Excerpt: KING OF MORNING, QUEEN OF DAY by Ian McDonald (Open Road)

McDonald-KingOfMorningQueenOfDayORAvailable in as an eBook via Open Road Media, today we have an excerpt from Ian McDonald‘s King of Morning, Queen of Day. Here’s the synopsis:

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.

The novel is currently part of Open Road Media’s “Coming of Age” eBook promotion.

***

KING OF MORNING, QUEEN OF DAY

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 key stone 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.

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