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Friday, April 22, 2011

Seanan McGuire: OCTOBER DAYE Series

Plot Type:  Urban Fantasy (UF)
Publisher and Titles:  DAW  
   .5  "The Fixed Stars" (prequel—free story download)(also in Shattered Shields, 11/2014)(early life of the Luidaeg)
  1    Rosemary and Rue (novel, 9/2009)
  2    A Local Habitation (novel, 3/2010)
  2.5 "Rat-Catcher" in A Fantasy Medley (story—Tybalt's origins)
  2.7 “Forbid the Sea” (free short story download about Tybalt)
  3    An Artificial Night (novel, 9/2010)
  4    Late Eclipses (novel, 3/2011)
  4.5  "Through This House"—story in Home Improvement, Undead Edition (8/2011)
  5    One Salt Sea (novel, 9/2011)
  5.5 "In Sea-Salt Tears" (free short story download about the Luidaeg)
  6    Ashes of Honor (novel, 9/2012)
  6.5 “No Sooner Met” (free short story download—Toby and Tybalt’s first date)
  7    Chimes at Midnight (novel, 9/2013)
  7.2 “Never Shines the Sun” (novella included in print version of Chimes at Midnight—Toby and the Luidaeg’s first encounter)
  7.5  “Full of Briars” (story about Quentin, 2016)
  8     The Winter Long (novel, 9/2014)
  8.5  “Heaps of Pearl” (free short story download—features Patrick Twycross)
  9    A Red-Rose Chain (novel, 9/2015)  
10    Once Broken Faith (novel, 9/2016) 
10.5 “Dreams and Slumbers” (novella included in Once Broken Faith
11    The Brightest Fell (novel, 2017)  
12    Night and Silence (novel, TBA)  
13    The Unkindest Tide (novel, TBA) 

This ongoing post was revised and updated on 9/14/16 to include reviews of Once Broken Faith, the tenth novel in this series, and "Dreams and Slumbers," the 10.5 novella. Those reviews appear first, followed by an overview of the world-building and reviews or summaries of the first nine novels. 

                            NOVEL 10:  Once Broken Faith                            
     Politics have never been October “Toby” Daye’s strong suit. When she traveled to the Kingdom of Silences to prevent them from going to war with her home, the Kingdom of the Mists, she wasn’t expecting to return with a cure for elf-shot and a whole new set of political headaches. 

     Now the events she unwittingly set in motion could change the balance of modern Faerie forever, and she has been ordered to appear before a historic conclave of monarchs, hosted by Queen Windermere in the Mists and overseen by the High King and Queen themselves. 

     Naturally, things have barely gotten underway when the first dead body shows up. As the only changeling in attendance, Toby is already the target of suspicion and hostility. Now she needs to find a killer before they can strike again—and with the doors locked to keep the guilty from escaping, no one is safe. 

     As danger draws ever closer to her allies and the people she loves best, Toby will have to race against time to prevent the total political destabilization of the West Coast and to get the conclave back on track…and if she fails, the cure for elf-shot may be buried forever, along with the victims she was too slow to save. Because there are worse fates than sleeping for a hundred years. 

   Includes a brand-new map and an original bonus novella, "Dreams and Slumbers," which follows Arden as she attempts to awaken her brother, Nolan, from his elf-shot sleep.

     This story is all about the elf-shot cure that was created by the alchemist Walther Davies. Toby brought back the cure from the Kingdom of Silences at the end of her last adventure. To review: When a pureblood fae is elf-shot, he or she sleeps for one hundred years, but the shot is fatal to a changeling. The purebloods have used elf-shot for centuries as a weapon of war, knowing that using elf-shot on their pureblood enemies will effectively get them out of the way for a century and that it will permanently eliminate enemy changelings. Since purebloods view changelings as worthless abominations, their deaths are dismissed as minor collateral damage.

     High King Aethlin Sollys and his wife Maida have called together a conclave of local fae monarchs to discuss whether to allow the cure to be used to awaken current "sleepers" or to destroy the cure and outlaw its use. As the discussion progresses, the group soon realizes that the situation is much too complex for a simple "use or destroy" answer. As each monarch makes his or her argument, we get a chance to view the reality of fae politics in a manner that we have not seen before. This means that McGuire introduces us to a crowd of fae royalty: their names, their lands, their opinions and biases, their fae connections, and their levels of power.

