The Brightest Fell by Seanan McGuire

The Brightest FellThe Brightest Fell

by Seanan McGuire
Series: Toby Daye, #11

Hardcover, 289 pg.
DAW, 2017

Read: September 6 – 7, 2017

I still couldn’t see anything, which was unusual. Fae have excellent night vision. We’re like cats, able to see in the slightest trace of light. For it to be this dark, there had to be no light at all-that, or something had been done to my eyes. The thought caused a brief spike of panic, until I blinked several times and confirmed that I could still feel my eyes. No one had removed them or sealed my eyelids shut.

It says something about my life that this was a concern.

Surely, at some point, Toby will stop being lulled into a sense that everything is okay with the world — she starts this book by enjoying life, and a night out with her friends. Which is one of the surest signs that things are going to go horribly awry for her. And they do, before she can finish unwinding after the night out, there’s a knock on her door. Amandine, her mother, has stopped by for a visit.

Well, not really a visit. She wants to hire Toby to go find her older daughter, August. Toby’s never met her sister and really doesn’t want to get mixed up with anything involving August (who’s been missing for over a century) or her mother. Amandine has never been one to take no for an answer, instead, she takes hostages.

So, Toby’s off to find her sister August — which makes preventing war (like she’s been doing lately) look positively run-of-the-mill. I’m going to leave the plot summary at that. Because, like others, I don’t know how to talk about this without spoiling things that shouldn’t be. There are a couple of quotations (one from Toby, one from someone else) that illustrate what’s going on beyond this missing person hunt:

All my chickens were coming home to roost, and while I didn’t want them, I had earned them. I had earned them, every one.

“We are the sum of our actions . . . When desperation sets our course, those actions can blacken with remarkable speed.”

If that doesn’t describe the last couple of Iron Druid Chronicles, Dresden Files, and pretty much every Alex Verus book, I don’t know what does. The best of Urban Fantasy ultimately puts their protagonists in this situation — Toby’s been close to it before, but she’s dancing closer to the line here, sacrificing (or at least being prepared to sacrifice) so much to find her sister — and the number of things she won’t sacrifice is pretty small.

There’s not a whole lot of character growth and development here, there’s no time. We do see many of our old friends and acquaintances being themselves — maybe turned up to 11. One character, who will remain nameless, displays a degree of depth that we haven’t seen before. Toby grows a bit through this experience, if only to find out what extremes she’ll go to. She finds herself capable of changing her mind about someone –not easy for her to do (like most of us).

People are complicated. That’s the problem with people. lt would be so much easier if they could all be put into easy little boxes and left there, never changing, never challenging the things I decided about them.

This was a great read — in more than just the story, or characters — there are just some books where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. This is one of them (though the sum of its parts was pretty good) — everything just clicked. McGuire drew me in and kept me there between the voice, the fact that we have 10 books of history with these characters, and the drama (and little bit of comedy). There was one point, where Toby does something brave, reckless and potentially stupid (especially if it came back to bite her), where I found myself muttering, “Oh, oak and ash! No!” I figure any book that has you under its spell enough that you end up borrowing oaths and curses from the protagonist is a pretty engrossing read. She didn’t listen to me, and she sure should have.

From the fun as all get out opening scene, to the ominous final sentence that should fill every Toby fan with dread (although it promises some great books), McGuire was firing on all cylinders here. Yeah, plenty came home to roost in The Brightest Fell, and it meant that those closest to Toby suffered, but she found a way to be Toby throughout — she didn’t surrender who she was, and she got things done the best she could. All the while bringing the reader along through her highs and lows with her. Can’t ask for more than that. (well..I guess you could, but why?)

