My year o’ Seanan McGuire continues! I don’t know why I never started the October Daye series before, because I do really enjoy them. Sometimes October herself can be annoying — stubborn, reckless, slow to grasp things which quickly become obvious to the reader, fickle about whether it’s Tybalt or Connor she wants to sleep with… But I enjoy her nonetheless, and especially the Faerie politics and lore that underlies her world.
In this one, we get a few more glimpses of the problems in the Torquil family, and a bit of an explanation for Amandine, and some things that didn’t seem quite right about Toby herself. Also, some of Tybalt’s quiet hints start to make sense, as does the Luidaeg’s dark mutterings. May Daye continues to be fun, while developments from An Artificial Night are also used to advantage. Characters from the earlier books appear, and some misunderstandings and old grudges are straightened out — somewhat.
In other words, it’s another fun outing with Toby which builds well on what’s come before. There’s some tragedy, too, which Toby is powerless to avert — a good lesson for the hero, and a warning to the reader that nothing is entirely safe, I think.
Received to review via Netgalley; release date 30th April 2017
This seems to be the year of Mira Grant aka Seanan McGuire, for me. I started the year with Rolling in the Deep, and I’ve read a couple of other Mira Grant and Seanan McGuire books since. Final Girls is what you’d expect of the Mira Grant half of the persona: a little horrifying, psychological, more towards the realistic speculative fiction end. This one examines the idea of a system that drugs people into receptivity, puts them into a simulated situation, and thus fixes their hangups and flaws. Sisters who hate each other can become friends, and lasting friendships can be forged based on fictional scenarios of blood and sacrifice and horror. It doesn’t even have to be that realistic: it just has to feel real.
One of the main characters, Esther, is sceptical about the truth of all this. It seems too good to be true, especially since her life was severely impacted by the false conclusions of people who went through regression therapy. As you’d expect, things go wrong.
Grant/McGuire’s writing is as good as usual, and the conclusion to the plot comes as a bittersweet surprise. Something is salvaged from the situation, but there’s a lot of damage along the way. Because it’s a novella, it doesn’t do more than hint at the long-term effects of the technology it explores. Instead, we experience it, its failures and its saving graces, through the characters. It works well.
Rolling in the Deep is a documentary/found footage type story with a fairly predictable ending. Scientists, performers and television personalities go on a ship to find evidence of mermaids, with the scientists mostly using the opportunity to get some real work done without needing to charter the ship themselves. Everyone starts out sceptical, and the whole affair is rather cynical. The performers include professional mermaids — people who don mermaid outfits and swim in the sea to make it look like they really have found mermaids… or have they? Etc.
Naturally, this is a Mira Grant story and so things go wrong. The experiments disturb something real in the deep, and in the usual way of humans meeting other races, they cause harm. Cue the horror movie ending, and the later rediscovery of the empty, drifting ship… with some footage of the attacks intact. And of course, people ask if it’s real or not…
It’s a fun format and the story works well; it gets off to a bit of a slow start, which might disappoint horror fans. There’s a few too many characters in the space to really get attached to any of them, though one or two show promise. Not my favourite of Grant’s novellas, but definitely a good read.
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 title is a bit of a mouthful, but once you think about the rhythm of it, it does work. I don’t get it wrong much anymore. Anyway…
I think this novella is the sort of story which actually works perfectly well as a novella. I seem to recall feeling more or less the same about Every Heart A Doorway; it fits within the shape and size of the novella, delivering a resolution at the right time. It’s not so sprawling that it doesn’t fit, but there’s lore and background which keeps you aware that there’s a world outside the story. Which is, of course, just the way I like it.
The central idea, of a ghost being able to give or take time from people as a way of working towards their own originally destined time of death is an interesting one. Then McGuire complicates it with all kinds of witches and a whole interconnected world which makes it into a story, instead of a neat concept. Ghosts can do this — someone can exploit it. Some people will exploit it — some people oppose doing that. Nobody’s quite sure on the ethics of any of it, but everyone stumbles along doing the best they can. Taking years from tired people on the street to revitalise them, for example, and then bleeding them off onto a criminal who took someone’s life, pushing him that bit closer to death.
For a novella, the characters are pretty distinct too. The main character has a moral code, has a purpose, has regrets and wishes. All of this plays into how she deals with the situation she finds herself in. And while she’s not that great at making connections with those around her (keeping the cast list down), there’s enough that she feels like a person. Obviously, we don’t get a huge amount of depth. But what we do have is enough.
When I started this, I found myself wishing I’d read it straight after Rosemary and Rue, even though it hasn’t really been that long since I read that. The world is just complex enough that I felt at sea coming back in — and I was a little surprised by Toby having friends, who I didn’t remember being mentioned before, who she’d actually go out clubbing with. It doesn’t fit the image of Toby I’d formed, somehow. So I’m now determined to chew through this series at speed, because it’s fun — I love the complexities of the world, the rules binding the fae.