     In the early chapters, McGuire includes a lot of biographical background for a number of the characters: 
 > a review of Toby's early childhood, her time on the streets with Devin, her "human" years with her fiancé and daughter, her fishy imprisonment, and her more recent years
 > an explanation of Karen's dream-walking powers (aka oneiromancy) and her kidnapping by Blind Michael
 > a discussion of Walther's family history in the kingdom of Silences
 > an explanation of the creation of elf-shot by the powerful and dangerous Eira Rosynhwyr, the Firstborn of the Daoine Sidhe, who is currently lying in an elf-shot sleep
 > a review of Quentin's situation: Toby's squire is in actuality the son of the High King and Queen (but that is a huge secret that is being kept from all but a select few).
     Before the conclave begins, Arden Windermere, Queen in the Mists, commands Toby and Walther to make a quick trip to her realm to wake up two elf-shot men who are very dear to her: her seneschal Madden and her brother Nolan. Although both Walther and Toby are leery of fulfilling Arden's command, Walther goes ahead and awakens Madden, but before he can move on to Nolan, the High King teleports in and stops them from any further use of the cure.

     Almost as soon as the conclave begins, someone kills one of the most outspoken of the monarchs: King Antonio Robertson of Angels. The High King commands Toby to track down the killer while still forcing her to participate in the elf-shot discussion. When another monarch is attackedand elf-shotToby's tasks get even more complicated. Before long, the attacks get more personal. The primary plot, then, centers on the search for the assassin(s)/attacker(s) who are attempting to disrupt the conclave by eliminating some of the major players. As suspects are interrogated, motives examined, and clues investigated, the plot takes some surprising twists and turns on its way to the climactic showdown that brings the mystery to resolution. 

     Meanwhile, Toby has several anguished interior monologues in which she worries about the status of her romance with Tybalt, King of the Dreaming Cats. "The fact that he was the monarch of an independent Court and I was tied inextricably to the Divided Courts wasn't going to change the fact that we loved each otherand as long as we could keep loving each other, we could find a way through this." But while Tybalt is at the conclave, he has to keep himself aloof from Toby so that people won't think that she is influencing his decisions, and it hurts Toby when Tybalt does such a good job of pretending that she is no one special to him—just another member of Arden's court. When Toby is cross-examined by hostile conclave members, "Tybalt still wasn't saying or doing anything. That stung. Every other time I'd been questioned in his presence, he'd been there to rise and take my side...Now he was silent, not speaking, not raising a hand to challenge a man who'd challenged my honor...I'd never realized how much silence could hurt." Unfortunately, it's not only Toby's relationship with Tybalt that troubles her. She is still estranged from her liege, Duke Sylvester Torquill, and can't get past her anger at his recent betrayal. Toby's thoughts about this situation lead into a lengthy review of her rocky history with Sylvester, his wife Luna, and their elf-shot daughter Rayselinenot to mention Rayseline's late husband (and Toby's lover), Connor O'Dell.

     What makes this such a great novel is the way that McGuire meshes the background information about characters and past events with the ongoing murder mystery. She maintains a compelling pace, building up the suspense and drama and making the outcome almost impossible to predict, all the while delving deep into her characters' emotions as they confront their fears and face new challenges. This is yet another successful addition to an extremely strong urban fantasy series that continues to be one of my all-time favorites.

Click HERE to go to the novel's page where you can read or listen to an excerpt by clicking either on the cover art (for print) or the "Listen" icon (for audio).

                         NOVELLA 10.5:  "Dreams and Slumbers                   
     This novella is included at the end of Once Broken Faith. It continues the action of the novel by telling the story of Arden's attempts to awaken her elf-shot brother, Nolan. At first, Arden believes that all she has to do is give him Walther's cure, but it's not that simple, because in addition to being elf-shot, Nolan was poisoned. Can Arden find an antidote to the poison? Or will Nolan die? 

     Playing major roles in this story are the Luidaeg and Cassandra Brown, an aeromancer (able to read the motion of air) who is Karen's sister. The story provides an in-depth back-story for Arden and Nolan, from the death of their parents all the way to Arden's eventual meeting with Toby and her ascension to the Mists throne. We also get more background on the Luidaeg, who gets called in to help. 

     This is a nice addendum to the novel in that it provides the ultimate closure to the elf-shot issue. So far, it is available only as an addendum to Once Broken Faith.