—–

5 Stars

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Once Broken Faith by Seanan McGuire

Once Broken FaithOnce Broken Faith

by Seanan McGuire
Series: Toby Daye, 10

Mass Market Paperback, 350 pg.
Daw, 2016

Read: January 14 – 17, 2017

My name is October Daye. My father was a human; my mother was, and is, a Firstborn daughter of Oberon, making her one of the more powerful people among the fae, and a definite pain in my still-mortal changeling ass. I was born and raised in San Francisco, which explains my willingness to stay in a city that’s historically been full of people who insist on trying to kill me at the slightest provocation. Faeries are real. Magic is real. My tendency to greet dangerous situations by plunging headfirst and seeing how long it takes to get myself covered head to toe in blood is also real.

I live an interesting life.

It drove me crazy to not be able to get to this for four months — and now having read it, I think I’m even more mad that I put it off. But the important thing is that I got to read it. Now I have to try to do something more than sound like raving, mindless fanboy here. Which will be difficult, because when it comes to Toby Day, that’s what I’ve been since book 3 (and was pretty close to it since halfway through book 1).

It’s been a few weeks since Toby overthrew the King in the Mists and things are pretty calm — she, her Fetch, her Squire, her fiancée and the rest of her friends are happy and comfortable. Which we all know can’t last for long.

What ruins this state this time is a giant conclave of North American Fae royalty being held in Queen Arden Windermere’s knowe — overseen by the High King and Queen. Kings, Queens and other nobles that we’ve met and/or heard of already — and many others — are meeting to discuss and decide what to do with the cure for elf-shot. The political and legal ramifications of the new cure are far bigger than anyone — including readers — thought. The discussion will prove to be a clash of traditionalists, reform-minded people, class-conscious rulers, those in favor of helping Changelings, and those who can’t be bothered to care about Changelings.

As this is a Toby Daye book, it doesn’t take too long for dead bodies to start to show up — and the blood (much of it Toby’s) starts to flow. As the hero of the realm, it’s Toby’s job to find out who’s responsible and stop them from shedding any more blood.

So there’s political intrigue, a closed room (well, knowe) murder mystery — but that’s not where the heart of the book is. It’s in Toby and her family. Toby and her liege are still on the outs, Arden’s brother and closest friend were elf-shot, Quentin’s parents are in town and watching him closely, Tybalt has to keep her at arm’s length to preserve his independence as King of the Cats in this setting, and so many other things. There’s plenty of drama in each area of the book, enough to satisfy any reader, but when you add them all together — it’s that special blend of magic that only someone as good as Seanan McGuire can conjure.

This one ticked every emotional check box for me — including the ones that made me very aware of all the dust in my immediate vicinity. I can’t think of a problem with this one — I’m not so much of a fanboy that I can’t see problems with McGuire’s work, but the last few in this series have been so great. There are few books this year that I’m looking forward to as much as/more than the next Toby Daye, and books like Once Broken Faith are the reason way. It doesn’t get much better than this.

—–

5 Stars

Full of Briars by Seanan McGuire

Full of BriarsFull of Briars

by Seanan McGuire
Series: Toby Daye, #9.3 (but it takes place before The Winter Long)

Kindle Edition, 44 pg.
DAW, 2016

Read: August 8, 2016


I’m pretty torn about this one, to tell you the truth. Toby’s squire, Quentin, is our narrator this time out — and it’s worth reading just to see Toby, May, and Tybalt from his perspective. His parents have come to make everything official with the new Queen of the Mists — and while they’re around, they might as well check in on him and maybe bring him home.

There’s no action, no violence, Toby doesn’t come close to dying — it was so weird. There was a lot of talking — which was fun. Toby was Toby, being irreverent and nigh-disrespectful to Quentin’s parents, as she argued for them to leave him where he is. Tybalt was more Tybalt-y than usual, making sure that Quentin’s folks knew how little he cared about their status. Quentin’s growth as a character, as a person — his maturation, thanks to age and his service to Toby — is what’s on display here.

