October Daye in September

Brace yourselves, because  I’m about to go all fangirl on your asses.  The newest October Daye novel came out this week, book 3 in the series, and I read it in one great gulp.  Seanan McGuire can do no wrong.   What is so great that keeps me singing this series’ praises?  Despite the fact I stopped reading fantasy in high school and never enjoyed urban fantasy before discovering Ms. Daye?

Well, to begin with, I love how McGuire continues to play with and reinvent old literary formulas. The first novel, Rosemary and Rue is a hard-boiled detective novel in the  vein of Mickey Spillane and Elmore Leonard.  A Local Habitation gives us a who-dun-it that Agatha Christie would have been proud of.  And just when I thought I had  the author pegged as a closet mystery writer An Artificial Night went off on a totally different tack.  It’s a textbook example of the hero’s journey (yeah, yeah – thanks to George Lucas I’m sick of hearing about it too), and it doesn’t just play lip service to Joseph Campbell.  October’s (who answers to Toby) journey is about her understanding and accepting who she is regardless of who she thinks she wants to be… but more about that in a minute.

Every 100 years Blind Michael recruits both mortal and fey children to be the riders and the ridden in his Wild Hunt.  He steals them, twisting them into something that is no longer mortal or fey… and no one challenges his right to do so.  Until he makes the mistake of taking Toby’s adopted nieces & nephew, forcing her to travel the roads of his realm in order to bring them home.

Of course there are rules.  Each road can only be traveled once.  You cannot ask for help, but can take the help that is freely offered. Never look back.  Never trust the Riders.  And whatever you do, never let go of  your candle.

Seanan McGuire has taken the old ballad of Tam Lin and given it a makeover.  Not to be confused with a retelling or reinterpretation.  Instead, like Neil Gaiman (who she reminds me of more and more with each book), she reworks the fairy tales we think we know well and reshapes them for modern use. She changes their meanings, and in the process makes them almost believable.  So we have dryads who inhabit computer networks instead of trees.  Sea witches who like bagels.  A troll who drives a taxi and runs a Barghest rescue. There are pixies congregating around a bug zapper at the local Safeway.  And, as always, a changeling knight-errant who tries to convince herself she’s  a P.I. rather than a hero.

Yet, despite Toby’s being in denial, there’s not doubt in the reader’s mind that she is a hero.  McGuire’s strength is in the way she ties the Fey world to ours.   Making it very clear that being a hero isn’t always easy or romantic. It’s definitely not smart.  And there are repercussions, not just for Toby, but for everyone who cares about what might happen to her.

In addition to how intelligently plotted the October Daye series is as a whole, An Artificial Night is inhabited by a cast of brilliantly realized characters (both new and old)  that are difficult not to get attached to.  May Daye, Toby’s fetch (sent to make sure she is on time for her appointment with death) is entertainingly chirpy and upbeat.   We learn more about the Luidaeg (pronounced lou-sha-k), a Firstborn who seemingly spends her time planning Toby’s demise between their games of Scrabble and chess; and  Quentin, the teenage pureblood Daoine Sidhe (pronounced doon-ya shee…. creepy, right???! Especially when you draw out the sheeeee bit) who for all intents and purposes is Toby’s adopted son (and I suspect her soon to be squire).   Connor & Tybalt also reprise their roles as possible romantic leads – but thank goodness McGuire hasn’t made the mistake of falling into the pit of paranormal romance.  And then there’s the mysterious antagonist of the overarching storyline about Amandine – Toby’s mother and the most powerful worker of blood magic in the Summerlands – who remains a fascinating and frustratingly carrot guaranteed to keep you coming back looking for answers.

It’s pretty obvious I love this series, but even I have to admit that An Artificial Night has some minor problems when compared to the first two books (most of which could have been fixed by the editor).  McGuire has a habit of repeating herself.  For example I don’t need Lily, the Undine who makes her home in the Japanese Tea Gardens, explained to me every time she appears.  Seriously, I got it.  She lives in the Japanese Tea Gardens.  She loves Toby.  She’s a powerful healer.  Remember:  if someone is reading a book clearly labeled as book 3 it’s a pretty safe bet they’ve read the books preceding it.  So please stop telling me that  Toby spent 14 years as a fish.  Or that Connor is married to Raysel (who’s psychotic), or that the Luidaeg can kill Toby at any second…  Instead, let’s get to the good stuff.  Such as:

  • How come Toby sometimes goes all Super-Saiyan powerful with her blood magic, and at other times get’s burned out doing simple illusions (like disguising herself to look human)?
  • Where the hell is Amandine??? How did she go mad and why does she avoid Toby?
  • Why does Raysel hate Toby so much?  Why was she kidnapped and why was she let go? What did her uncle do to her?
  • Are we ever going to actually see Toby’s estranged mortal family in the books (for what it’s worth, I hope no).
  • And why oh why do we have to wait so long for Book 4? A Late Eclipse is due out March, 2011.

Publisher:  Daw Books, Inc., New York (2010)
ISBN:  978 0 7564 0626 4

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