Maybe the thing I like a bit less is the constant teasing at romance between Toby and… a bunch of other characters. At least, that’s how I read (for example) Toby’s relationship with Tybalt. I’d actually enjoy it if that sort of thing resolved as friendship. Knowing how my friends feel about McGuire’s work, I wouldn’t be surprised, though; possibly, I’m just reading it too simplistically, a la the Kate Daniels books.
The plot itself for this one was a bit obvious to me, somehow. One character just kept showing up, and one mystery surrounding another of the characters just seemed obvious somehow. But I loved the bit about the digital dryad, and I was rather surprised by the way some aspects of this turned out. We also learn fascinating things about the night-haunts, get an interesting twist to Toby’s relationship with the Luidaeg, spend more time with different kinds of fae… and perhaps, get a peek at Toby’s mother and where she is now, though not in any detail.
I’m looking forward to reading the rest of these, particularly as I hear they get better as they go on.
I read Feed for the first time a few summers ago, and enjoyed it enough that it stuck in my head. At the time, I think I found the contagion aspect of it pretty horrible; I was very much more anxious then, and the idea of a cold curing virus combining with a cancer killing microbe to cause a zombie rising — ugh, it just gave me chills. This time, though, it wasn’t as much of a focus for me: it was just part of the story, and not even necessarily the major part. There’s still something profoundly horrible about the idea of carrying the sleeping contagion in your body all your life, constantly needing to be tested in case the virus levels are shooting up, constantly needing to be afraid of your own body and the people around you; I’m not saying that aspect isn’t well done, because it definitely is and that discomfort colours the whole book.
But I was also able to enjoy the humour, the banter, and the thriller aspect: the political race which Georgia and her team get themselves involved in, the bonds between the characters and the way they bend and break under pressure, the whole world built after the zombie apocalypse has failed to wipe out humanity. I really appreciated the way it dealt with issues like people avoiding physical contact, side effects of the virus like George’s eye dilation, the effect on policy and public life in the US. And I appreciated the presidential race, much as I don’t feel like it could be written right now.
It’s not so much the bad guy; you can see him in current American politics, larger than life and twice as scary. But the sympathetic, tolerant, relatable family man Republican… none of the Republican candidates felt anything like that. It feels like a kind of politics that’s out of reach right now, because the bad guy is all we’ve got, and we can see that more moderate politics isn’t winning people over. It was so weird reading about this fictional presidential race, with plenty of high stakes in its own way, but comparing it to the current presidential race and its demagogues… I kept thinking that Senator Ryman couldn’t be Republican, because he couldn’t stand with the things the Republican party is saying and condoning right now.
Which is probably an odd perspective to have on a zombie book from a few years ago, but that’s the joy of rereading or reading older books; you get whole new perspectives.
Lest I sound like the politics is the only interesting aspect, I was also immensely caught up in the relationship between Shaun and Georgia. Their co-dependence, their ability to cover for each other’s weak points, the way they worked together — and especially the last few pages of the penultimate section of the book. Gah. I forgot that this book actually really gripped my heart strings, and it did so doubly this time.
In a way, I like Feed as a standalone novel. The emotional arc of the characters is devastating, but where the story ends leaves you some room to wonder without being agonising; the political situation was never really the key thing for me; the zombie situation is at a fairly steady-state, or so it feels.
I’ve been told to read this series over and over again, for so ridiculously long I think there were only two books the first time (and now there’s nine, with a tenth on the way). Trying to put together a review is difficult: on the surface of it, this is Just Another Urban Fantasy, albeit with a more faerie court type background than a pack of shapeshifters or a coven of witches or whatever (though there’s plenty of potential for all sorts of fairytale characters and mythological beings, and we do see some of them). The main character is tough, determined, a little disillusioned, stubborn, reluctant to seek help…
And yet she’s definitely not Mercy Thompson or Kate Daniels. By about halfway through this, I knew I’d want to pick up more books in the series and follow Toby more. I love all sorts of little things: the fact that she’s essentially a knight errant in the faerie courts, not a lady. The fact that it’s the stubborn detective estranged from their family after tragedy, except this detective’s a woman. The fact that she spent fourteen years as a fish. Her relationships with the people around her (even if she trusts people that pinged my ‘nope’ radar from the beginning, and doesn’t trust the people she should).
Rosemary and Rue is a solid beginning, I think; it introduces you to Toby, to the world, and lets you get to know the rules. I’m more interested with where it goes from here. It’s hard to put my finger on exactly why I instantly bought the next book: it just felt like something a bit different, maybe more of a direct answer to the urban fantasy of Jim Butcher than the likes of Mercy Thompson and Kate Daniels (much as I enjoy those books too). In light of that, I’m wavering over what rating to give.