It was fun to read, and I wouldn’t discourage anyone from it — but I’m not sure it added a lot to my understanding of Toby or anyone else (including the central character). This is the first non-full length story I’ve read in this universe, and it doesn’t really make me think about trying another one. Still, it was entertaining enough — and had one killer line (and a few that were really good) — so I might.

—–

3 Stars

The Best Novels I Read in 2015

Before we get to The Best of, if you’re really curious, here’s a list of every book I read in 2015.

This list was harder to put together than last year’s — you think this’d be easy, look at the 5-star ratings, pick 10. But while I stand by my initial ratings, there are some in the 5-Star group that aren’t as good as some of the 4 and 4½ books, although for whatever reason, I ranked them higher (entertainment value, sentimental value…liked the ending better…etc.). Anyway, I came up with a list I think I can live with.

Last year, I did a Runners-Up list, too. There are too many to bother with this year. Which is a good thing — a lotta good books last year. I also did a worst of 2014, which I didn’t do to be mean last year — but for some reason feels mean this year, so I’ll skip that, too.

(in alphabetical order by author)

Thank You, GoodnightThank You, Goodnight

by Andy Abramowitz

My Review
Rock ‘n Roll, Love, Inevitable Maturing, and that certain feeling you get while doing something with your friends.
4 1/2 Stars

My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's SorryMy Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry

by Fredrik Backman, translated by Henning Koch
My Review
Part tribute to J. K. Rowling, part coming-of-age (even if that age is early teen), part love letter to the Ideal of Grandmothers. This’ll get ya in the cockles of the heart.
4 Stars

Long Black CurlLong Black Curl

by Alex Bledsoe
My Review
Bledsoe took his perfect little world, and shined a spotlight on its dark underbelly, somehow making the community even more appealing. Stronger, although more fragile than before.
5 Stars

The Aeronaut’s WindlassThe Aeronaut’s Windlass

by Jim Butcher
My Review
Assuming the next volumes are as good, if not better, this is the beginning of Butcher’s best series to date. It could also be the a promise that he can’t deliver on. I’m betting on the former.
4 1/2 Stars

A Key, an Egg, an Unfortunate Remark A Key, an Egg, an Unfortunate Remark

by Harry Connolly
My Review
One of the few really unique Urban Fantasies out there. Every other new UF can sort-of be compared to another/several others — but not this one.
4 1/2 Stars

The Way Into DarknessThe Way Into Darkness

by Harry Connolly
I set this one (and the two earlier novels in the trilogy) aside to give myself time to think about them before blogging about them. I never got back to it. A working title for this series was “Epic Fantasy with No Dull Parts” (or something like that) — he pulled it off, staying true to the conventions of the genre while turning them on their head. A great conclusion to a great trilogy.
5 Stars

The DrafterThe Drafter

by Kim Harrison
My Review
Harrison did everything she needed to do here after bringing her 13 novel series to a close. She wrote something that should appeal to her long time fans, but didn’t try to reduplicate her success. A brand-new hero, a brand-new world, with brand-new powers (and problems!). This one rattled me, kept me guessing, and kept me on the edge of my seat.
5 Stars

Last WordsLast Words

by Michael Koryta
My Review
Thoughtful, suspenseful, claustrophobic. A great introduction to a character I hope to see featured in several novels in the future.
4 1/2 Stars

A Red-Rose ChainA Red-Rose Chain

by Seanan McGuire
My Review
McGuire — much like Toby Daye — doesn’t rest on her laurels, but keeps pushing the series forward in directions no one would’ve guessed.
4 1/2 Stars

UprootedUprooted

by Naomi Novik
My Review
This take on a traditional tale just blew my mind — the perfect bit of storytelling.
5 Stars

A Red-Rose Chain by Seanan McGuire

A Red-Rose ChainA Red-Rose Chain

by Seanan McGuire
Series: Toby Daye, #9

Mass Market Paperback, 358 pg.
DAW, 2015
Read: September 2 – 3, 2015

“Wow. Your ego has grown since we’ve known each other, hasn’t it?”

