonald was born in 1960 in Manchester, England, to an Irish mother and a Scottish father. He moved with his family to Northern Ireland in 1965. He used to live in a house built in the back garden of C. S. Lewis’s childhood home but has since moved to central Belfast, where he now lives, exploring interests like cats, contemplative religion, bonsai, bicycles, and comic-book collecting. He debuted in 1982 with the short story “The Island of the Dead” in the short-lived British magazine Extro. His first novel, Desolation Road, was published in 1988. Other works include King of Morning, Queen of Day (winner of the Philip K. Dick Award), River of Gods, The Dervish House (both of which won British Science Fiction Association Awards), the graphic novel Kling Klang Klatch, and many more. His most recent publications are Planesrunner and Be My Enemy, books one and two of the Everness series for younger readers (though older readers will find them a ball of fun, as well). Ian worked in television development for sixteen years, but is glad to be back to writing fulltime. 

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