Series Review – October Daye Short Fiction

In addition to more than a dozen novels, McGuire has published nearly as many short works in the October Daye Universe.  These break broadly into two categories: interstitials between the novels, which were eventually just included in her later books; and prequel works spanning both major cast members as well as minor or historic characters.  Within these there are some trends:  Tybalt gets a run of stories set in Restoration London, the Luidaeg gets her backstory fleshed out, the core cast gets interstitial short stories,1 and the fill in novellas all focus on the supporting cast.  The only story that really seems disconnected from the greater world is In Little Stars, which is about Gilead Wintermare, a character who is dead decades before the first book, and is only indirectly important to the plot.

Even more than the books, the shorter fictions varies hugely in genre (though the plurality is, of all things, love stories), scope and, most importantly, quality.  Still, the best few, In Sea-Salt Tears, Forbid the Sea,2 and Heaps of Pearls stand above anything else in the series, and In Sea-Salt Tears even stands alone as a genuinely excellent short story that can be read outside of the October Daye continuity.3  The weakest of the stories are ones where McGuire lets her tendency to catch readers up run wild; devoting a dozen pages in a novel to recap is fine, devoting a few pages in a twenty page story is devastating.  Still, if you enjoy the novels, you are doing yourself a disservice by skipping the short fiction, as a they flesh out key relationships, and provide an opportunity to spend more time with the characters.

I’ve grouped the stories by type, and then listed them in chronological order.

Tybalt Stories

Rat Catcher

A prince of cats is pushed to become a king…

Basically Tybalt: Origins, this story gives us a quick and bloody history of Tybalt’s rise as a king of cats in London facing the specter of the great fire.  It doesn’t really add anything to his story, nor does it betray its character; it’s exactly what you would expect or want out of his origin.

A solid origin story to a core cast member.

Forbid the Sea

A lonely king meets a lost traveler.

This on the other hand, is exactly what you want out of a supplementary fiction; it brings an aspect of Tybalt’s character into sharper focus and deepens him as a character, while not feeling like retconning the character in any way.  It’s not exactly covering original ground; a chance encounter becomes companionship, then something more, but it is building off an incredibly compelling character.  I’m not sure however, how it would play as a standalone work, as part of what makes it so effective is the inevitable sense of tragedy that comes from the world building – for someone steeped in the October Daye books, knowing Tybalt’s melancholy and the harshness of the sea fay colours the entire arc of the story.

A classic example of a doomed love story.

Stage of Fools

A sister returns to an empty court to beg a favour…

And this falls in between the previous two: better than Rat Catcher, but not hitting the heights of Forbid the sea.  Again the plot is fairly rote, but it feels so strongly rooted in character, both Tybalt’s and the fae more generally, and in the world building, that it feels like it rewards the reader for their immersion.  One of the beats McGuire hits often and well in this world is that the rules and customs of fairy are cruel and unfair, and in a culture built on honor, bad deeds are often rewarded, and while there is nothing ‘new’ here, it fleshes out some of the darker edges of the setting.

A story that rewards an invested reader.

Voice of Lions

An abduction turns into a chase.

This falls into the same tier as Rat Catcher, barely feeling like its own story, and instead acting as a protracted epilogue to Stage of Fools.  What really hurts it however is the introduction, wasting a decent portion of its length catching the reader up.

A disposal epilogue to Stage of Fools.

Act of Hares

The Court of Londinium reopens, and Tybalt gains his first subjects.

The problem with this run of Tybalt stories is not that any of them are bad, but rather that they feel like chapters of a single story broken up into chapters hamstrung by the need to cover the previous volumes.  This slots below Stage of Fools as it again has nothing particular to say and lacks a narrative arc, but at least it feels like it grows the world a little.

Another chapter that fleshes out the world without much in the way of story.

No Sooner Met

Tybalt takes October on…a date.

Obviously October and Tybalt must have gone on a date somewhere amongst the novels, and McGuire uses this as an excuse to tell a fun little story.  Another story like Stage of Fools that is inessential, but rewarding for the devoted reader.

Another story that rewards an invested reader.

Luidaeg Stories

The Fixed Stars

The last siege of the fey by the Merlins turns on the Luidaeg

Of all the short fiction, this one stands out as unusual – it feels like something out of swords and sorcery rather than the more ‘modern’ mixture of fairies and civilisation,4 and it seems focused on events that are generally treated as ancient history (as much as that term can apply to a population of immortals).  It also feels like a bit of a retcon of a couple of characters (the Luidaeg, Blind Michael), which while not completely incompatible with their portrayal in the books, given the time elapsed, does not enrich their characters like Forbid the Sea.  The worst sin of this however is that it just feels unnecessary and contrived – an excuse to include exposition about the entangling of worlds that would have been better dealt with as a throw away from the Luidaeg in a later story.

