An Artificial Night, Seanan McGuire
I enjoy these books a heck of a lot, but I do agree with a lot of the criticism I’m seeing about Toby. She refuses to be helped, she makes everything harder than it needs to be, and she’s not remotely honest with herself about her own motivations for… anything, but mostly her heroism. I’m sort of waiting to see it get someone that she’s allegedly trying to protect killed, just because she won’t think in shades of grey. There are no teeth in her constant desire to protect Quentin, for example — he comes through just fine physically, despite her every statement that he’s going to get killed. It’s remarkably bloodless in that sense, in this book in particular — there was a bit more of a price in A Local Habitation.
That said, I enjoy the lore of this book a lot. Blind Michael is creepy as heck, the use of nursery rhymes and the Tam Lin ballad is a delight, and the Luideag gets a pretty big part to play. We see more of faerie and the rules that bind them, and we get to explore another world.
I enjoy the series a lot, but I’m not sure about the people I know who sneer about, say, Ilona Andrews in comparison. I see a lot of the same tropes in action, and Kate Daniels is more self-aware than October Day. They’re both fun urban fantasy, using different lore in fascinating ways… but nope, Seanan McGuire’s Toby isn’t somehow more literary. If you like this series, you’ll probably also like the Kate Daniels series.
The Drowning Eyes, Emily Foster
There’s a lot about this novella that’s fascinating — the image of the Windspeakers having to sacrifice their eyes and receiving stones instead is just, wow; I’m pretty sure that’s going to stick with me. The crew are cool, too; crabby and sympathetic and brave and practical. A mixture, like real people, and able to really get on each other’s nerves like real people, too. There are some awesome descriptions of weather magic, too: of the way the protagonist feels it in her body.
The flipside of that is that that there feels like there’s too much going on. There’s the whole magic system, then there’s the pirate crew, and it doesn’t fit that well together, because all of a sudden the pirates are really invested in something that is, well, above their pay grade. From transporting a runaway to saving a group of people that they don’t even necessarily sympathise with… And the Dragon Ships; that whole plot thread isn’t really resolved, because it’s implied there’s a lot more going on with them and yet the story more or less ends with a minor confrontation.
It doesn’t feel complete, like there’s just too much still up in the air. It’s not bad as a story, but it feels rushed and inconclusive.
The Door into Fire, Diane Duane
This was a reread for me, since it’s been so long since I read it, and I want to get on and read the second and third book. (Although alas, I don’t know that the fourth book has progressed at all since I bought them.) It’s a refreshing world where, though people have a duty to provide an heir, sexuality isn’t tightly regulated and once you have provided a child, you can love whom you will — and polyamory is also an option. Despite that, it’s not idyllic: the characters don’t always accept their lovers’ choices, don’t always agree with their actions, do things to hurt one another, etc, etc. It’s not falsely optimistic: in fact, the way Herewiss and Lorn hurt each other is very real, and recognisable.
The fantasy elements are fun enough, if somewhat typical (though that might be partially familiarity with later fantasy). Herewiss has access to a power men can’t normally wield, and yet he can’t truly call it forth. Lorn is a king without a kingdom, exiled after usurpation. Segnbora is wandering with Bad Stuff in her past and an inability to use her abilities for other reasons. There’s a fire creature that might call to mind Calcifer at times for those of us who love Howl’s Moving Castle.
There’s all kinds of humanness amongst the fantasy elements, which is what makes good fantasy. I really enjoyed rereading this, because despite feeling typical in terms of the plot, it feels like a world with so much more potential than some other fantasy worlds I could name, because it allows for so much more — it isn’t bound by Christian morality or constrained by our history. It genuinely feels like a separate world with its own reality, and despite the fantasy elements, that’s partly because Herewiss and Lorn never have to worry about being hurt because they’re in love.
An Earthly Knight, Janet McNoughton
This was another reread, basically to match The Perilous Gard, since they’re both Tam Lin themed. This one is a mite more traditional, and sticks pretty close to the ballad, rather than being based on the situation the ballad lays out and then growing in other directions. The interesting thing is that it brings in another ballad, one I’m less familiar with: ‘Lady Isabel and the Elf Knight‘. That and the medieval, historical setting ground the fairytale elements very well and make the whole thing feel more solid.
Unlike with The Perilous Gard, I didn’t love it much more this time than last, but all the same I did appreciate the cleverness more, I think. Because I knew it was there, I was watching and waiting for it, picking up on every hint.
Altogether, it’s a very satisfying story, though it doesn’t take many liberties with the story of Tam Lin — it only embroiders it, bringing in historical figures and contemporary politics. If you know the ballad, you know more or less how the story goes; unlike with The Perilous Gard, there’s no real wondering about how exactly things will come out. Still, the historical details make it more emotional, and the payoff more satisfying, I think.