Seanan McGuire, eight books into her primary series, pulls off a magnificent trick that makes me want to go back to the beginning and re-read the whole thing afresh with new eyes.
As I've worked through this series, reviewing each volume as I go, I've commented on the odd progression, not least the difference between the episodic first few books which introduced new places and the circular next few which expanded the people who inhabit them. Well, it all turns out to be because McGuire had this book in mind all along. In her acknowledgements, she mentions that, 'Everything I have done with October's world to this point has been for the sake of getting here.' That includes the short story, 'Never Shines the Sun', which was included at the end of 'Chimes at Midnight' for very good reason indeed, even if it wasn't apparent at the time.
You see, as I suggested in my review of 'Chimes of Midnight', this book (and the story arcs which get set into motion in it) is absolutely about the conflict between the Luidaeg and the eldest Firstborn, Eira Rosynhywr. The trick is that we've already met Eira without realising it. The point at which we connect the dots and realise who she is, which may or may not be before Toby realises it, is the point at which we realise just how fundamental that knowledge would have been as we read the prior seven books.
It also, incidentally, explains the odd awkwardness at earlier points in the series, not just with early books like 'A Local Habitation' but also parts of later ones, like those unanswered questions I focused on in 'One Salt Sea'. McGuire was struggling with 'Revenge of the Sith' syndrome, where she knew what point she had to reach but didn't necessarily know how to get there, especially without giving away the revelation that she waits eight books to spring upon us.
And, of course, so much for my assumption, while struggling to avoid spoilers in 'Chimes of Midnight', that I'd be free of that problem this time out. It's going to be even harder to avoid spoilers here!
Suffice it to say that McGuire sets this up really well. The first couple of chapters feel like routine, because the routine we and Toby think we have is about to change. Sure, she doesn't like parties. Sure, she goes to the Yule Ball anyway, because it's being thrown by the new Queen of the Mists. Sure, she leaves with a new title to her name, that of 'Hero of the Realm'. But these things aren't surprising.
What's surprising is what ends chapter two, because she realises that the man she's just invited into her house isn't her liege, Sylvester Torquill, after all. It's his twin brother, Simon. You know, the one who kidnapped his sister-in-law and niece, who was responsible for the mental damage inflicted upon the latter (and, by extension, the events of a few books in this series). Oh, and turning Toby into a fish for fourteen years, destroying her life with her mortal family and shifting her attentions back to Faerie. Yeah, that one. Yet he says he's not the enemy that she thinks he is and we might just believe him. Talk about a paradigm shift!
Well, that's just the beginning. We soon find out a great deal about Simon Torquill, who's been something of a mysterious master villain hovering behind the events of many of the prior seven books without stepping in very often to actually do anything. McGuire strips away a good deal of that mystery here, explaining not just who he is, but to whom he is married and why that marriage is an unusual one. Of course, it all affects Toby in a number of major ways and prompts her to start reevaluating her place in Faerie, even before the grand revelation shows up. And Simon isn't the grand revelation, folks; he's just a precursor.
He is, however, an important one. Simon was and is working for someone, someone powerful enough to place a geas on him and the Luidaeg both, which combine to keep the truth consistently away from Toby. We're with her a hundred percent when she ponders on, 'Who hated Sylvester that much? Who hated me that much?' She can't think of anyone and, frankly, neither can we because McGuire had done such a fantastic job with spinning the previous books from Toby's perspective. People around her know crucial parts of her story but she believably hasn't had a reason to ask them and they believably haven't any reason to tell her out of the blue. That's a fine line for McGuire to walk but she walked it well.
Like 'Chimes at Midnight', there's so much I want to talk about here that I can't. I can mention that Toby, a new 'hero of the realm', is working for another one, Sylvester Torquill, who had once defeated an entire goblin army with a sword and a broken arm. I can highlight that, in Faerie, 'the king is the land', which means that the latter changes according to the former. I can point out that there's so much going on in 'The Winter Long' that Toby is surprisingly even free of life-threatening injury for quite a while, though those 'few opportunities to bleed' do start to escalate as the book runs on.
But I can't talk about her or them or especially her and I really want to. Perhaps I should wrap up with a quote from the villainous Simon Torquill: 'Please don't mistake villainy for evil. The two can exist side by side while remaining quite distinct.' He's certainly a villain, but one being manipulated by evil, an impressively well-hidden evil that returns here to shake up this entire series and change everything. To find out who and why and how and all the other pesky little questions you'll have, you'll want to read this book. However, you'll also want to read the earlier seven books beforehand. And, very possibly, afterwards too.
Next month? Who knows. Book nine is 'A Red Rose Chain' but, for a change, I'm not even going to guess how it's going to roll until I get there. ~~ Hal C F Astell
For reviews of previous October Daye books click here.
For other books by Seanan McGuire click here