Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Midnight Hour, by Mary Robinette Kowal

Uncanny Magazine, July/August 2015

http://uncannymagazine.com/article/midnight-hour/

King Lennart and his queen have a problem. Mostly, twenty-three hours a day, the problem is the queen's, and the king's other advisers. The king is only sane and lucid one hour a day, from midnight to 1am.

Call the cause a curse, or call it a bargain with a witch, but It's the price for stopping a plague, and they have to live with the terms of the curse, or bargain, for seven years. Any violation of the terms will result in Lennart regaining his sanity early--and in the plague returning to kill their people. They've held out for five years, but now a foreign prince has arrived at court, on a mission to break the curse. It's not at all clear whether he doesn't understand the full consequences, or does, and is out to damage a rival kingdom.

But for the queen, and Lennart in his rational hour, it doesn't matter. The prince has to be stopped.

This starts off as a seemingly ordinary fairy tale setting with pseudomediavel court setting. Kowal, in the tight confines of a short story, builds the characters of the queen, the king, and their closest advisers and supporters. It's beautifully done.

Recommended.