Even though I talked in my review of 'The Winter Long', book eight of her Toby Daye series, about going back to re-read the whole thing, in light of what she had done there, I haven't done that yet. Instead I moved straight on to book nine, 'A Red-Rose Chain', which is easily the most comfortable read so far. Having finally caught up to the point she was building towards all along, she'd clearly acquired the confidence, flow and understanding of Toby's world of Faerie to move on smoothly with the next however-many books.
As the back cover blurb suggests, 'For the first time in what feels like years, October 'Toby' Daye has been able to pause long enough to take a breath and look at her lifeand she likes what she sees.' The same could be said for her Queen, Arden Windermere, Queen of the Mists, given that the recent overthrow of her predecessor had the side effect of removing the last of the notable troublemakers we've come to know and hate. Things ought to be peaceful throughout the land. But hey, naturally, this doesn't last for long because Toby's a trouble magnet. If something can go wrong, it probably will, and she'll get tasked with fixing it. She'll manage it too, because she's nothing if not capable; however many horrendous life threatening wounds she receives in the process. So what does Seanan McGuire have in for her this time?
Fortunately, she had no intention of resting on her laurels, now that she'd wrapped up her eight novel story arc. She's willing not only to throw Toby into more danger (nothing new there of course) but into a role that she is far from comfortable with and emphatically unprepared for, that of diplomat. Yes, you heard that right. Toby is a trustworthy 'Hero of the Realm' but a diplomat? Give her five minutes and she'll have pissed off three utterly unrelated people and started a war. So naturally, she's who gets sent to stop one.
You see, someone has shot Queen Windermere's seneschal and it turns out to be the first shot in a war to come. Now, this is Faerie so he was elf-shot and will spend the next hundred years in enforced slumber. Now, that's a stylishly evil way to declare war, right? McGuire's Fae always do like to make a statement. What's behind it all is that the previous Queen of the Mists, the false, unlamented and recently-deposed Queen, had, during her long tenure, appointed a gentleman named Rhys to be the King of Silences, the Mists' neighbouring kingdom to the north, centered around Portland. Needless to say, it's to him that she promptly fluttered in order to seek revenge against Toby and her new queen. At least Toby has three days of 'formal hospitality' to keep her safe before the fit hits the shan.
While it's not the groundbreaking volume that a couple of recent predecessors were, I liked this book a lot, not just for its grand story, which is thoroughly worthy, but for a number of little details that went into making it so. For instance, you may be wondering what in the above prompted Arden Windermere to send Toby to Portland to negotiate peace. After all, we've had eight books to explain why that's a terrible idea. Well, Arden is new to her throne and completely unprepared to rule, so her initial response to a declaration of war is to run away to a safe place and hide. It's Toby who brings her back and she puts her hands on the queen in the process. It's mild revenge for Arden to task her hero, a consummate problem solver, with solving this latest problem.
Another little detail comes up when Toby puts her delegation together. The two people closest to her nowadays, so the obvious choices, are Tybalt and Quentin. However, Tybalt is a King of Cats, something of a complicating factor in a negotiation between two Fae kingdoms. Quentin, officially just her squire, would seem to be less of a problem, except that he's really the son of the High King himself, Aethlin Sollys, sent to Shadowed Hills as a blind foster. Putting him into this sort of danger is far from a bright idea. There's a lot of depth to be found in a simple selection and many possibilities, too. The fact that she also takes Walther Davies, her alchemist friend at Berkley, adds to those possibilities, and not just because he was born in the Silences.
There are many other little details that show up in the Silences. For instance, we've seen people elf-shot before; it's an easy way for the Fae to make particularly vicious points and an easy way for Seanan McGuire to 'kill off' characters without actually killing them and so spin her creation in new directions. But that's been it. Once you get elf-shot, you're out of the picture and we move on without you. Here, McGuire ratchets that simple concept up considerably. She explains that Oberon's Law prohibits murder, but elf-shot is a simple workaround. Sure, I can't kill you, but I can do a heck of a lot while you're sleeping for a century. She adds the further idea, obvious in hindsight, that those centuries can be extended. Just have someone watch to see when you wake up and we'll bring out the elf-shot and send you back to sleep again. Rinse and repeat. And, best of all, while you're out of it, we can hide you away and do particularly cruel things to you. And if the Fae are good at anything, it's patience and cruelty. When combined, those attributes create some truly vicious ideas.
King Rhys, of course, as is likely given his patroness, is also truly vicious. We don't expect him to be a pleasant chap and the Silences seem to be rather strange from the moment Toby and her team arrive, but it takes quite a while for them to figure out all the layers. Let's just say it isn't just the fact that he's really down on changelings and has no hesitation in bringing out the goblin fruit. I enjoyed all these layers and I appreciated how McGuire peeled them away.
In many ways, 'A Rose-Red Chain' is 'A Local Habitation' done right. That second book in the series was, to my mind, the weakest of the eight prior books thus far, not a failure but the least of them. Looking back, with what I now know from 'The Winter Long', I can see why McGuire wrote it, because it's a stepping stone that set up a few things later on, but, at the time, it felt more like she wasn't sure what to do with Toby and her world in San Francisco and decided to shift her over a kingdom instead. This book shifts her over a kingdom too, at a similar point, one book after introducing us to her own, but it feels comfortable and appropriate, a new direction but an extension of the old, a logical next step as McGuire sets up what's next.
I've come to end my reviews of Toby Daye books with my expectations of where the series will go next. Again I have to beg out of that because I really have no idea. There is one thing that happens here, which I naturally can't tell you about, that will have massive repercussions within the realm of Faerie, perhaps forcing everyone to reevaluate one of their core assumptions, but it's going to be very interesting to see where McGuire takes it, perhaps in book ten, 'Once Broken Faith' or beyond. Let's see if I'll know more next month! ~~ Hal C F Astell
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