Morning, Noon & Night, by Michael H. Payne – Book Review by Fred Patten
by Pup Matthias
Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.
Morning, Noon & Night, by Michael H. Payne. Illustrated by Roz Gibson.
Balboa, CA, “Hey, Your Nose is on Fire” Industries, September 2014, trade paperback $14.00 (325 pages), Kindle $3.00.
“‘You dare?’ Koyannaset, the Black Sphinx of Andeer, let herself burst upward, towering onto her hind paws, the now massive points of her crown smashing the marble of the throne room ceiling into boulder-sized chunks; plummeting, they shattered the tile floor, cracks spidering out from the craters to splinter the pastel mosaics covering the walls. ‘I am your Goddess Queen!’” (p. 7)
This is one book where it pays to read the dedication:
For Lauren Faust, Rob Renzetti, and all the creative people behind My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic without whom this story would not have been possible
Morning, Noon & Night does not try to hide the fact that it is little more than MLP:FIM fan-fiction in a transparent disguise. The two equine goddesses of Equestria – Princess Celestia and Princess Luna – are the benevolent white griffin Princess Equinox and the murderously insane black sphinx Princess Koyannaset. The “Mane Six” ponies – Twilight Sparkle, Rainbow Dash, Pinkie Pie, and the rest – are the Champions of Andeer; two each of humans, hawks, and dogs, all adolescent females. Spike the dragon, Twilight Sparkle’s juvenile assistant, is Chert the (adult male) housecat, human Larissa Noon’s familiar but in love with the other human Champion, Violet – “even though every article Larissa had read on the subject said that interspecies romances never worked out!” (p. 16)
The six Champions of Andeer are Larissa Noon and Violet, humans; Thermal Updraft and Pinfeather, hawks; and Astrid Spin and Flaxen, dogs. The latter two are specifically a French poodle and an Irish collie. They have just been appointed the latest Champions of Andeer by the griffin Princess Equinox, now Andeer’s sole goddess since Princess Koyannaset became homicidally mad. Once each hundred years, Equinox appoints six Champions – six mortals from the civilized peoples of Andeer, all young sorceresses or other magic-users – and leads them to the ruins of Koyannaset’s temple/palace in Sahan to renew the spells that keep her banished into limbo, and Andeer safe from her murderous rages. The Champions’ duty is over once that’s done, and they can relax for the rest of their lives, basking in their reputations of being this generation’s Champions.
The leader of the newest Champions (and the novel’s protagonist) is Larissa Noon, because she’s the most powerful sorceress. But she’s also the shyest and, with stringy brown hair and a nothing figure, the plainest. (It doesn’t help knowing that the two hawks and two dogs are considered very attractive among their species.) Violet is outright beautiful (Chert has promptly abandoned Rissa to drape himself around Violet’s shoulders), with styled blonde hair, a great figure, plus an outgoing, friendly personality, kindly and helpful … well, Rissa has gotten a serious inferiority complex. Which doesn’t help either her leadership or her spellcasting.
Before anyone can do any more, the unexpected happens. When Koyannaset reappears to be banished once again, she’s cured! She’s calm, rational, and horribly embarrassed for what she did while she was mentally sick. She tries to officially abdicate, but Equinox, delighted to have her cousin and best friend sane again, insists that they will reign together as co-rulers; Equinox in charge of the day and Koyannaset in charge of the night. The Champions are disbanded.
Time passes. The Champions are still getting together socially. Rissa has become Chief Archivist in Stillwater, Andeer’s capital. Violet is a leading couturier; “Pinfeather had signed an exclusive contract with the modeling agency Raptor House [and] the advertisements featuring the lovely yellow hawk that had started appearing in newspapers and magazines almost immediately” (pgs. 46-47) have financed the finest veterinary hospital in Andeer. Pinfeather retires as an avian model to concentrate on veterinary magic. Thermal Updraft is working with the Weather Wardens who control Andeer’s weather; but she’s at the ex-Champions’ parties. Astrid Spin the poodle has become a prominent stage director and playwright, and Flaxen manages the successful Ruby Red Farms.
This is the new status quo when Princess Koyannaset comes to Rissa. Equinox wants to take her first vacation in five hundred years. To show Koyannaset how much she trusts her, she is leaving the sphinx goddess in sole charge of all Andeer for a week, from the palace-city of Sahan. Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong, but just in case, Koyannaset herself wants the six Champions to reassemble and watch her closely for that week. The Champions agree, figuring that this will be like a paid vacation. Besides, the peoples of Andeer are beginning to feel that the six are resting on past glory, and this will remind everyone that they’re still the Champions.
All of this is prelude. Chapter One starts on page 58. The Champions find that the inhabitants of Sahan, mostly officials, palace staff, and honor guards, and their families, are polite but little more. They consider themselves to be Equinox’s staff, and Koyannaset to be an intruder. There is an embarrassing “accident”. Politeness evolves into disapproval, then to ugly gossip that proves to be organized.
“‘We’re facing a smear campaign, dear fellow, a vicious slew of gossip no doubt organized by or at least allied with whoever dropped that beam at the Day Palace this morning.’” (p. 178)
An adolescent girl readership should be able to relate to gossip and a smear campaign. Then it turns deadly. Does someone just want to kill the Champions, or to increase the emotional pressure on Koyannaset’s fragile sanity in the hope of driving her mad again? Why? The Champions individually investigate, at the same time they collectively organize fabulous palace balls and parties.
Morning, Noon & Night, like MLP:FIM, is basically for adolescent girls. Like MLP:FIM, it features lots of talking, magical animals, although not horses. Furry fans will enjoy it, both for the fantasy story and for Payne’s humorous and lyrical writing.
“Pinfeather blushed – the only bird Larissa had ever met who could do that –“ (p. 22)
“A pop behind them, and Larissa turned back to see Astrid Spin trotting out, her jaw working a huge mass of bubble gum.” (p. 61)
“A clatter from the front door stopped Chert from saying he hoped so for all their sakes, and he turned to see Astrid Spin come bouncing in, panniers bouncing against her flanks. ‘This is so exciting! I mean, I didn’t even know there was a five o’clock in the morning!’” (p. 66)
“It wasn’t sad, but at the same time it kind of was. Just exactly like evening, she realized, the way it’s sad that the day’s over but not really sad since night time can be fun, too, and then there’ll be the next day and the next day and the next day after that, each one, she knew, destined to be the best day ever.” (p. 143)
The “cover design” is credited to Marilyn Scott-Walters, who has adapted an ancient painting of a phoenix. Roz Gibson has four full-page portraits of the main cast.