Thursday 19 October 2017

#CBR9 Books 89-90: "The Brightest Fell" and "Of Things Unknown" by Seanan McGuire

Page count: 368 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Spoiler warning! This is book 11 in the October Daye series, and because of this it is impossible for me to review this book without revealing spoilers for some of the earlier books. If you want to start at the beginning, the first book is Rosemary and Rue. If you're not entirely caught up, proceed at your own risk.

When the biggest of October "Toby" Daye's worries is whether she's going to be forced to sing karaoke during her bachelorette party, it's safe to say that things are so uncharacteristically calm and normal for her that danger must be right around the corner. Then her mother, Amandine the Liar, shows up on her doorstep imperiously demanding that Toby locate her missing half-sister, August, who has been missing without a trace for over a century. Toby refuses, at which point her mother seizes hostages to ensure Toby's cooperation, including Jazz, Toby's roommate and Tybalt, King of Cats and Toby's fiancee. Both individuals are shapeshifters and forced into their animal forms before the cruel Amandine cages them. Amandine claims she will keep her captives alive until Toby returns with August, but as her mother is not known for her kindness or mental stability and it's clear that Toby will need to act quickly, or risk losing the man she loves forever.

That August has been missing for over a hundred years certainly complicates Toby's mission, as does the fact that the only person who may have any ideas as to her whereabouts is August's own father, Simon Torquill, who is currently unconscious after being elf-shot. Simon is the elf who turned Toby into a fish for fourteen years, causing her to lose her human fiancee and daughter. He is also responsible for the abduction of his twin Sylvester (Toby's liege lord)'s wife and daughter and generally not a very popular individual in the faerie realms. Now Toby has to convince Duke Sylvester to allow her to wake Simon, to compel him to work with her to find August. Of course, she also has to overcome her fear and resentment of him for them to work together, as time is of the essence, and there is no telling how long Tybalt and Jazz will survive in Amandine's indifferent clutches.

Toby has managed the seemingly impossible several times before, but this time she really might be in over her head, and this time, it's not her life on the line if she fails.

I've been reading this series for a long time, and Toby has come a long way. Starting the series disorientated, confused and alone after a long involuntary enchantment, she has not only changed tremendously in a number of ways, but she's acquired a solid and very tight-knit found family. There's obviously Tybalt, King of Cats, who she's planning to marry at some point in the future. May, her Fetch (a former death omen) is now living with her, along with May's girlfriend Jazz. Bulking out the household is Toby's loyal squire Quentin, and more often than not, Tybalt's nephew and heir, Raj. While Toby's aunt, the extremely powerful sea witch, the Luideag, wants to seem ruthless and implacable, it's clear that she also holds incredible affection for Toby and would probably help her more if not bound by ancient promises and customs.

So having the antagonist of this book be Toby's actual family, her mother Amandine, is an interesting choice. The mysterious and powerful faerie has made brief appearances earlier in the series, quite often leaving Toby's life in more chaos than it was before, and Toby has gradually discovered more about herself and her mother, not always things she was happy about. For instance, it wasn't all that long ago that she learned that Simon Torquill, the man who turned her into a fish and left her helpless in the Japanese Tea Gardens in San Francisco for fourteen years, was in fact Amandine's husband and the father of Toby's half-sister August. In her previous appearances, it's been clear that Amandine and Toby don't exactly have a very loving or even close relationship, but when Amandine now comes barging into Toby's life, her absolute disregard for her youngest daughter's wishes and the lengths she will go to force her into doing her bidding is surprising.

Toby is left with no choice but to ask the closest thing she's ever had to a father figure to go against all his instincts. Sylvester has to help her wake his twin Simon from his enchanted sleep, letting the man who so utterly betrayed Sylvester and irreparably hurt his wife, daughter and Toby go free. Sylvester puts a geas, a magical binding, on his brother to prevent Simon from in any way causing harm (or allowing others to harm) Toby, but can't actually compel him to assist her. Toby, of course, has to fight against everything inside her that screams that trusting Simon is a huge mistake. If she doesn't find her half-sister as quickly as possible, both Tybalt and Jazz are likely to end up dead. While May is close to losing it, Toby has to hold it together and get the job done - no matter what the cost.

It'll come as no surprise that she sees new sides to Simon and learns to see his perspective on things during their quest together. I like that all of McGuire's characters are so multi-faceted and complex, there are none who are simply purely good or unforgivably bad. Simon had reasons for all his despicable actions, whether Toby likes them or not. Now that she's in danger of losing the man she loves, she has to ask herself what she would be willing to give up or do to ensure his safety, and it's not a comfortable line of thought.

I can't remember the last October Daye book that wasn't a thoroughly enjoyable and exciting read. This series is one of my absolute favourites in the paranormal/urban fantasy genre and I pre-order each book months before the release date. I'm already looking forward to the next one.

Of Things Unknown - novella: 3 stars

In this novella, included at the end of the book (probably to tempt fans into paying the increased price of the hardback), we get the POV of April O'Leary, who readers were first introduced to in book 2, A Local Habitation. She is something as unusual as a virtual dryad, transplanted by her IT genius adoptive mother inside a computer server after her original tree was destroyed. April's mother, January, lost her life to a serial killer in a series of rather bizarre and unusual murders (which Toby was called in to solve, and eventually did) and January's wife has done her best to raise the unusual young woman/entity since. Now April has been investigating and going through records and suspects she may in fact have discovered something rather remarkable, which would mean wonderful things not just for April and her step-mother, but several of the other individuals who lost loved ones to the serial killer. April just needs to call on Toby to help once more.

This was an ok little bonus story, and I suspect April's discovery might have repercussions later, but it didn't make all that much of an impact on me. I'm hooked enough on this series that I don't need added incentives to buy the books, but it was a nice gesture of Ms. McGuire to include it.

Judging a book by its cover: I normally really like the drawn covers for these books, but it appears they have a new cover model portraying Toby, who bears very little resemblance to the model on the last few books. While they've clearly changed the cover model's appearance in the past (just as Toby herself changes depending on whether her human or faerie background is more dominant in her genetic make-up), this woman looks like Natalie Portman wearing something resembling clown paint, which just seems wrong considering the contents of the book. The background is suitably atmospheric, but I the glossy-haired, overly made up "Toby" on this cover just doesn't work for me.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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