I've finally caught up! Well, at least for now. 'The Brightest Fell' is currently the last Toby Daye novel, eleventh in the series and the first one that I'm reading in hardback. It won't stay the last, as 'Night and Silence' will show up in September to move us on again and I have no idea where it's going to take us, because this is very much a reevalution novel. McGuire has wrapped up many of her short and long-term story arcs by this point and clearly chose to look back to see which ones she missed.
That makes this one an odd entry in the series, less of a story and more of a magic trick. It's a new adventure for Toby, but it runs mostly through old ground, revisiting everyone and everywhere to catch up with characters we might have forgotten about, tie-up loose ends and set up some new angles for McGuire to explore in the future. What's more, it does so with a really strange leading combo: Toby Daye and Simon Torquill.
For those new to the series, there's way too much to explain and you should really go back to the beginning and read 'Rosemary and Rue'. Suffice it to say that Toby is our heroine, a Dochas Sidhe changeling who has become a knight of Shadowed Hills and a hero of the realm by solving a number of problems and shaking up the world of Faerie in the process. She doesn't take any crap and she sees things through to the bitter end.
And the reason that she's in Faerie at all is because her human life, with a husband and a daughter, is lost to her because Simon Torquill, her liege's brother, turned her into a fish for fourteen years. She hasn't forgotten and he really is the last person she wants to accompany her on a new mission, but he's sadly the only logical choice.
You see, her mother, Amandine the Liar, the firstborn of her line, so massively powerful and impossible to resist, has decided that Toby should go and find her sister, who vanished in San Francisco in 1906, long before Toby was born and during the famous earthquake that ravaged the city. She's a private investigator, right? She's a hero of the realm so thrives on accomplishing the impossible. So go find August and bring her back to her mother. Oh, and when Toby refuses, as she naturally promptly does, her mother spirits away a number of her companions as hostages: her fiancé, Tybalt, the local King of Cats, and Jazz, the ravenmaid girlfriend of her fetch, May.
With Tybalt gone, Raj has to look after his kingdom. With Jazz gone, May must stay behind too. The Luidaeg, always Toby's first port of call at the beginning of a new adventure, can't go either and can't help much. Even Toby's squire, Quentin, only gets to accompany her for a while. And none of these are old enough to have known August or suggest anywhere to start. Instead, Toby has to go to Simon Torquill, August's father who knew her well and was there when she vanished. That in itself is a challenge, because Simon's currently spending a while elfshot for crimes against Faerie, so she has to ironically fight for him to be woken up and released so as to be able to help. In other words, she's really up against it before she even begins.
Seanan McGuire has spent ten books building her vision of Faerie and she spends much of this novel exploring it afresh, in the light of everything we've read thus far. What seems like all the places that Toby has visited over those ten books are revisited here, not just the regular ones like Shadowed Hills and the Luidaeg's empty block of San Francisco, but the one-offs too, like the realm of Blind Michael, the sequestered land of Annwn and Borderland Books and Café. It might have seemed at the time that they were there only to serve their novel's story, but McGuire puts them all to good use again, expanding some and tidying up others. Remember Officer Thornton? He's hardly an important character in the series but we left him hanging a few books ago and McGuire takes care of him here.
Of course, with Amandine the trigger for this story, we spend some time in her tower and learn more about her in one book than we've learned in ten. It's her estranged husband, though, Simon Torquill, who really finds his place this time out. He was never a simple villain, even early on when he turned Toby into a fish. Many authors would have built the series, as McGuire does, to the point where the reasons for that action are made clear, but would have stopped there, with him punished for his crimes and left to sleep for a hundred years. McGuire goes much further, deepening him as a character here, exploring his motivations, both good and bad, as he helps Toby and, in doing so, begins a real relationship between stepfather and stepdaughter.
What's more, with Simon front and centre for much of the book, McGuire has the opportunity to use him as the means to explore a lot of peripheral topics that deepen the world of Faerie. There's a lot of talk here about the mindset of purebloods, not in a judgmental way but in an explorative one. Simon explains the key differences between Human, our world, and the lost realms of deep Faerie. Time means something completely different to an immortal and, far away from the human race, purebloods can get lost in it. The world of Human makes that difficult, because it's so urgent and immediate.
And so that leaves us where McGuire tends to leave us after the late entries in this series: in an apparently calm state with everything wrapped up nicely and lots of possibility for the future but no obvious direction for her to go next.
Well, until we read the bonus novella at the end, that is. This time out, it's 'Of Things Unknown', which takes us back to the Duchy of Tamed Lightning, to follow April O'Leary, the strange dryad who was adopted by the former duchess and now runs the place from inside its computer system. Now, I've never been completely at ease with this side of Faerie and see 'A Local Habitation', the second book in the series and the one that was set in Tamed Lightning, as the weakest thus far. This novella plays better, as clear as it is where it's going, and it really does open up the future! Why, you'll have to find out for yourself by reading the book.
I've been reviewing a Seanan McGuire novel each month since mid-2016 and this makes eighteen. Fortunately, I have the new InCryptid novel, 'Tricks for Free', to review in April, but I'm otherwise up to date with her major series. Let's see if I can find the few other books that have eluded me thus far. ~~ Hal C F Astell
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For other books by Seanan McGuire click here