September has been notable since 2011 for being the arrival date of another October Daye book from Seanan McGuire. 2011 was when she shifted from twice yearly to just one a year, to allow for the InCryptid series to fly free as well. It's Christmas a few months early.
'The Unkindest Tide' is book thirteen in the series and it's not just going strong, it's expanding this fantastic world a little each time out. We knew what was coming, of course, because the now traditional bonus novella in the print edition of book twelve, 'Night and Silence', set it up. It's the long overdue resolution (in Faerie terms) of the saga of the Luidaeg, her Roane children and the Selkies who were created in the wake of that horrific act.
In particular, it's the story of the Sea Witch calling in October's myriad debts so that she'll accompany her to the Duchy of Ships and help her work the magic that will put things right at last. And, of course, because this is a Toby Daye novel, it's the story of something else that unfolds at the same time to complicate everything and cause trouble for everyone involved.
I liked the expansion here, McGuire introducing us to a new duchy out there in the ocean that's akin to a pirate haven but for seagoing fae, especially those who can't breathe underwater. It's run by Captain Pete, who was never going to just be Captain Pete. Who she (yes, she) really turns out to be is fantastic enough that I'm not going to spoil the revelation even though it comes relatively early in the book before anything really happens.
I know the genre is called urban fantasy and for good reason, but many fans thoroughly appreciated the side trip into the ocean for One Salt Sea, fifth in the series. Some of the characters introduced there have become regulars and others make welcome reappearances here. For instance, that book saw Toby search for the stolen sons of the Duchess of Saltmist. Both appear here, as do their parents and their uncle, Torin, all of whom have big parts to play in proceedings, not that any of them were expected to do so at the start. I guess that's not unusual for this series.
What I liked most of all is the impact of the Luidaeg. She's been one of my favourite characters in the series for a long while. Part of that is because she's literally a legend, and a legendary monster to boot, the Sea Witch of Faerie, one of the massively powerful Firstborn, but we've only really known her as one of the good guys, a solid if unusual friend to Toby and Quentin in many of their adventures. Here, she finally sheds her false persona of Cousin Annie and reveals herself to the Selkies as the Sea Witch. They're accordingly scared stiff of her and I really appreciated that impact, which flavours the book.
As always, I wondered how far ahead Seanan McGuire is plotting this series nowadays. Many of her books seem to be the point to which so much has been leading for so long and this is no exception. We were introduced to Selkies early, through Connor O'Dell, childhood sweetheart to Toby and husband to her liege's mad daughter, Rayseline. We gradually learned more about them as the series ran on and they grew in importance in the process until we knew a story was eventually coming. This is it.
One of the ways we know that the author plotted ahead is in the inevitable complicating factors, of which there are quite a few here. The most obvious, of course, is Gillian Marks, Toby's daughter, who was saved from death from elf-shot by being wrapped in a Selkie skin. Whatever fate the Luidaeg has in store for the Selkies, it's going to be Gillian's fate too.
Oddly, given everything I've just said, this feels relatively accessible. I have to emphasise that there are numerous ties to other books, plot strands a go weaving through multiple novels and not all wrapping up here either. However, this mostly unfolds in one place, a new one to the series, and the core story is explained in detail so that new readers won't find themselves lost at any point. I'd still recommend reading the series from the start to get the full impact of all the revelations that McGuire hits us with, but I can't think of any other Toby Daye novel that's as immediately accessible to new readers.
While the author does a great job of wrapping up each novel, she also leaves a number of things in motion, some because she has the next ten moves ready in her head and some perhaps because she knows she'll do something with them later and wants to leave them open for now. The story of the Selkies and the Roane is told for now, but we'll have to come back to it at some point. The ever-problematic relationship between Toby and her daughter Gillian reaches another step here but it's not the last one. There are plenty of options on the table for the next steps for the Duchy of Saltmist too that I'm eager to see explored.
And, while I couldn't be happier with this book, the ending is always bitter sweet because we know we'll have to wait for the next September for another episode. Maybe that's why we get a bonus novella each time out nowadays. In this one, Hope is Swift, we're given a story from Raj's perspective, he who is being groomed to take over from Toby's fiancé Tybalt as King of the Court of Cats in San Francisco.
It's a fun little story, which deepens his character and that of his sort of girlfriend, Helen, with whom he has shared trauma, given that they were both kidnapped by Blind Michael. It also puts him in a position that's as wildly embarrassing for a Prince of Cats as could be imagined. I kept waiting for a particular revelation during that section but it never came. You'll realise what I'm talking about when you're halfway through reading it yourself.
Bring on September 2020! I want to read the next Toby Daye novel. But hey, I have the new InCryptid book to look forward to in March and I haven't found The Girl in the Green Silk Gown yet, let alone the highly regarded Wayward Children books. I guess I can wait for Toby #14. ~~ Hal C F Astell
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