Wednesday 26 October 2022

CBR14 Book 30: "Be the Serpent" by Seanan McGuire

Page count: 368 pages
Rating: 4 stars

CBR14 Bingo: Series (this is book 16 in an ongoing series, do NOT start here). 

Spoiler warning! This is book 16 in the series. It's impossible to review the book without referring to events in earlier books, so if you want to remain completely unspoiled, skip this one. I'll try to avoid any big spoilers for this book.

October "Toby" Daye not only survived her wedding, but so did her husband, Tybalt, King of Cats, and all her friends and found family as well. She and Tybalt get to enjoy a brief period of wedded bliss before trouble comes calling once more. Rayselline Torquill is about to be woken from her elf-shot-induced sleep, and there are a lot of faeries who have a score to settle with the unstable young elf woman, including Toby, whose boyfriend died because of Raysel's actions. However, time (and a new husband) heals a lot of wounds, and Toby wants to make peace and for Rayselline to have somewhere safe to recover, so she shows up and demands service for a year and a day from the newly awakened woman (so that Rayselline can seek refuge in Toby's house rather than return to  old home and her parents' expectations and worries). 

While at court, it becomes very obvious that something very bad is happening or soon to happen to one of Toby's best friend's family. Stacy Brown is one of the changelings that Toby grew up with and part of her large and self-created family. For reasons no one entirely understands, Stacy and her husband Mitch (also a changeling) have several children who seem to be clairvoyant in some way. Two of them are at court with Toby, and both have horrifying visions at the same time. Something is threatening Toby's friend, and it turns out to involve very old and unpredictable magic. The honeymoon is most certainly over, and while Toby is brave and heroic and has faced a lot of dangers in the past, it seems unlikely that she'll get through this adventure without suffering some truly staggering losses.

In a long-running series like this (how is this already book 17? How long have I actually been reading these books?), there are some books that are more "adventure of the week" and some that focus on major events that shake up the whole series. From her author's notes, it's clear that McGuire has had a lot of things for this series planned from the very beginning, and keeps portioning out these huge plot changers with care. Now, after a few books where we've been building up towards Toby's wedding, McGuire now unveils another of her really big continuity events, and this one brings with it some pretty staggering losses for our heroine and her friends. So while there was a happy ending to the last book, be prepared for the fact that some bad sh*t goes down in this one and the ending especially is quite the mind f*ck. 

During the last few books, some of the big bads making existence difficult for Toby and her crew have either been neutralised or have made peace with her, so it makes sense from a storytelling perspective that some new (or possibly very old) enemies were introduced instead. The revelations in this book certainly open up for taking the series in some intriguing directions. These books still remain a high point of my reading calendar each year, and I'm always looking forward to a new installment. It helps that McGuire releases a new one every September. In contrast, after book 16 and 17 of Jim Butcher's The Dresden Files (which the readers had to wait more than six years for) I find that I'm rather bored of that world, and unsure of whether I'm actually going to continue when the next book eventually comes out. 

I can absolutely understand that a new reader could be a bit intimidated by the many books in the series and the fact that McGuire seems to have quite a few books left before she's done telling her story. With my current mental headspace, I don't think I'd embark on a similarly long series now. However, I've been a fan of these for books for over a decade and each new book feels like reuniting with old friends. I'd keep reading even if this book hadn't ended on a fairly big cliff hanger (which it does). Outside of the books of Ilona Andrews, these are my favourites. 

Judging a book by its cover: Whoever is responsible for the covers for the last few October Daye books is doing excellent work. As paranormal fantasy covers go, these are among the best out there. I really like seeing Toby in full defender mode. 

Crossposted on Cannonball Read

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