Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Book Review: Seanan McGuire’s “A Red-Rose Chain”

     Contemporary writers of fantasy exhibit a terrible dearth of imagination. They repeat the same motifs and tropes that fantasists have used for centuries, often without the slightest modification. Elves, dwarves, trolls, sorcerers, vampires, werewolves, magic that obeys no laws and makes no sense. When a fresh thought occurs to one of them who’s brave enough to use it – “Hey! Maybe I’ll make the vampire a good guy” – the other routiniers in the field latch on to that and drive it until all the tread has fallen off. The disease appears to afflict just about everyone in the field.

     Except for Seanan McGuire. This young writer has produced not one but three vibrantly original fantasy series. Each one provides the reader with multifarious wonders. Each one pulses with color and drive. And each one, most wonderful of all, features characterization and emotional drama. A novel couldn’t offer more unless it came with free pistachio ice cream.

     As I’ve read through those three series, I’ve wondered on and off when McGuire would exhaust the bounties of her inventiveness. Surely it must happen eventually. Having just finished “A Red-Rose Chain,” I can happily announce that it certainly hasn’t happened yet.

     This ninth book in McGuire’s October Daye series continues the adventures of October “Toby” Daye, the “changeling” daughter of a human man and the Fae Amandine, herself a daughter of Oberon, the Eternally Supreme and currently Absent King of Faerie. The immediate children of Oberon, Titania, and Maeve are called Firstborn. Each Firstborn is the progenitor of a unique line among the Fae. Each line possesses special powers the other lines don’t possess. Despite their differences, the Fae lines can interbreed, creating hybrids with some or all of the powers of both parents, though usually diluted in strength. To make things even more complex, Fae can also interbreed with humans. Their “changeling” offspring are the second-class members of Faerie, mortal where pureblood Fae are not, and seldom well treated by them.

     Through her previous eight adventures, Toby Daye has risen from a contemptible “changeling” despised by the usurper Queen in the Mists to the status of Hero in the Mists. Her travels have included the solving of several mysteries, the befriending of the Firstborn and universally feared Seawitch Luidaeg, the killing of insane Firstborn Blind Michael whose Hunt has ravaged human and Fae alike, and the toppling of the usurper Queen in the Mists herself, whom the rightful queen, hidden in an obscure San Francisco bookshop, reluctantly stood forth to displace. The killing of Blind Michael and the deposing of the false Queen in the Mists brought to Toby the sobriquet of king-breaker: she who topples Fae monarchs at will.

     King Rhys in Silences, a Fae realm to the north of the San Francisco-area Mists, was put on his throne by the machinations of the Queen in the Mists whom Toby deposed. Rhys has resolved to put the false Queen back on the throne in the Mists, for two reasons: because he is enamored of her, and because he fears Toby Daye.

     Arden Windermere, the true but reluctant Queen in the Mists, pronounces Toby her Ambassador to Silences, against Toby’s inclinations and in defiance of the chaos that follows reliably in her train. Toby and her retinue:

  • Quentin, her squire who is also the hidden heir to the High Kingship of the Westlands;
  • Maye, a Fetch who was dispatched to the Mists to accompany Toby into death, but as Toby foiled that death, has incidentally (and quite uniquely) become indestructible;
  • Walther, an alchemist and cousin to the deposed, rightful royal family in Silences;
  • Tybalt, Toby’s fiancé and King in the Court of Dreaming Cats, with is co-resident with the Mists;
  • And Spike the rose goblin, the most adorable and difficult-to-pet pet anyone has ever had;

     ...travel to Silences in the hope of negotiating a way out of the war Rhys has just declared against the Mists.

     It would seem the strangest diplomatic corps ever assembled, given Toby’s repute as a king-breaker and the varying natures of her companions. But Queen Arden might have a few ideas of her own about the real purpose of the mission...ideas Toby must puzzle out on her own.

     That’s just the first little nibble, Gentle Readers. I can’t praise this remarkable adventure highly enough – but you really should read the series from its beginning:

  1. Rosemary and Rue
  2. A Local Habitation
  3. An Artificial Night
  4. Late Eclipses
  5. One Salt Sea
  6. Ashes of Honor
  7. Chimes at Midnight
  8. The Winter Long

     ...and, of course, ninth and best yet, A Red-Rose Chain.

     All nine novels are available in paperback or eBook form, from Amazon.

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