“Ah, but, you see, I have wooed and won the woman of my dreams. Admittedly, some of those dreams would be more properly termed ‘nightmares,’ but I don’t believe we get to be that picky when talking about such things . . . If my ego had not grown, it would surely be a sign that I was no true cat, and you would leave me for another.”

And that, folks, is why half of McGuire’s readers want to be Tybalt and the other have want to have a Tybalt in their lives. A Red-Rose Chain is chock-full of these kind of moments sprinkled between espionage, intrigue and peril.

Queen Windermere is still trying to figure out the whole Queen of the Mists thing, getting her howe and her kingdom running the way they should, and what not when a message is delivered: the Kingdom of Silences has declared war and in three days will begin attacking. King Rhys of Silences (which is in Portland, OR) was put on his throne by the bogus Queen of the Mists that Windermere recently overthrew, and he seems to be getting nervous about his position.

Who else would Windermere appoint as her ambassador to negotiate peace in the three days than Toby? Pretty much anyone in her kingdom. Which seems to be the conventional wisdom — and Toby agrees — but for her own reasons (some of which Toby eventually guesses) the Queen insists. She also doesn’t have a lot of options (see previous paragraph). So Toby and her fiance head off to stop a war instead of instigating one — and they take along Quentin, May, and Walther (the alchemist/Chemistry professor) to lend a helping hand.

Now, he’s no Blind Michael, but Rhys is one of the more despicable people in this series so far. And while he observes all the necessary formalities and whatnot, it’s pretty clear that his heart isn’t ion the whole negotiating thing, and he’s just biding his time until he can attack. The last time these two kingdoms battled was a century or so earlier, and while they prevailed, it didn’t go well for the Kingdom of the Mists — this time, it’s sure to be worse. A perception strengthened once we see how Shadows treats a diplomatic party. So Toby can’t fail.

Toby’s got her friends with her, but in many ways, she’s more on her own that usual — she doesn’t have all the resources to call upon in Portland that she does in SF, but she makes the most out of what she has. At the end of the day, it’s Toby’s series and she’s the one that carries the weight of the plot and the weight of the weight of the mission on her shoulders. McGuire pushes her in ways that she hasn’t been pushed before. I wasn’t thrilled with a couple of the moves McGuire made in the final couple of chapters — not bad writing/plotting, I just didn’t like what Toby had to go through. She prevails, naturally — though, not unscathed, but through grit, determination and the loyalty she commands (and returns) from her allies.

As a small break from the diplomatic tension, we spend a little time with Tybalt’s Portland counterpart. The two are very different from each other, (which is nice to see the variations in personality), but clearly have a a good deal of respect for each other. There’s an interesting shared past for either of them that we’re teased with, too. Would’ve been nice to get more, maybe one day. For the present, it’s nice just to get a little bit more of Tybalt’s pre-Toby history.

Looking ahead to #10 and beyond, I’m a little worried that things are going too well for Toby — particularly where Tybalt is involved. Will McGuire let her be that happy for long? At all?

That’s a worry for another day, for now, I’m going to say that this is one of my favorite reads of the year and leave it at that.

—–

4 1/2 Stars

Review Catch-Up: Hidden by Benedict Jacka; The Winter Long by Seanan McGuire

These have been nagging at me for eleven months now. No, I have no explanation for why it took me so long, but I’m glad I took a lot of notes on both. I’m going to get this posted before I start the next Jacka novel (which should be happening today). While I’m at it, the next Toby Day is a couple of weeks away.

Anyway, overdue mini-looks at a couple of the best Urban Fantasies I read in 2014:

HiddenHidden

by Benedict Jacka
Series: Alex Verus, #5


Mass Market Paperback, 293 pg.
Ace, 2014
Read: September 26 – 30, 2014
. . . man, I have really missed Alex. Everyone’s favorite diviner has really come a long way, lately — shedding the near lone-wolf thing, and is now looking after a passel of magic rookies. Whether they want him to or not.

