Sunday 4 October 2020

#CBR12 Book 72: "A Killing Frost" by Seanan McGuire

Page count: 368 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Spoiler warning! This is book 14 in an ongoing series. You will be pretty hopelessly lost if this is the first one you pick up. This is an excellent paranormal fantasy series, but the place to start is with Rosemary and Rue. Also, there may be plot discussion about events that have happened earlier in the series, so don't read the review unless you're actually caught up.

Official book description:
When October is informed that Simon Torquill—legally her father, due to Faerie's archaic marriage traditions—must be invited to her wedding or risk the ceremony throwing the Kingdom in the Mists into political turmoil, she finds herself setting out on a quest she was not yet prepared to undertake for the sake of her future.... and the man who represents her family's past.

October 'Toby' Daye has been engaged to Tybalt, the King of Cats for a long time now, but has at least gotten to the stage where she's tentatively looking at dresses. When Tybalt takes her out for a surprise dinner date, the couple is interrupted by Dianda Lordan, Duchess of the Undersea and her husband. They inform Toby that unless her step-father Simon Torquill is invited to the wedding, Simon himself, or someone close to him, like his evil liege Eira Rosenwyhr, could claim offense and use the slight as an excuse to set off a supernatural war. Simon's whereabouts are currently unknown and all his memories of his home have been removed (and consequently any sense of family or his conscience are also missing) thanks to a rather complicated spell. Although Toby's relationship with Simon had started to improve, he is still the ruthless villain who transformed Toby into a fish for fourteen years (a time period in which she lost her human fiancee and child, as they believed her to have abandoned them), and she's not exactly thrilled to be told he needs a cordial invitation to her upcoming wedding.

To complicate matters further, Toby realises that both Tybalt and her sister May knew about this sticky piece of faerie etiquette and kept it from her, so she's not exactly pleased with her nearest and dearest. She certainly has no wish to have Simon at her wedding, but cannot risk the consequences if he's overlooked. The spell Simon is currently under is a modified one originally placed on his daughter, Toby's half-sister August, who set off to locate and bring Oberon, the missing King of Faerie, back to his people. With no way to find her home until she fulfilled the quest, she was believed utterly lost, until Toby and Simon found her. Now it's Simon who can't find his way home until Oberon is located, but luckily Toby has a pretty fair idea of where he's currently holed up, thanks to some prophetic dreams from a young acquaintance of hers. Said dream showed Toby going on a quest, only accompanied by her squire Quentin and sister May, so Tybalt has to stay home, whether he likes it or not. If he comes along, the quest is doomed to fail.

Toby reluctantly sets off to locate what amounts to her own personal bogey-man, helped only by her impulsive teenage squire and her former death-omen, now sister. She knows that she may have to do what Simon already did, and take the amnesia charm upon herself to free him. Unless they happen to locate the centuries-missing Oberon and bring him home as a side effect of the quest, of course, but that seems unlikely.

I'm starting to get worried that while McGuire has Toby and Tybalt as the ultimate romantic end game for this series, she has no intention of letting them stay happily together and get married for a good while yet (I'm not sure how long she's planning on the series stretching, but according to Goodreads, there's at least three more books to come and from the brief descriptions of these books, Toby and Tybalt are still unmarried at the end of them). Their betrothal has lasted a very long while already, and there always seems to be yet another obstacle thrown in the way of their wedded bliss. More than one character over the course of this book confronts Toby about her fear of real commitment and her unwillingness to settle down. 

It's obvious that Tybalt, for all that he adores her, is getting rather impatient with the many delays, and I'm not sure how much longer he'll put up with Toby putting everyone else in danger (and there are so many varieties of danger that could threaten) ahead of their relationship. It took McGuire long enough to get them together, I'm not sure I'm interested in reading a bunch more filler books with faerie intrigue (in which Toby slowly loses what little is left of her humanity) before we get to the conclusion. I don't mind reading about committed and/or married couples - it works in a number of paranormal series. I will probably take an extended hiatus from the series if McGuire breaks them up for plot reasons. 

I really do like that this series focuses just as much on found/felt family as it does on blood ties. May isn't technically Toby's sister (she could, in fact, qualify as one of her children). Raj, Quintin, and Dean aren't actually Toby's kids or younger brothers, but they fulfill that role in her life. Considering some of the really rather unpleasant betrayals Toby has faced over the course of the series from her actual family (Amadine is personified Toxicity), it's good that she now has a wide array of people who love her and will risk their lives to help her. 

Having read this and Peace Talks fairly close together, I'm struck at how much more effortlessly McGuire portrays queer characters and relationships in her books. I was reminded in this book(because they are not a major supporting character) that one of the tertiary characters in Toby's life is trans. It's mentioned in passing, and not made a big deal out of. Bisexuality seems to be almost the norm among the faerie races and in this book, there is even one example of polyamory, with a m/m/f relationship treated just as matter of factly as if there were only two partners in the relationship. Representation matters, and having a wide variety of gender identifications and sexual preferences covered in your book, without it feeling forced or tokenistic, is sadly still unusual. Butcher certainly has a LONG way to go here.

These books are books I eagerly await each September. I will obviously be reading the next one, but am getting a bit fed up with the central romantic relationship being strung out the way it is. It may be time for a bit of a break...but I hope McGuire proves me wrong. 

Judging a book by its cover: At first, I was convinced that they'd yet again replaced the cover model portraying Toby on the book, but a closer perusal of the more recent books in the series at my local nerd bookshop disproved me of this notion. It's clearly the same woman, she just looks a bit more emaciated in this one than some of the more recent book covers. 

Crossposted on Cannonball Read

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