Once Upon a Dreadful Time (2007) is the fifth fantasy novel in the Faery series, following Once Upon a Spring Morn. In the previous volume, Celeste killed the Gorgon, restored Avelaine's shadow, and then shot Nefasi dead with the gray arrow. The Changeling Lord invoked a protective circle and taunted Roel just before the knight slashed through the magical shield with Coeur d'Acier and took off his head.
The Gorgon's death freed Laurent and Blaise from her enchantment and these two knights joined with their brother to fight the Changelings. The three knights and two women fled the castle, but were eventually forced to stand and fight. The Changelings were about to overwhelm them when the warbands of the Forests of the Seasons and the crewmen of the Sea Eagle charged to their rescue.
In this novel, Hradian has been living in a vile swamp while seeking a way to wreck vengeance upon the killers of her sisters. For the past four years, the witch has been observing King Valeray, Queen Saissa and their children, wondering how she can destroy these murderers without losing her own life. Then suddenly she conceives a dreadful plan.
King Valeray and Queen Saissa are holding a tournament in their domain and have invited their children and spouses as well as other guests to the Palace of the Seasons. This domain can only be reached through the surrounding domains. Yet it is starwise -- north -- of Winterwood, Summerwood, Autumnwood and Springwood, although at the center of these four Forests of the Seasons.
Their guests include Prince Borel and his wife Michelle, Prince Alain and his wife Camille and their son Duran, Princess Liaze and her husband Luc, and Princess Celeste and her husband Roel. They also invite Roel's parents -- Sieur Emile and Lady Simone -- and his siblings Laurent, Blaise and Avelaine. Vicomte Chevell --Avelaine's husband -- is unable to attend due to other commitments.
Even before they arrive, Queen Saissa and the princesses have been feeling sensations of malevolent presences around themselves and their spouses. Only the females -- and the male wolf Slate -- have these feelings. Moreover, Michelle and Camille only sense this evil presence while in the company of their husbands.
The men and the women separately discuss these feelings of malevolent presence. In the process, Roel's family members are brought up to date on the encounters of King Valeray and his children with the evil wizard Orbane and his acolytes. All decide that the sensations are probably caused by the workings of the witch Hradian, the last living acolyte of the imprisoned wizard.
In this story, the tournament and other festivities are enjoyed by a great crowd from the local domains, from elsewhere in Faery, and even from the mortal lands beyond. The games include the caber toss, the hammer throw, the discus hurl and many others. Finally come the epee duels, the melee and the joust.
In the echecs matches, Borel is pitted against Regar of the Wyldwood. While playing the stranger, Borel learns that Regar is the illegitimate grandson of the Fairy King. After Borel loses, he offers Regar a drink and then introduces him to the royal family.
Hradian prepares an odious potion and uses it to steal the key to the Castle of Shadows. She flies her broom to the Black Wall of the world and into the darkness. Crossing to the Castle, she frees Orbane and takes him away.
Orbane starts raising his armies among the Trolls, Changelings, Bogles, Goblins and other foul creatures. He raises a dark cloud to cover the land and a great pestilence from the swamp. Then he marches toward the River of Time.
King Valeray musters all his levies and allies and asks Sieur Emile to command the army. The warbands gather at the castle in the domain of the seasons and then march toward their enemy. On the way, their allies join them here and there.
Regar travels with Flic, Fleurette and Buzzer to the Halls Under the Hill to warn his grandfather. He is introduced to the whole court, but Queen Gloriana is cold to his presence. The Fairy King summons his army and they set out the next day, but two months have passed in the outside world.
This tale is the conclusion of the Faery series. The machinations of the acolytes of Orbane have been thwarted in the previous four volumes, but now the wizard has been freed from the Castle of Shadows. The whole of Faery and the mortal world is threatened with disruption of time itself. Enjoy!
Highly recommended for McKiernan fans and for anyone else who enjoys tales of black and white magic, heroic courage, and joyous romance.
-Arthur W. Jordin