Mike Shevdon: Sixty-One Nails and The Road to Bedlam

It started as any other day, with Niall heading to work by way of the London Underground, after having one of Those Conversations with his ex-wife about who got their teenage daughter for the weekend. And then he died. And then he was brought back to life by the enigmatic woman called Blackbird.

Now everything is different. His long-dormant heritage as a descendant of the Fey has been sparked to life, bringing with it strange powers, stranger obligations, and a host of problems. With only the mercurial, quarrelsome Blackbird as an ally and teacher, Niall, now called Rabbit, must get a grip on a world he never knew existed, before he’s killed for real. With a host of enemies closing in on him, and his mortal life crumbling to pieces in his wake, Rabbit must embrace his new powers, even when he discovers that he’s not just part-Fey, his blood comes from the Court of the Untainted, racial purists who consider his existence an abomination.

However, Rabbit’s meeting with Blackbird, and subsequent remaking, may not be coincidence. The Untainted have been banished from this world for centuries, but it’s coming time for the yearly ritual which renews the barrier, and the magic is failing. In order to refresh the spells and recreate the items needed, Rabbit and Blackbird must get to the heart of one of England’s oldest traditions, one performed without fail for the past eight centuries. Can the intrepid pair avoid their enemies, mortal and Fey, long enough to renew the magic, or will the Untainted be free at last? It all hinges on whether or not Rabbit can truly adapt to his new powers and nature in time.

When The Road to Bedlam rolls around, Niall, once called Rabbit, now called Dogstar, is training as a Warder for the Feyre Courts, thanks to the only compromise which kept him safe after the last book. Blackbird, with whom he’s fallen in love, has been relegated to the sidelines for the duration of her pregnancy, unable to access the magic which has protected her for so long. With so much going on, Niall has thought little of his previous, mortal, existence until he receives word that his daughter Alex is in the hospital after an inexplicable event. When she dies, he’s devastated. Until he begins to suspect she’s not dead after all, merely spirited away and hidden from the world.

Who or what has Alex, and why? Is it because her own Fey powers have started to manifest? Has one of Niall’s enemies kidnapped her as a pawn or a bargaining tool? Forbidden to investigate, Niall is instead sent by the Warders to look into a rash of missing girls in a small fishing town. It’s part busywork to keep him out of the way while delicate political negotiations go on, part urgent business, and Niall soon finds more than he bargained for. Meanwhile, the pregnant Blackbird vanishes for her own safety, forced to rely on cleverness rather than magic for the first time in memory. When Niall finally discovers who has Alex, and where, nothing will stop him from rescuing his daughter and seeing things put to right. Unfortunately, he and his unlikely allies are up against the sort of people who’ve dealt with the Fey before, and it’s going to be messy….

The first two books in Shevdon’s Courts of the Feyre series are epic urban fantasy. As such, the worlds of the magic and the mundane coexist and overlap mostly in secret, with the mortal world pretty much unaware of their unusual neighbors. However, Shevdon draws his inspiration from England’s incredibly long, rich history of lore and tradition, in a way American-set books simply can’t match, and that helps to really sell this series as something new and interesting. In the first book, he weaves a story around several traditions stretching back nearly eight hundred years, reminding us just how long the country has been around in one form or another. It’s heady stuff, contemplating how long they’ve been performing things like the Quit Rent Ceremony (as described in more detail in the book and in Shevdon’s afternotes).

Shevdon also captures the legendary capriciousness, wonder, whimsy, and danger of the Fey, making every encounter with them fraught with tension and careful steps. I’m reminded of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere in this regard, though any number of other fine authors have similarly invoked this sort of atmosphere. Again, where the books make their mark is on that uncomfortable collision between the mundane and the mysterious, with traditions handed down through the generations, long after their meanings have been lost, and the evolving response humans take to that they don’t understand.

I’ve enjoyed this series so far. While comparisons to Neil Gaiman or Jim Butcher are inevitable, Shevdon does a lovely job of imbuing the setting with its own unique identity, and it’ll be interesting to see where he takes the characters, and what aspect of English lore or history he’ll invoke next.

(Angry Robot, 2010)

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