Friday, January 6, 2012

Review: A Local Habitation by Seanan McGuire, Book 2 of the October Daye series

Sylvester, Duke of the Shadowed Halls has called October with a problem. His niece, the Countess of Tamed Lightning, isn’t answering his calls. He would check up on her, or send one of his top officials – but the neighbouring duchy of Dreamers Glass would take that as a move against them – and war would surely follow. Hamstrung by politics, he has to turn to October, a trained PI and his knight errant

Setting off with Quentin, a young Page from the court looking for some experience, things rapidly get out of hand. Not only are communications from Dreamers Glass being interrupted – but half of the inhabitants have fled after a string of murders.

A string of murders that continues while October Daye is there. With her PI experience and her Daoine Sidhe ability to read blood memories she’s perfectly placed to help solve the murders – as well as her duty to Sylvester. But the memories are absent and even the darkest forces in faerie won’t touch the bodies – more people keep dying. And, other than Quentin, anyone can be the killer, no-one can be trusted. And can they trust her? Especially with the dangerous politics of the County?

And, if murders weren’t enough, the people of Tamed Lightning have their own secrets, some of which could be just as dangerous as the murderer themselves.

The world here is amazingly rich with a huge variety of fae and faerie legends presented. It’s a very varied world, a very large world with, consequently, a lot of scope for different characters and abilities. I think these books are worth reading for their rich world alone and the potential of them.
October Daye is a nuanced character. She’s a Changeling in a fae society that ever treats her as less. She has her mother’s extreme reputation to live up to while at the same time she is limited to the power level of a Changeling. And this is after her last major quest for Sylvester resulted in her not only failing to rescue Luna and Rosalyn, but also being trapped as a fish for 14 years – the aftermath of which she is only just recovering from. She’s very ambivalent about being involved in faerie, but at the same time cares deeply for the people she regards as her family.

The plot itself has a lot of action – October is facing off against an unknown assailant, there’s a sense of danger around every corner, of constantly being stalked and just not knowing who or what is out there or why. The tension is very well maintained and there’s always a sense whenever a character leaves the frame that they may not be coming back. Other than October, there was a very good sense of “anyone can die” with lots of nail biting tension, head scratching mystery and occasional frenzied bolts of energy as the newest threat raises its head.

One thing that isn’t to my taste is the way October investigates – or, rather, the way the investigation is written. In fiction, I generally find there are 3 kinds of detective stories: 1) the investigator actively seeks the answer, follows a series of clues and brilliantly puts them together. 2) the investigator has a couple of clues then has a magical insight/stroke of genius/convoluted hunch that solves the puzzle. 3) The investigator does very little or her investigation turns up next to nothing, but the bad guy decides to try and kill her and eventually is caught.

October Day kind of fits into option 3. In fact, by the end of the book her suspect pool has dropped to 3 people and one of them highly unlikely. She could have flipped a coin. The problem is that it didn’t make her, a trained investigator, look very competent. Her investigation skills consisted of tasting the blood to use her Daoine Sidhe powers – and it not working. Ok, next body, taste the blood – didn’t work. Ok next body, taste the blood – didn’t work. And that was kind of the extent of her investigative skills; I think the only other investigating she does is call the Luidaeg for a ritual she repeats step by step. She also spends a lot of time being attacked and being injured - though not as bad as the last book. It’s sad because in the end October has a lot of second guessing of herself and her competence and I want to say “no, Toby, you did your best” but at the same time I’m faced with the fact she didn’t actually do a whole lot – and spent most of the book reacting rather than seeking the actual suspect.

Of course, she’s not helped by the other characters being even less competent. When January can’t get through to her uncle on the phone she just… leaves more phone messages? Really? She’s a fae leading a whole herd of other fae and one phone is all they can manage for communication? Add in that October repeatedly tells them to stay together but they continually split off. Why weren’t they all gathered in one room where they could all watch each other? Why did people keep wandering off alone? Why did October keep wandering off alone? It made no sense! They were in a desperate survival situation, they’ve been decimated, losing 3 quarters of their number and they’re still going for solo wanders?

Unfortunately, the book is pretty heavily erased with a very straight, white cast. There’s also so unpleasant hints towards the killer being mentally ill though it’s not entirely spelled out. I’m also unhappy with references to pureblood prejudice as “racism” though thankfully they’re not common

Those criticisms aside, it is a book I enjoyed. While there were actions of the characters I didn’t entirely agree with, but I didn’t find it sufficient to detract from the overall goodness that is this book, the depth of the world or the continuing interactions of the characters. It’s a series that continues to intrigue me and its potential only grows more with each new book.