Book three for October Daye and Seanan McGuire's style changes once more. The first book, 'Rosemary and Rue' (review here), was a hardboiled detective story, merely one set in the world of Faerie with fantastic creatures as its cast of characters. The second ‘A Local Habitation’(review here) moved Toby away from the places we had got to know and into an even more modern take on Faerie, namely a computer software company whose information trees were managed by a dryad who had lost her real one. This third entry in the series plays with nursery rhymes and fairy tales and the logic of children, with only an anchor in modern day San Francisco.
Someone is stealing away children from our world, humans and fae both, and Toby knows that she has to search for them because some belong to her friends, either as children, girlfriends or as members of the Court of Cats. Sadly, that someone turns out to be Blind Michael, because every hundred years, he replenishes the cast he needs to mount the Wild Hunt, both riders and horses. The fae children he steals become the former, while the human children are morphed into the latter. This all happens in his own realm in Faerie, so Toby has to visit him on his own turf to challenge him for the kids.
What makes this so fascinating is that Blind Michael is a child's terror who's bound by the laws of fairy tales, nursery rhymes and children's stories, so Toby is held to those too. There are roads into his realm, though each can only be travelled once and each has a cost associated with it. The first she takes has her delve back into jump rope chants. How many miles to Babylon? Three score miles and ten. How can she get back again? By candlelight. The Luidaeg helps her out once more, becoming a little less monstrous with each appearance, by crafting her a foot long candle to guide her way and help her return.
I like Toby Daye. She has some sass to her, but not as much as the heroine of McGuire's other series, the Incryptid books. She's more believable to me and she has a believable deathwish; namely that if a thing must be done then it must be done, even if it's very likely that she'll die in the process. The fact that she is visited, before she takes any road, by her own Fetch, the doppelganger whose sole reason for being is to guide her to the other side when she dies, means that she probably will die on this journey, either on this road or the next.
I like how Toby Daye doesn't manifest new powers with each volume to up the ante on the last. She's a changeling, so is more powerful than humans but less powerful than pretty much any of the fae. What's more, the talents she has through her fae heritage are not the sort that are very likely to help her when searching for children in the realm of a child's terror. I've read far too many urban fantasy books where the threats faced are utterly coincidentally, threats that our heroine can easily nullify. Not so here. I don't recall any urban fantasy heroine who gets beaten up and left for dead quite as often as Toby Daye and that gives her some real value that her peers are sadly lacking.
I like this setting, though it does overshadow the mission somewhat. I felt that with the last book too, as the concepts and ideas behind the location were far more interesting than the actual mystery that Toby was tasked to solve. Here, the concepts and ideas behind the location are far more interesting than what she ultimately has to do to win out. I enjoyed the threats, rules and catches far more than the battle. The eventual solution let me down a little too, especially after such a glorious build-up.
I like the quirkiness of this particular book too, much more than the cutting edge of the last one. Having Toby appear in Blind Michael's realm as a child and be stuck in that form for much of the book was great fun (though not to her, of course) and everything about May Daye, Toby's Fetch, was glorious. What to do with the harbinger of your own doom? Why, put her to work on your side, of course! The chase scene in San Francisco, with Blind Michael's riders in hot pursuit and May driving like a madwoman because she has Toby's memories and Toby's still a child at this point, is hilarious and tense and magnificent.
I like the series, though I'm still trying to figure out how McGuire has it grounded. Toby is by far the one and only primary character, though the supporting cast continues to grow. I'm waiting for others to find their feet and really enforce their presence on this series. I'm thinking an adult such as Tybalt, the King of Cats, or the Luidaeg, rather than formative characters like Quentin, the page in training at Shadowed Hills, who has appeared in all three books and found a prominent role in two of them. Also, the location has changed every time, with San Francisco a little more used here than in book two but still just a place to fall back on. I'm expecting that to happen more and more as the series runs on.
And I like McGuire's invention, though it's still less in this series than in the InCryptid books I started out with. She's populated Faerie with a wide variety of creatures, but she hasn't given them much to do yet, unlike those InCryptid books, which often become supernatural free-for-alls with amazing species at the heart of her stories. In short, I'm wondering when we're going to see Faerie as something utterly out there rather than just the slightly different world that Toby is finding herself stuck with. McGuire is ten books in, so I have plenty more to work through, but I'm looking at them now with a firm view to series growth as much as what they might have to offer individually. This one's another good one but it isn't the knockout punch I think may be waiting round the corner. ~~ Hal C F Astell