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Friday, April 22, 2011

Seanan McGuire: OCTOBER DAYE Series

Plot Type:  Urban Fantasy (UF)
Publisher and Titles:  DAW  
       Rosemary and Rue (9/2009)
       A Local Habitation (3/2010)
       An Artificial Night (9/2010)
       Late Eclipses (3/2011)
       "Through This House" in Home Improvement, Undead Edition (8/2011)
       One Salt Sea (9/2011)
       "In Sea-Salt Tears" (free short story download about the Luidaeg)
       Ashes of Honor (9/2012)
       "Rat-Catcher" in A Fantasy Medley (Tybalt's origins, 11/2012)
       Chimes at Midnight (9/2013)
       The Winter Long (9/2014)
       The Red Rose Chain (9/2015)  
       Once Broken Faith (9/2016)  
       The Brightest Fell (9/2017)  

     This post was revised and updated on 10/11/14 to include a review of The Winter Long, the eighth novel in this series. That review appears first, followed by an overview of the world-building and reviews or summaries of the first seven books.    

               NOVEL 8:  The Winter Long                
     Most series begin to go stale and formulaic by the time the eighth novel rolls around, but not this one. It's as fresh and inventive as ever. In the opening "Acknowledgements," McGuire states that "This book was one of the first I fully plotted, back when this series was a glimmer in my eye and a fantasy for the future. Everything I have done with October's world to this point has been for the sake of getting here…I am incredibly excited to be at this point, to have gotten this far into Toby's story—and make no mistake, there's still so very far left to go." So…thank goodness this isn't the final book! As McGuire points out, The Winter Long marks some crucial turning points in this great series, and once again, McGuire has produced a fantastic story that will grab you by the throat from the beginning and won't let go until you turn the very last page.

     In this novel, just as in Chimes at Midnight, long-held memories and beliefs prove to be full of dark secrets and outright lies. You should note that the opening quotation includes "rosemary and rue," so that should give you a clue as to who is involved in the main plot of this fast-paced, intriguing plot that is driven by the actions of old enemies and saddened by the revelation that some of Toby's closest allies have been keeping dark and shocking family secrets from her. 

     As the story opens, Toby and Tybalt are making an appearance—reluctantly, on Toby's part—at the Yule Ball held by the Kingdom's new queen, Arden Windermere, who publicly acknowledges Toby's service to the crown of the Mists and recognizes her as a hero of the realm. "You will be offered safety and succor in any noble household…But all dangers will be laid before you, and we'll call you as soon as we need something large and monstrous slain." (p. 21) Cue the dark, foreboding background music to foreshadow impending disaster. 

     Sure enough, just as Toby is falling asleep that night after the ball, who should come knocking on her door but her old enemy, Simon Torquill—the one who turned her into a fish for 14 years way back in Rosemary and Rue. Simon (who is the twin brother of Toby's liege, Sylvester) vows that he is trying to protect Toby and even claims that his earlier fishy deed was meant only to keep her safe, but his visit inevitably ends in violence. Simon has been missing for three years—ever since book 1—and no one is happy to see him again. In the early chapters, as Toby and Tybalt spread the word about Simon's return, they try to figure out just why Simon has chosen to reappear and what he plans to do. In the early chapters, Toby learns that both Simon and her friend/enemy/mentor, the Luidaeg (aka the Sea Hag), are both under a powerful geas and can't give her much information. They can tell her only that she has an extremely powerful enemy (other than Simon) who has wanted her dead—or at least out of the picture—for many years. 

     As Toby, Tybalt, and Quentin gather clues and search for suspects, Toby learns that people she trusts have been keeping family secrets from her, that an old enemy might really be an ally, and that an old friend is definitely an enemy. Seanan McQuire has done such a marvelous job of building this world that the reappearance of Simon and the revelation of the identity of the primary villain both feel entirely natural because they come directly from the carefully constructed layers of the series mythology. In fact, this mythology is probably the most intricate, nuanced, and inventive of any urban fantasy series currently on the market. These novels contain no plot holes, no information dumps, and no cliched tropes. Instead, McGuire has created a series of complexly plotted, imaginative, suspense-filled stories centered around an intelligent, independent, deeply developed heroine who is as entertaining as she is courageous. 