Anne Walker is definitely in the “or not” category. She’s done all she can to stay away from Alex — but she probably didn’t mean to include being kidnapped as one of those ways. Alex goes to some pretty dark places to help someone who doesn’t want it.

At the same time, Alex (via the Council) is feeling some pressure for the events of the last book. They’re also pressuring him to do some official work for them. Plus the rumors are getting more and more intense that his mentor, Richard, is back. If that’s true, no one is going to be happy. Naturally, everyone thinks that Alex knows what Richard is up to. And every time he says he doesn’t, he convinces them that he does.

So yeah, Alex has his hands full.

I think it was Chekhov who said that if a magic user grabs a focus in the opening chapters, that by the end of the book . . . Anyway, that was a nice use of it.

Not that Alex has had an easy life over the last couple books (or we wouldn’t be reading them) but the one big take away from Hidden is that it’s going to get a lot worse for our friend (I swear I hadn’t read that note when I wrote about Veiled over the weekend). There are other take aways, mostly happier, but I’ll leave that to you to find.

A wholly satisfying read. Get to know Alex Verus.

4 Stars

The Winter LongThe Winter Long

by Seanan McGuire
Series: Toby Daye, #8


Mass Market Paperback, 358 pg.
DAW, 2014
Read: September 13 – 16, 2014

I don’t like parties. Someone always tries to assassinate someone I actually like, and there are never enough of those little stuffed mushroom caps.

A book starts off with a line like that? You’re going to have fun.

Thankfully, one’s appreciation of a book doesn’t depend on how the protagonist acts. When I was on page 46, I wrote , “Granted, this is early, but Toby’s being stupid, foolishly so. She’s not paying attention to anything said during the fight she just had — actually, technically didn’t really have. Instead, she’s reacting to something that happened to a friend, and acting out of fear, prejudice and alarm. That disappoints me. Her saying, ‘that smile, brief as it had been, was all I could have asked for. A smiling Tybalt was a Tybalt who was still capable of stepping back and looking at the situation rationally. I loved him, but even I could find him frightening when he was fixated on vengeance.’ Man, choke me on the irony, McGuire.”

There’s just go much about this novel that I can’t describe without spoiling it. Let me limit myself to a couple of more notes: Toby lost a lot of blood on this one — I mean like The Bride in the Showdown at the House of Blue Leaves kind of a lot. It’s a good thing she has a healing factor to make Logan jealous. While she’s bleeding she’s having her world rocked.

McGuire takes a lot of what Toby’s “known” since we met her (all of which is what we’ve “known,” too) and turns it upside down and shakes the truth out. Every other book in the series has been affected by these revelations — in one fell swoop, she re-wrote previous 7 books — which is just so cool. It’s not that we’ve (we= readers and Toby) been wrong, our understanding is just . . . askew. There’s also some nice warm fuzzies in this book, which isn’t that typical for the series. McGuire’s outdone herself.
5 Stars

Dusted Off: Ashes of Honor by Seanan McGuire

Ashes of Honor (October Daye, #6)Ashes of Honor

by Seanan McGuire
Series: Toby Daye, #6


Mass Market Paperback, 353 pg.
DAW, 2012
Read: September 5 – 6, 2012

Best.Toby Daye.Ever.

Sure, that just means it’s the best since the last one (which was the best since the one before…and so on). But still, wow. Really wow. This series has entered the terrain of Harry Dresden or Mercy Thompson–why bother writing a proper review? The reader knows it’s going to be good, the only question is, how good is this entry–really good or just great?

Action, intrigue, splash of humor, character development, romance…this one has everything. We get more of some old friends we haven’t seen in awhile, some characters who were in danger of over-use get scaled back…

couldn’t ask for more from this one.

—–

4 1/2 Stars