No, this isn't one of David Weber's Honor Harrington novels, this is book six in Seanan McGuire's primary series about October 'Toby' Daye and, if it isn't as good as its predecessor, 'One Salt Sea', that's only because that book was amazing. This does come pretty close and it suggests that McGuire was becoming increasingly comfortable with exploring more and more of this wild and fantastic world that she'd conjured into being.
The series started out in San Francisco, setting a notably imaginative scene with a host of characters and ideas let loose to populate it. It promptly shifted sideways and then far away before an overdue return to home; while those first two sequels did expand the mythology of Toby's world, they did so by moving our lead and leaving almost everyone else behind. Book four accepted that a real expansion of Faerie must be built on the backs of the characters we know (plural) and it started that process. 'One Salt Sea' continued along the same road in a way that emphatically opened our eyes to just how vast, ancient and diverse this Faerie surely is. That book was a real treat.
All this means, of course, that I was eager to see what McGuire would tackle in book six. In some ways, it's a little disappointing that she kept rather close to some of her key themes and drives but, in others, it's a further step along that welcome road of expansion. I enjoyed it a lot and am not shocked by the fact that the series is now up to eleven books.
The traditional ground is another search for a missing child, which is now becoming Toby's speciality. In the beginning, she was just a private investigator, albeit one with an awareness of Faerie and the magical creatures that inhabit it, but the case she was on at the beginning of 'Rosemary and Rue', the first book in the series, had her on a search for her liege's kidnapped daughter and that trend just keeps on going. Last time out, the abduction of the sons of the Duke and Duchess of Saltmist, all of them new to the series, was the impetus for the entire plot. This time, it's another child, also new to the series and also missing, who takes on that role here.
She's Chelsea, the daughter of Etienne, one of Toby's fellow knights at Shadowed Hills; not that he knew that he had a daughter. During the troubled years at Shadowed Hills that we skipped over, because Toby, our focal point, spent them as a fish, Etienne found escape in a human professor of folklore. It ended but she never told him that they had a daughter and that's incredibly dangerous when dealing with the Fae.
Entirely reasonably, most changelings, like Toby, are less powerful than their pure-blooded relatives and, when they come into what powers they have, they're given the Choice: either be human (and be stripped of those powers) or be fae (and never go home). That means that they're made inherently safe or they're given training to cope with their powers.
Chelsea has never been given the Choice because nobody in Faerie knew she existed, which is a real issue because she's that rare example of a changeling who gets serious power but absolutely no control over what she's doing. In particular, she inherited her father's ability to teleport. Her disappearance isn't as simple as a kidnapping; it's tied to the fact that she can teleport much further away than should be possible. Put simply, she's bouncing in and out of places that have been long-sealed and she's starting to riddle the walls between worlds with holes.
For all that this is yet another missing persons case for Toby, I enjoyed the variation on the theme. It was a great way to gift the author with an easy way to send Toby out and about to new places and old without having to leave the people around her out of the story.
Part of that is direct expansion, as Toby finds the story whisking her over to Dreamer's Glass for the very first time since it was first mentioned in 'A Local Habitation' no less than four books earlier. I'm sure I'm not the only reader to see McGuire's Faerie as an increasingly defined space on a large undefined map, but Chelsea's journeys take Toby to places we can't connect, just like Blind Michael's realm in 'An Artificial Night'. Faerie simply isn't two dimensional; there are places above, below, around and beyond and the roads to get there aren't always visible.
Unsurprisingly, given the way that 'One Salt Sea' ended, there's a major plot progression that finally has an acknowledgement from Toby here. I do like the way that she's at once our neatly capable protagonist (and Faerie's as well, given that she's the most prominent character to consistently do whatever must be done while everyone else sits back to wait it out) and a believably flawed young lady. It might sound contradictory for her to be an incisive investigator and an oblivious woman but it isn't; it's one of many reasons why I appreciate Toby over other Seanan McGuire characters, like Verity Price, the first lead of the 'InCryptid' novels. Of course, I adore her contrariness as well, just as I do Verity's sister Antimony's, but Toby does her thing in Faerie, which is governed by uncountable rules of etiquette.
The one danger of this book is that it perhaps opens up more doors than are needed right now. I'm still waiting on answers to a number of questions raised in 'One Salt Sea' and more have joined them in this book. 'Chimes at Midnight' comes next, perhaps the most overt of the Shakespearean references which source these book titles, and I'm eager to see which McGuire chooses to address and which she puts on the back burner for now.
She certainly has a lot of options. I'm eager to really delve into the secrets of the Luidaeg, firmly one of my favourite characters; but we're surely going to be playing more and more in the Court of Cats and a whole new duchy in the sky has been brought into play. We're also ripe for another leadership change, something that really doesn't happen often in a world where the fae are long-lived indeed. We've only been treated to one so far and that was at the most minor duchy we've visited. I'm interested to see the ramifications of this new instance.
So, if 'One Salt Sea' wrapped up a bunch of stories, 'Ashes of Honor' sets a whole bunch more in motion and it could well be another four or five books before they're all resolved. I'd like to see them revolving around something other than yet another missing child but the series is strong and getting stronger, so I'm looking forward to an interesting book seven next month. ~ Hal C F Astell
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