     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 10 plays and one poem written by William Shakespeare:

An Artificial NightRomeo and Juliet (Act 1, Scene 1)
Late Eclipses: King Lear (Act 1, Scene 2)
One Salt Sea: Henry V (Act 1, Scene 2)
“In Sea-Salt Tears”: Titus Andronicus (Act 3, Scene 2) 
Ashes of HonorHenry VIII (Act 5, Scene 5)
“Rat-Catcher”: Romeo and Juliet (Act 3, Scene 1) 
Chimes at Midnight: Henry IV, Part II (Act 3, Scene 2)
“Full of Briars: As You Like It (Act 1, Scene 3) 
A Red-Rose Chain: from the poem "Venus and Adonis"
Once Broken Faith: Henry VI, Part III (Act 4, Scene 4)
“Dreams and Slumbers”: Troilus and Cressida (Act 2, Scene 2) 
The Brightest Fell: Macbeth (Act 4, Scene 3) 

    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 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.

                            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 fiancé 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. Click HERE to go to the novel's page where you can read or listen to an excerpt by clicking either on the cover art (for print) or the "Listen" icon (for audio).

                            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.

     Click HERE to go to the novel's page where you can read or listen to an excerpt by clicking either on the cover art (for print) or the "Listen" icon (for audio).

                       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 Fagine-sque 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 two. Rayseline's insanity was caused by long-term abusive treatment during her kidnapping back at the beginning of the series. 

     Click HERE to go to the novel's page where you can read or listen to an excerpt by clicking either on the cover art (for print) or the "Listen" icon (for audio).

                            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.

     Click HERE to go to the novel's page where you can read or listen to an excerpt by clicking either on the cover art (for print) or the "Listen" icon (for audio).

                            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. 

     Click HERE to go to the novel's page where you can read or listen to an excerpt by clicking either on the cover art (for print) or the "Listen" icon (for audio).

                            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!).

     Click HERE to go to the novel's page where you can read or listen to an excerpt by clicking either on the cover art (for print) or the "Listen" icon (for audio).

                            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.

     Click HERE to go to the novel's page where you can read or listen to an excerpt by clicking either on the cover art (for print) or the "Listen" icon (for audio).

                           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 is as fresh and inventive as it was when it began. 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 clichéd tropes. Instead, McGuire has created a series of complexly plotted, imaginative, suspense-filled stories centered on 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.

     Click HERE to go to the novel's page where you can read or listen to an excerpt by clicking either on the cover art (for print) or the "Listen" icon (for audio).

                            NOVEL 9:  A Red-Rose Chain                            
     Things are looking up. For the first time in what feels like 
Things are looking up. For the first time in what feels like years, October "Toby" Daye has been able to pause long enough to take a breath and look at her life—and she likes what she sees. She has friends. She has allies. She has a squire to train and a King of Cats to love, and maybe, just maybe, she can let her guard down for a change.

     Or not. When Queen Windermere's seneschal is elf-shot and thrown into an enchanted sleep by agents from the neighboring Kingdom of Silences, Toby finds herself in a role she never expected to play: that of a diplomat. She must travel to Portland, Oregon, to convince King Rhys of Silences not to go to war against the Mists. But nothing is that simple, and what October finds in Silences is worse than she would ever have imagined. 

How far will Toby go when lives are on the line, and when allies both old and new are threatened by a force she had never expected to face again? How much is October willing to give up, and how much is she willing to change? In Faerie, what's past is never really gone. It's just waiting for an opportunity to pounce

     As the book opens, Toby and her liege lord, Sylvester, are still estranged because of his betrayal (in the previous book). In the opening scene, Toby and her team (her fiancé, Tybalt, King of Dreaming Cats; her squire, Quentin; and her friend, Danny the Bridge Troll) settle a problem with some very large fae dogs that have been attacking tourists and eating house pets near the Marin salt flats. After they clean up, they head for Muir Woods to the knowe of Arden Windermere, Queen of the Mists. (A knowe is a faery hill or mound that serves as the main residence of a royal faery court.) Soon after they arrive, Arden's seneschal, Madden, is elf-shot (meaning that he will remain in a coma-like state for 100 years). The note left with his body is a declaration of war by the Kingdom of Silences, claiming that Arden took the throne away from the true queen—the dangerous woman Toby and her friends call the false queen because no one knows her real name. When Arden sends Toby to the Kingdom of Silences to broker a peace treaty, we all know that trouble lies ahead because Toby is definitely not a diplomat. Rhys, King of Silences was appointed by the false queen, Toby's long-time bitter enemy, after the War of Silences during which all members of the former royal family of the Silences were either killed or elf-shot. 

