Rosemary and Rue (9/2009)
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.
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.