A story best lost in the past.

Never Shines the Sun

A flashback to the Liudaeg’s first meeting with October…

This was commissioned for the Print Edition of Chimes at Midnight5, and this feels like an out cut of one of the novels – a flashback that makes subtext text, and explicitly states that the Luidaeg has a plan, and October has a destiny.

A missing piece from a novel, that should be included in all versions of Chimes at Midnight.

Prequel

In Little Stars

A spoilt prince gains a new tutor…

A tale of Prince Gilead that does nothing to further the meta plot of the world, despite his children’s role, or even add texture to the main characters.  Instead it provides a little love story in early San Francisco.  Enjoyable for a completionist, but ultimately a disposable vignette.

Simple love story for the October Daye Completionist

Heaps of Pearl

A practical nobleman gets dragged to a ball to see a mermaid…

Comparing In Little Stars and Heaps of Pearls is instructive for how additional fiction can flesh out a world.  In Little Stars takes two characters alluded to in the world building, and provides a nice story featuring them.  Heaps of Pearls takes place before the main line of novels, tells basically the same story as In Litle Stars (though a much better version), but fleshes out a number of supporting cast members in ways that provides them with more depth in the primary narrative (spoilers ahoy for both this story, and the novels). Heaps of Pearl is a meet cute for Patrick and Dianda, and builds the relationship off their established character traits (his a disinterest in the trappings of nobility, hers a desire to hit things).  By locking into Patrick’s point of view, we immediately gain more appreciation for an important, but extremely marginalised character in the main novels.  Even more important, with this perspective we get to see a more playful side to Dianda, and can appreciate how someone so disinterested in war could have fallen for someone so prone to violence.  The icing on the cake however is Simon; in the novels Simon is a villain who undergoes a tragic redemption arc, but here we get to see him before things go wrong, as a good friend at the peak of his happiness, and it serves to make his fall more heartbreaking.

A fun meet cute that enhances the novels – essential for any fan of the books.

Interstitial

Through this House

October is Countess of Goldengreen, but it needs a bit of fixing up…

This fills in a gap between novels that really didn’t need to be filled, and is probably the worst offender of devoting a significant proportion of its 24 pages to reintroducing characters, world, etc etc.

A bit of filler between novels.

Full of Briars

Quentin has his most terrifying adventure yet – introducing October to his parents

This is not the best of the short stories, nor the most essential, but this is the most October Daye of the short stories.  The best part of the October Daye world is the sense of found family (probably why so many of the short stories are love stories), and this is literally about Quentin bringing his real family and his found family together.  It has faults, but this is perfect for an additional short story attached to a novel, and I can’t imagine any fan not reading and enjoying it.

A distillation of the October Daye family into one story.

Dreams and Slumbers

The Duchess revives her brother from a long slumber…

Most of this is a conversation between Cassandra and Queen Windermare and provides an opportunity to flesh out the characters, the royal household, and the interface between Fairy and the mortal world.  Nothing really happens, but it is an exposition dump wrapped in a very pretty box.

A better than it needs to be exposition dump.

Of Things Unknown

April O’Leary has an idea…

There is no way to talk about this meaningfully without spoilers so…  On a character level, this really does wonders for April, by recasting her as a girl who forced herself to grow up too quickly (who is also a tree, who is also a computer, but I digress).  The emotional connection between April, her mother and Li Qin anchors the story and gives it a sense of catharsis.  All of which makes this a good story.  Unfortunately, this is another example of a worrying trend in the October Daye books – undoing the consequences of actions.  With the cure for elf shot, October’s ability to bring people back from the dead, and now this, the stakes of the stories are being lowered by the possibility they will be undone by magic.  This is a series that is built on family, but the world rests on a dark and uncaring fairy where for example, children can be stolen and turned into mounts for evermore.  This darkness is an essential contrast to the lighter elements of the book, and I worry about this core being eroded going forward..

A good story that has worrying implications for the series.

Suffer a Sea Change

Gillan takes on her new role.

This is another strong example of a supporting novella; it builds upon a key event in the proceeding novel, and fleshes out our knowledge of the selkies, while still feeling separate to the main flow of the October Daye stories.  I admit I have a strong bias toward Luidaeg and Luidaeg adjacent stories, but in many ways this is a stronger entry then the novel that anchors it.

A strong novella that elevates the novel it is included with.

  1. One of which is a Tybalt story.
  2. Spoiler – Interestingly, stories that mirror each other as doomed romances involving a selkie.
  3. Though weirdly, not the best example of a modern lesbian selkie story, though this isn’t damning with faint praise as Selkie Stories are for Losers is a classic of the form.
  4. Yes I’m applying this term to Restoration England.
  5. Thanks Wikipedia.

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