The Harp at Midnight - Caiseal Mór
Random House Australia, April 1999, pb, 307pp, $12.95. Cover by Ruth Grüner.
Reviewed by Jonathan Strahan

Caiseal Mór has had some success in Australia with a series of romantic Celtic fantasies set in ancient Ireland - the "Wanderers" trilogy and The Tilecutter's Penny. His latest, The Harp at Midnight, is a young adult dark fantasy novel set in 19th century Ireland that continues his preoccupation with myth, music, and all things Celtic.

Lady Grace McMurton, a harpist who plays for the Faerie Queen has fallen in love with a fiddler from 'beyond the hill', and agrees to remain forever in Faerie with her true love. Some years later Andy Ferguson, son of a British Army officer, moves into McMurton House where he sees a mysterious woman standing at an upstairs window. When he asks the servants about the woman they deny any knowledge of her. Later, he hears a harp playing late at night and, with the help of the cook's granddaughter, and at the direction of Brendan O'Dea, their mysterious and suitably brooding neighbour, he begins to investigate the source of the playing. Ultimately it leads him and his friends into Faerie where he discovers the curse laid upon the midnight harp player.

It's clear from The Harp at Midnight that Mór has a real love of Ireland, its fairy tales and its music (he has even recorded albums of Celtic harp music to accompany each of his novels). Here he takes elements from several famous fairy tales, most obviously that of Thomas the Rhymer, and combines them into an entertaining tale of doomed romance. Mór manages to build his world well enough, drawing a convincing picture of life in McMurton House and at the Seelie Court, and his characters play their parts convincingly. However, recent fairy tale treatments - Neil Gaiman's Stardust and the Datlow/Windling edited series of "Fairy Tale" anthologies come immediately to mind - have shown that more is needed to bring this material to life, and while The Harp at Midnight does entertain, it fails to do much more.

©1999 Jonathan Strahan.
This review originally appeared in Locus.