“There is a difference between a curse and a price.”
Midnight Hour, by Mary Robinette Kowal.
Today’s short story was published by, in my opinion, one of the best speculative fiction magazines out there right now–Uncanny. You can find this particular story here, in both text and podcast format–I read this one, personally. I once again have to warn for content of the sexual nature, so head into this one cautiously if that’s not your cup of tea. But once you’ve read Midnight Hour, you might want to check out more of Uncanny’s available fiction–there’s a lot of quality content there.
In this fantasy world, a king and queen rule the nation to the best of their ability–given that the king, Lennart, is cursed to lose all reason for twenty-three hours out of the day. This seven-year curse, five years of which have already been served, breaks if the queen leaves the castle or if her name is spoken. As to why she hasn’t allowed either of these to happen, well, living out the curse is the only thing holding back a deadly plague.
This story absolutely captivated me. Right from when King Lennart is first introduced–in his irrational state of mind–my curiousity spiked. How does one rule a kingdom when one is completely insane? Not easily, as you might expect. There’s actually a bit of a horrific element to it, as well; he is aware of his own madness, and can hear and experience everything going on around him, but can only act a fool. This causes him and his queen to suffer, and the various stewards and attendants struggle with this as well. It’s heart-wrenching to watch someone lose themselves, yet know that they are lost.
Then you have the character of the prince, visiting from a neighbouring country. He was written it such a way that his intentions were impossible to gauge, himself equal parts mystery and cunning. Though I wouldn’t call him a villain, his good intentions certainly turn him into a worthy antagonist. Every time he was in a scene, I sat on the edge of my chair and forced my eyes not to skim ahead and see what was about to happen.
I think this story’s main shortcoming was that it was . . . well, too short, honestly. Not plot-wise; the pacing was excellent. The thing is, I devoured it and I wanted to know more–more about the world and the setting, more about the history of the king and queen, more of their family and how they managed their day-to-day lives. If Mary Robinette Kowal ever wants to write a prequel about the king and queen first meeting, and how the curse came to be, I’d easily read an entire novel about it.
And given all that, I’m sure it comes to no surprise that I’m giving this piece 5 out of 5. I really think it’s going to be one of my all-time favourites. It was tense, highly emotional, exciting, and just plain good. I’m very excited to read more of this author’s work. If you want a good tale of what it really means to love someone for better or for worse, definitely give this one a read.
If you’re of the same mind, Mary Robinette Kowal has a website here, and has even included a list of her free-to-read fiction! She’s also got a list of her novels, most of which appear to be historical/historical romances.
A question for my readers, based on the events of this story: If you could only have one hour a day to be truly yourself, how would you spend it?