In for a penny, in for a pound. I reread an October Daye book and posted old reviews for the first seven books, and I’ve ended up rereading the series and figured I would fill out the rest. Obviously once you get to book 8 of a series, the only people reading are the hard core fans, so assume that you should go back and read the earlier books before getting to these ones, and that later reviews might contain spoilers for earlier books. Thanks to The Unkindest Tide being overdue, this completes the current run of novels, and just leaves the short fiction to review…
The Winter Long
This is the culmination of the series to this point, bringing together threads from the entire series, and answering the driving questions raised in the first book, starting with the return of October Bête Noir, Simon Torquill.
I knew that I had read this before, but couldn’t remember it, and I now know exactly why. Seanan McGuire has a generous approach to new readers, and includes enough asides and digressions to bring new readers up to speed no matter which book she started with. This approach may be a reason for this series success: who hasn’t picked up an interesting book in the library, and found that it is a continuity heavy continuation of a previous work, and have just given up on the whole series. By providing the tools to new readers to finish, she provides an opportunity to create new fans regardless of the entry, and encourages them to go back and buy previous books.
In previous volumes, it was a forgivable tick that didn’t get in the way. The Winter Long is the climax of what feels like the first arc of October Daye books. It combines threads from the seven previous books and caps them all off; it feels like it should be the crowning triumph of the series. However the need to provide background to every character, place, event, and story beat saps the narrative momentum from the book, and the reason I had such trouble remembering it is that it feels like most of it is from the previous books. All of which is a shame, because the new stuff, and there is new stuff, is really good, and puts the books in an interesting place going forward.
The Winter Long is like an exciting season finale crossed with a clip show – the new bits are really good, but the repeats are a bit much if you’ve read the previous books.
A Red-Rose Chain
October is in the wrong place at the wrong time – and ends up as a diplomat trying to stop a war, and once-again thwart the old Queen in the mists.
It’s hard to do new things when you are nine books into a series, but McGuire takes advantage of the freedom afforded by tying off loose ends in the last book to do something new. Putting October in a situation that she is uncomfortable, diplomacy, is an instant source of humour in the book, and it makes a certain kind of sense to send her as a wreaking ball into the neighbouring kingdom. Also the change of setting and cast does wonders for the series, the greater SF area was starting to become a bit staid, so a trip to Portland provides a massive opportunity in world building faerie: we get to see new courts, new fae, and even a new king of cats. It also avoids the pitfalls of the last book – when everything is new, there is no need to catch readers up.
Even more interesting is the resolution of the book: it breaks a pre-existing status quo of the world in a way that feels important, even within the consequences of the characters in the series affected. It also reminds us that October is literally a walking hope chest, which at some stage will force to books to wrestle with the ethics of someone who literally has the ability to take a minority in the series, and remove their minority status (incidentally making them immortal).
A strong recovery that pushes the series in new directions.
Once Broken Faith
Monarchs are descending on the Mists to decide whether the cure for Elf Shot should be distributed or buried, but an unexpected murder turns October from PI to locked castle detective.
Building directly on the strengths of the last book, Once Broken Faith again plays up the fish out of water aspects of throwing October into a court setting, but savvilly juxtaposes it with a murder to give her the opportunity to play to her strengths. Though strengths is overselling it somewhat, one of the more interesting character beats is that October is really a noir detective, rather than successfully investigating, her MO is to wander around until somebody tries to kill her, and then go from there. Regardless, the fusion of detective and politics works well for the story, providing a nice balance of humor, action and emotion.
It also continues the trend of broadening the world. Bringing the monarchs to the Mists gives us a chance to see the breadth of Fairy Kingdoms, from the progressive agricultural lands of the south, to the ultra conservative middle American Kingdoms, and more importantly, brings the High King and Queen to court. While not expanding the setting per se, this provides a lot of opportunity to flesh out Quentin, and puts his fosterage into clearer context.
Novella: Dreams and Slumbers
Note: This is also the first novel to include a novella after the main story. This is a really nice touch, as it gives McGuire an opportunity to flesh out her side characters, while keeping the mainline stories to a reasonable length. I will note the associated novella, but review them separately in the short fiction round up.
Another book pushes October out of her comfort zone to great effect.
The Brightest Fell
October is getting ready to get married, and then her mother comes home.
If this book had just been the bachelorette party, it would still be one of my favourite October Daye Books. To then provide real stakes, actually give October a quest where she had to use both her human and fairy skills, and then push her against various estranged family members so that she can both exhibit character growth, while not selling out the prickliness of the character, this pushed The Brightest Fell up to my favourite of the novels so far. In many ways the success of this book is how it integrates so many of the outstanding plot threads into a narrative about October’s family, and it delivers the climax that The Winter Long failed to.
Furthermore McGuire firmly grasps the secret of many a great superman story; if you have a character who can’t be physically hurt, then you have to provide emotional stakes to drive the character. The fallout from these stakes gives the future books room to tinker with the status quo without seeming forced.
Novella: Of Things Unknown
The emotional highlight of the series so far.
Night and Silence
October’s daughter is missing again, and it is up to October to find it.
What goes up must come down. After really pulling back on the background material, fully a quarter of the opening twenty pages felt like recap. In some ways this almost feels like an apology, as McGuire goes back to the well of having October’s daughter kidnapped, and her unstable relationship with her ex and replacement. This is particularly frustrating as it feels like the series is spinning its wheels on a number of major items that have been set up: the Ludiag’s role for October with the Selkies,1 her family’s role in the return of Oberon, and the fact that October is a walking hope chest who can single handedly disturb the balance of power between changelings and purebloods.
Not to say the book is bad, it just has a catastrophically slow start. By about a quarter of the way through, it has found its rhythm; it builds upon the trauma of the last book, stages some good action scenes, and further expands October’s family. It even obliquely addresses October’s ability, by putting an adoring weak blood in her path. However Night and Silence is covering such familiar ground, and the additions to the mythos feel sufficiently superfluous, that it feels like a significant step backwards from the momentum of the last three books.
Novella: Suffer a Sea-Change
A collection of recycled plot points and ideas feels like it is treading water.