     What a great story McGuire tells in The Winter Long! To add any more plot information to this review would be to give spoilers, and I don't want to taint your reading of this terrific novel. (You'll notice that there is no publisher's blurb on the back cover, and there's a reason for that.) Although the primary conflicts in this plot are resolved in the climactic showdown at the end, this book adds even more layers to the world-building and introduces a number of new story arcs. For example: Where is Toby's mother and what is she up to? Will Rayseline ever wake up, and if so, what will be her mental state? Will Toby and Tybalt tie the knot? How will the events of The Winter Long change Toby's relationships with the Luidaeg and with Sylvester? How will Toby's newly discovered family secrets affect her future? This is a series that is at the top of my list of all-time favorites, and The Winter Long adds yet another excellent episode that makes this five-star series even stronger. 

     October “Toby” Daye is a changeling—daughter of a fae mother and a human father. In this world, all of the old familiar fairy tales are basically true, but we got the details wrong. The land of Faerie has existed parallel to the mortal world since the dawn of time. Although it is frequently hidden, it is always present. Faerie is inhabited by many different types of creatures, including pixies, elves, gnomes, shape-shifting cats, sea witches, and plenty of Faerie royalty. Faerie society is ancient and complex, with many feuds, rivalries, and shifting alliances, all of which make Toby's life a constant challenge. 

     Here, one character explains to Toby how the fae world is divided: "Humans inhabit just one level of the world: the land. They can travel through the air and sea, but being unable to fly or breathe water puts a damper on long-term habitation. The fae don't share their limitations. There are Kingdoms under the ocean and high in the clouds, thriving outside the range of mortal eyes...and most fae eyes, if we're being honest. Land fae rarely go to the trouble of visiting the Undersea, and the majority of the winged races are too weak to reach the Cloud Kingdoms. We may be everywhere, but that doesn't keep us from being divided by environment." (One Salt Sea, p. 22)

     In the early books, Toby has two love interests: Connor, the son and heir of the Duchy of Shadowed Hills, and Tybalt, the King of Dreaming Cats. Throughout most of the series, Connor is enmeshed in a marriage of convenience with an emotionally damaged woman who grows more and more psychotic and violent. Toby's relationship with Tybalt simmers with enigmatic glances and subtle sexual innuendo.

     This is how Toby views life: "In the end, there's never a sanctuary. You run until there's nowhere left to run to, and then you fight, and then you die, and then it's over. That's how the world works, and if there's a way to change that, I hope someone's eventually planning to let me know." (Late Eclipses, p. 203)
     Although she lives in a very different milieu, Toby reminds me a lot of the heroine of Richelle Mead's GEORGINA KINCAID series. Both Toby and Georgina are forced to live their lives within the restraints of their dark supernatural genetics, and both are forced into hopeless situations time and time again.  

     The titles of the books in this series are all parts of longer quotations from works written by William Shakespeare:

   > Rosemary and Rue: from the play A Winter's Tale
   > A Local Habitation: from the play A Midsummer Night's Dream
   > An Artificial Night: from the play Romeo and Juliet
   > Late Eclipses: from the play King Lear
   > One Salt Sea: from the play Henry V
   > Ashes of Honorfrom the play Henry VIII
   > Chimes at Midnight: from the play Henry IV, Part II
   > The Winter Long: from the play The Winter of Our Discontent
   > The Red Rose Chain: from the poem "Venus and Adonis"
   > Once Broken Faith: from the play Henry VI, Part III
   > The Brightest Fell: from the play Macbeth   

     Here's what McGuire says about the titles on her web site: "While I'm careful to select plays for their content as much as for having cool-sounding quotes, the parallels may not always be the obvious ones. I'm trying not to repeat plays if I have any other choice, and have a file of potential names, just in case it becomes an issue." Click HERE to read FAQs about the series, including FAQs about Toby's world.