     With deep misgivings, Toby sets off to do her duty accompanied by Tybalt, Quentin, and May, a Fetch who is now more like a sister to Toby. At the last minute, Toby asks her friend Walther, an alchemist, to accompany them so that he can concoct various magical powders that will keep them safe from poisoned food, listening devices, and whatever else might be in store. As Toby soon learns, Walther has some connections with Silences that he has kept a deep dark secret. Before they make the trip, Tybalt takes Toby aside to explain his concerns: "I am following my fiancée, an alchemist, a half-trained squire, and a death omen to a hostile Kingdom, currently being influenced by a woman who has every reason to wish the lot of us dead…A woman who, I feel I must remind you, once compelled me to tear your throat from your body." Tybalt ends their conversation with one of the most eloquent declarations of love that Toby has ever heard from him—impassioned and poignant even though it includes this sentence: "You insinuated yourself into my heart like a worm into an apple, and I am consumed by you." Really…worm/apple metaphor aside…it's a beautiful speech.

     When the group arrives in Silences, they find a banner-free courtyard with a non-functioning fountain and an inner castle with deserted, bare-walled halls. Toby has never seen a knowe this size with so little decoration. "It was like Rhys had ordered the whole thing from Castles R Us and then never bothered to swing by the local Bed, Battlements, and Beyond for the accessories he'd need to make it believable." At their first court dinner, they discover that the false queen is closer to Rhys than they thought; she is his mistress and closest confidante. Naturally, she has been feeding Rhys a lot of poisonous lies (and some truths) about Toby. The fact that Toby is a changeling makes her situation even worse, because in this bigoted court, all changelings are servants who are scorned for their impurity and are regularly beaten. 

     McGuire's opening quotation from a poem by Shakespeare presents the plot in a nutshell:
          Thus he that overruled I oversway'd,
          Leading him prisoner in a red-rose chain:
          Strong-tempered steel his stronger strength obey'd,
          Yet was he servile to my coy disdain.

     The diplomatic trip is supposed to last three days, and each day turns out to be more dangerous than the one before as Rhys and the false queen attempt to chip away at Toby's support team, making her much more vulnerable to their subtle and not-so-subtle personal attacks. Rhys is an arrogant, cruel man who despises changelings. He is determined to hurt and humiliate Toby in front of his court and his lady, and he is, at first, quite successful. The false queen just wants Toby dead, stating her wish plainly the first time they meet. As Toby struggles to find a way to save Faerie from a disastrous war and to keep herself and her allies safe, the plot thickens with suspense and tragedy.

     The titular red roses are referenced indirectly throughout the story, in one way or another, but they become truly important—crucial, in fact—at the very end. (Please don't read the ending first. You'll hate yourself if you do.) Family connections are also important—sometimes resulting in betrayal but other times ending in joyous reunions. Previously, McGuire joined the growing trend toward adding LGBTQ characters to her series, and in this book she surprises us with the outing of two ongoing characters.

     The story line is heavy on fae politics, which means that the pace is fairly slow. McGuire stuffs a lot of review information into the early chapters, but that's fine with me because the political situation has gotten to be quite complex, and I welcome a brief refresher. Sometimes, the story gets predictable, as Toby attends one disastrous court dinner after another, always ending the meal by stalking, limping, or running out of the room after some skulduggery at the hands of Rhys and the false queen, neither of whom hold back on their hatred for Toby and their wish for her death. 

     This isn't one of my favorite books in the series, but I have to admit that it would be hard for McGuire to top The Winter Long. In the final two books, McGuire will be tying up loose ends, and that will include Toby's relationships with her mother, with Sylvester, and most important of all—with Tybalt. Wedding bells can't be far off. 

     I will always be waiting impatiently for the next book in this series (for two more years, that is) because McGuire has created such an inventive, fascinating world filled with nuanced characters and intriguing, absorbing plots. OCTOBER DAYE will always have a place near the top of my all-time top ten Urban Fantasy list.

     Click HERE to go to the novel's page where you can read or listen to an excerpt by clicking either on the cover art (for print) or the "Listen" icon (for audio).

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