When Great Grandmistress Alice Meynell, ruthless matriarch of the Great Guild of Telegraphers, brings her son to Invercombe, west of Bristol, she expects him to die there. Though her power and grace are legendary, not even she can halt her son's disease. Now ensconced in the magnificent old house, forgotten outpost of the Guild, with its disused weathertop, its formal g...
When Great Grandmistress Alice Meynell, ruthless matriarch of the Great Guild of Telegraphers, brings her son to Invercombe, west of Bristol, she expects him to die there. Though her power and grace are legendary, not even she can halt her son's disease. Now ensconced in the magnificent old house, forgotten outpost of the Guild, with its disused weathertop, its formal gardens, its long tradition, at least there might come some tranquility to his death.
The age of aether still reigns; its pale glow illuminating the land. All bear the mark of aether's strange influence, except the changelings, banished to Einfell, that strange land untouched by the Ages of Industry, that lies uneasy at England's troubled heart. And it is to Einfell that Alice turns in desperation, to plead for her son's life to one who once trusted her, and suffered the consequences.
Ralph is cured. Far away from the filth of industrial London, he is drawn away from his family responsibilities to the world of nature and to a fisherman's daughter, Marion Price. Together they plan to run away, to defy the rule of the Guilds, even to change the world and how it understands itself.
But his mother will not let love stand in the way of her lust for power, nor the very land she professes to love - even if it means plunging England into a long and bloody civil war.
From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. In MacLeod's brilliant The Light Ages (2003), the discovery of a substance called aether revolutionized technology, ushering in a Victorian age radically different from our own. Now, a century later, the Age of Light has come to an end in this more tightly plotted sequel. Alice Meynell, Greatgrandmistress of the Guild of Telegraphers, is willing to commit murder to establish her own power and assure the future of her tubercular son, Ralph. To save his life, she makes a deal with the Chosen, magical beings so warped by aether that they can no longer live in human society. As Ralph's health improves, however, he falls in love with Marion Price, a servant girl who eventually bears his child. Alice, acting in what she believes is Ralph's best interests, forces them to separate, secretly sending the baby to live with the Chosen. Years pass, civil war breaks out, and Alice, Ralph and Marion pursue their varied destinies. Full of detailed descriptions of landscapes and complex human feelings, this rich, leisurely novel bears some similarities to the more frenetic fiction of China Miéville, though the author's affinity to A.S. Byatt is even stronger. This is a major work by a master writing at the top of his form.
The successor to the superb Light Ages (2003) depicts MacLeod's alternate Victorian society as more advanced technologically but with magic still strong in it. Alice Meynell, greatmistress of the Telegraphers' Guild, is about ready to turn to magic to save her son and heir, Ralph, from consumption, for all medical remedies have failed. She hopes that the sea air at Invercombe on the west coast of England will help, and she puts even more hope in the magic that may still linger there, centered around a community of changelings. One of those changelings once loved Alice, and a bargain is struck so that Ralph regains health. Consequently, Alice regains the hope of a dynasty. But then Ralph falls in love with a servant girl, and that so threatens his mother's plans that she sets in motion powerful countermagic that in turn threatens the basis of society. MacLeod has again imagined and written superbly, and be it noted that his erotic scenes should be the envy of many of his professional peers. Roland Green