     Click HERE to read an McGuire's overview of the series and brief summaries of all of the novels. Click HERE to go to to go to the page on McGuire's web site entitled "Toby Short Stories" to read free short stories set in Toby's world. Click HERE  to read McGuire's "Fairy Tale Survival FAQ," a clever and humorous page that invites you to imagine that you yourself are trapped in a fairy tale and provides answers to questions that will ensure that you survive your experience. Click HERE to read the "TOBY DAYE FAQ" page, which answers readers' questions about the series.

     If you enjoy reading about love triangles among the fae, you might enjoy the UF series by Sandy Williams: SHADOW READER. Click HERE to read my review of that trilogy.
              NOVEL 1:  Rosemary and Rue               
     As the series opens, Toby is a knight-errant of the Duchy of Shadowed Hills, in San Francisco—the only changeling ever to be so honored. Her liege lord, Duke Sylvester Torquill, has commanded her to find his missing wife and daughter. By page 11, poor Toby has been put under a curse—turned into a fish for fourteen years—by the kidnapper.

     When Toby finally breaks the curse and returns to human life, she finds that her fiancĂ© and daughter believed that she walk out on them and don't want anything to do with her. Any semblance of her pre-cursed life is lost to her, so she exiles herself from the fairy community and tries to make it on her own. Book 1 takes Toby through her recovery period as she solves the murder of her longtime friend and adversary, Countess Evening Winterrose.

     In this opening novel, we meet most of the ongoing characters who will either support or oppose Toby in her future adventures.

               NOVEL 2:  A Local Habitation               
      In the second novel, Sylvester sends Toby to a nearby fiefdom—the county of Tamed Lightning—to determine why his niece, January, is not returning his calls, she sees her assignment as a simple baby-sitting job, but initial appearances can be deceiving. To add to the "baby-sitting" aspects of her assignment, she is accompanied by a young Pureblood squire, Quentin, who, at first, has some negative feelings about Toby's changeling heritage.

               NOVEL 3:  An Artificial Night              

     This novel takes Toby to the realm of Blind Michael, the savage leader of the Wild Hunt, where she must locate missing fae and mortal children while trying to avoid becoming the Blind Michael's prey. She is assisted by her nemesis, the Luidaeg, who gives her a magical candle to light her way home. 

     In both books, Toby’s adventures constantly engage her in physical battles, and she is usually covered in blood, bandages, and scars. Besides Sylvester, the ongoing male characters include Tybalt, the King of Dreaming Cats, with whom Toby has an ongoing, antagonistic relationship; Devin, Toby’s former lover, who is the Faginesque leader of a ragtag group of changeling runaways; Connor, Toby’s former (and, maybe, still) childhood sweetheart, a selkie noble who is in a political marriage with Sylvester’s nutty daughter, Rayseline, who hates Toby with a passion; and Quentin, a teenage fae courtier from Sylvester’s court who accompanies Toby in her adventures in book 2. Rayseline's insanity was caused by long-term abusive treatment during her kidnapping back at the beginning of the series.

               NOVEL 4:  Late Eclipses                
     Just as the evil Queen of the Mists awards Toby a title and a land of her own, she is called to the Tea Garden, where she finds her friend Lily ill and on the verge of death. Soon after that, Sylvester's wife and queen, Luna, succumbs to a terrible illness. Rayseline goes to the queen and blames Toby for the two illnesses. As Toby tries to track down the reasons for the illnesses, she finds herself in a much closer relationship with Tybalt, who has somehow become her friend and ally (and possible love interest?). From the beginning, Toby suspects her old enemy Oleander of being the poisoner. When one of the queen's guards shoots Toby with elf shot, her long-lost mother appears to her in a dream, forcing her to make a choice that changes her life forever. The book ends well for the good guys, but it places Toby in a precarious situation with the two men in her life: Tybalt and Connor.

