Flynn, Michael -- The January Dancer

A fable set in mythical Ireland in the far future, only it's a spy story. I can't make that sound any less ridiculous, but it's played perfectly straight and it works great. Humanity's first interstellar civilization was forcibly diaspora'd; a millennium later, the fragments have rebuilt an uneasy cluster of stellar nations while clinging to their mish-mash of half-remembered Terran history. Result: people with names like Ringbao della Costa think it's perfectly natural to write "Little Hugh O'Carroll" on the office door when they go to work for the government of New Eireann -- it's not deception, it's just good manners.

The point is, the galaxy ("Gaelaxy", by god) is a centuries-old RenFaire gone to seed -- except it's not a joke; they have extremely real national concerns and prejudices and fears, notably of the Confederacy lurking on the other side of the Rift who threw them off Earth in the first place. And into that mix falls the alien MacGuffin, and pow, heaven's own chain reaction of agents, pirates, soldiers, and spies, all merrily chasing each other's tails for 400 pages. Recounted in frame by a harper and a mysterious tale-teller in a pub, of course. I can't say it never gets twee, but the author only winks when the characters aren't looking, and the characters are dead serious. So it works.

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