I've been fascinated by how Seanan McGuire's series about October 'Toby' Daye has progressed and I've mentioned this in some of my reviews of earlier books; this is the seventh. 'Rosemary and Rue', the first in the series, was the first in McGuire's bibliography too and it's been wonderful to watch her grow as a writer and take control of what she's writing. I've been seeing change coming over the last few volumes and it seems that she was seeing it too, as she opens her acknowledgements with a major claim: ''Chimes at Midnight' marks the start of what I view as the second stage in Toby's journey.'
She's not kidding and it's here, seven chapters in, that those unanswered questions dangled tantalisingly during those magnificent last seventy pages of 'One Salt Sea', two books earlier, start to find answers. It's abidingly clear that McGuire had been figuring out where to take Toby and Faerie and this series and the light bulb apparently went off while she was writing that book. 'Ashes of Honor' took care of some loose ends from, I guess, the first stage in Toby's journey, and set up this beginning to the second.
And here, she gets right down to business with a pretty cool MacGuffin: goblin fruit, taken from the poem by Christina Rossetti, 'Goblin Market', particularly the line, 'We must not look at goblin men, we must not buy their fruits'. Here, McGuire explains why: goblin fruit is rather delicious to the pureblood Fae, but it's instantly and fatally addictive to changelings and humans. Toby hates goblin fruit and wants it gone from Faerie but someone is flooding the streets with it and the changeling population is vanishing.
Always one to take on other people's problems as her own, Toby investigates the business and eventually takes her findings to the Queen of the Mists, a good deed that backfires horribly. It turns out that it's the Queen who's selling the stuff and Toby's attentions prompt her banishment: three days to get out of her kingdom forever. Like Toby's going to do that. What's the alternative? Why, overthrow the Queen! That fits what I mentioned in my review of 'Ashes of Honor', namely that Faerie is ripe for another leadership change.
There are good reasons to do that, which are outlined well here, if not earlier in the series. McGuire could have done a better job of staging some of this, as a few key subplots hinge on factors that suddenly show up in this book for the first time. However, others do have their origins in the prior two books, some in as little as two words; much of this book, for instance, hinges on the Luidaeg saying 'Arden lives' in 'One Salt Sea'. I wondered what that meant at the time; well, now I know, even if you don't!
So, who's Arden? Well, if you can't work that out from context, you'll need to read this book, because I'm not going to spoil it. I'll just say that the Queen, to nobody's surprise, doesn't play fair with the three days Toby has before she's banished, and Toby seeks assistance from books, finagling her way into the Library of Stars, which is one of those wonderful creations that would expand the map of Faerie if only we had a clue how to place it on there. It moves, you see, and it's a glorious place.
I'll also say that, true to her luck, Toby falls prey to one particularly twisted attack: a goblin fruit pie to the face. While that might sound like good old fashioned slapstick, it's really a brutal thing as Toby is a changeling and even the small amount of fruit that makes it past her lips is enough to turn her into an addict and we find ourselves in very different territory for a while until she finds a way to mitigate it a little.
If 'One Salt Sea' is the best Toby Daye novel thus far, 'Chimes at Midnight' is surely the most aware of its predecessors. To aid her heroine in this notable time of need, McGuire throws in notable assistance from all quarters and I enjoyed most of that. The few exceptions are surely the deus ex machinae, a collection of revelations that come completely out of the blue. I can commend McGuire's imagination in taking an opportune advantage of the mysterious backgrounds certain key characters have been cultivating, but I wish she'd have dropped many more hints much earlier in the series, so that it didn't seem like she was springing so many things on us here.
And, of course, that makes it really difficult to talk about 'Chimes at Midnight' without leaping headlong into spoiler territory. I want to talk about him and her and that, oh and that too, but I'm unwilling to go there outside a book club discussion, so this is going to be a much shorter review than usual. Next month with 'The Winter Long', I'm thinking that I'll be able to talk a lot more about what's going on, this ending being an unusually agreeable and universal one, as much as it also serves as a fantastic beginning to that 'second stage in Toby's journey'.
'Chimes at Midnight' includes an additional short story, 'Never Shines the Sun', which is an unusual but appropriate piece to include. It features Toby only in periphery, as a young girl, with the main characters her mother and her aunt. For those paying close attention, you can easily guess which aunt. The story, as short and ephemeral as it is, underlines Toby's importance in what is to come. And, with all this wrapped up, I'm hoping that McGuire substantially explores that aunt's history. I've been waiting for that for some time and it may well come now in conflict with the eldest surviving firstborn daughter, Eira Rosynhwyr. One thing's for sure: it's about to get really interesting in Faerie. ~~ Hal C F Astell
For reviews of previous October Daye books click here.