               NOVEL 5:  One Salt Sea                
     As the story begins, Toby has had several rare weeks of peace weeks, so we (and she) are sure that something bad must be on the horizon—and we're both correct. Someone has kidnapped the young sons of the Duchess Dianda Lorden, regent of the Undersea Duchy of Saltmist. Dianda is sure that the Queen of the Mists is somehow involved, so she declares war on the land sidthe. The Luidaeg (aka Sea Witch), a frenemy of Toby's says that Toby is the only person who can find the boys and prevent the war.

     The plot follows Toby as she makes a trip to the Undersea world (as a sea creature), attempts to identify the kidnapper, and tries to find the boys in the three days allotted to her. If she doesn't, an all-out war will begin. In this book, Rayseline resurfaces in all her psychotic glory, and an important person from Toby's past is brought unwillingly back into her life, with heartbreaking results. In the romance department, Toby and Connor finally get some bedroom action (but not too graphic), and Toby and Tybalt share a mind-shattering kiss. By the end of the story, Toby's life is once again filled with upheaval and sadness, but there's a faint trace of hope for the future.

     I like this series very much. Sometimes the complexity of Fae society can be confusing, but the story lines are fairly straightforward, and the plots are not padded with repetitious graphic sexual scenes. Toby's life is very dark. She is a changeling, despised by most of the Pureblood fae and barely tolerated by the rest. She does have a core of true friends, but they keep dying. This is another strong book in an excellent series. McGuire's world-building continues to be highly developed and consistent as she takes Toby through another story that is filled, as always, with action, tragedy, and love. McGuire tells Toby's story through a first person point of view, and she does it beautifully. The narrative and the dialogue are natural, graceful, and realistic. 

               NOVEL 6: Ashes of Honor               
     As the story opens, Toby is still grieving over the loved ones she lost at the end of the previous book. Her friends are in despair because they believe that she is trying to end her own life by taking on dangerous assignments that will probably get her killed. In the scene that kicks off the main plot, Toby's frenemy Etienne, Sylvester's Seneschal, comes to her with a serious personal problem. Years ago, Etienne unknowingly fathered a child (Chelsea, who is now a teenager) with a human woman. He is unaware of the child's existence until his former lover rings him up and accuses him of kidnapping her daughter. Etienne begs Toby to find Chelsea before harm can befall her, knowing that when she is found she will have to make the difficult choice between living in the human world or living in Faery and that he will be punished for his human affair.  

     The plot follows Toby and her friends—mostly Quentin and Tybalt—as they begin to track Chelsea, only to find that the girl has apparently discovered her teleporting powers and has been jumping back and forth from place to place and—even worse—from realm to realm. Once again, Toby seeks assistance from the Luidaeg, the powerful sea witch who is the daughter of Oberon and Maeve as well as being Toby's aunt. The Luidaeg realizes that Chelsea is a rare changeling who has come into her powers without the built-in blocks to control them. As Chelsea teleports uncontrollably to other realms, she is tearing the fabric between the realms and endangering both the Faerie and mortal worlds.  

     As Toby and her allies search for Chelsea, they learn that someone else is after her as well—someone who wants Chelsea to open particular portals to gain access to forbidden realms. Soon, the good guys get dangerously involved with the beautiful, powerful, cruel, and very ambitious leader of the Faerie realm that lies next door to Tamed Lightning (which was the setting for book 2). Eventually all of the lead characters endure horrific injuries—particularly Toby and Tybalt, who save each other's lives several times and come closer and closer to admitting that they are in love with one another. A related subplot features Raj, Tybalt's nephew and heir to his throne, and Raj's villainous father, Samson. Samson is determined to force his son into power now rather than later, and his first step is to try to kill both Tybalt and Toby.  

     This is another great addition to the series, with a fast-paced, suspense-filled plot and a nice development in the relationship between Toby and Tybalt. I have always hoped that Toby would acknowledge her true feelings for Tybalt, and vice versa; Conner was a nice enough guy, but a bit too much of a wuss for such a powerful heroine as Toby, with her militant attitude and mad fighting skills. Tybalt is just as tough and passionate as Toby, so let's hope that their relationship lasts (and that McGuire lets him live!).

            NOVEL 7:  Chimes at Midnight             
     In Shakespeare's Henry IV, Part II, when Falstaff says, "We have heard the chimes at midnight..." he is reminiscing with one of his friends about the wild days of their youth, but a moment later, when the friend leaves, Falstaff has a different take on their memories, saying that "every third word [is] a lie." In other words, long-ago experiences are remembered as we wish they had been, and those memories can't be relied on to be true. That bit of dialogue directly relates to the plot of Chimes at Midnight, as Toby and her friends learn that the Queen of the Mist actually usurped the throne a century ago and that she has no blood claim to it, even though she claims to be the daughter of Gilad, the previous king.

     As the story begins, Toby finds the body of a young changeling who died from the effects of goblin fruit, a naturally-occurring narcotic that has "sweet purple berries that smell like everything good in the world and give purebloods beautiful dreams." (p. 2) Purebloods can eat the berries or jam made from the berries and enjoy the effects without the danger of addiction, but if a changeling eats just one berry, he or she becomes immediately and irreparably addicted, "wasting away on a diet of nothing but sweet fruit and fantasies." (p. 2) Toby is determined to stop the spread of goblin fruit addiction, so she asks for assistance from her long-time enemy, the Queen of the Mists. When Toby learns that the Queen is behind the sales of goblin fruit to changelings and that she will not stop selling the fruit, Toby is furious. As usual, she speaks her mind, and the Queen reacts in her usual vicious manner—banishing Toby from her demesne and giving her only three days to pack up and get out.

     When Toby goes to the Luidaeg for help, the sea witch advises her to "try talking to some of the people who knew King Gilad and find out what they can tell you." (p. 43) Toby is accompanied on her investigation by her boyfriend, Tybalt (King of the Dreaming Cats), and Quentin, her squire. As they follow the clues, they learn the truth about the identity of King Gilad's children. The rest of the story follows Toby and her friends as they work hard to take down the Queen before Toby's three days are up. Along the way, Toby is attacked and injured in a manner that almost turns her human. She also learns the identity of Quentin's parents. As a child, Quentin was blindly fostered to Duke Sylvester Torquill (Toby's liege lord), and he has never discussed his parentage with Toby, although she has always been curious.

     Toby's love life is the only thing that goes smoothly for her in this book. She and Tybalt have exchanged the "love" word, and throughout this adventure he supports her in every way, right up until the moment when she has to save his life for a change.

     This is another great chapter in Toby's story, with plenty of emotional turmoil, compelling action, and nail-biting suspense. Particularly fascinating are Toby's trips to the Library of Stars, where she meets Magdaleana (aka Mags), the eccentric Librarian, and learns the real truth about the Queen of the Mists. The main conflict is resolved in the obligatory showdown scene that ends the book, but there are several loose ends that will trip Toby up in future adventures, particularly the one that includes her rash promise to the scary night-haunts.

     Whenever I read this series, I wish with all my heart that every author who tries writing in the first person could do it as perfectly and as elegantly as McGuire does. Toby has always been a strong, courageous, and independent  (but vulnerable) heroine who does not have to don black leather bustiers or constantly spout the f-word to intimidate her enemies. She is a breath of fresh air among urban fantasy heroines, and I can't wait for her next adventure. This book is not a stand-alone, though; it should be read in the context of the previous books in the series. If you haven't been reading the series, I recommend that you start with Rosemary and Rue. If you do that, I'm certain that you'll be hooked.

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