Monday, April 16, 2012

Review: One Salt Sea, by Seanan McGuire, Book 5 of the October Daye Series

October Daye, the new Countess of Goldengreen has a new mission and never has so much rested on her.

The children of the Duchess of Saltmist, an Undersea realm bordering the Kingdom of Mists, have been kidnapped. Worse, the suggestion is that the Kingdom of Mists is involved – war is very much in the air. But it’s a war the Kingdom of Mists will not be able to win – and even if they did, the cost in immortal fae lives would be far too high.

The only chance to stop a war is to find the children – unharmed – and find out who has taken them and why. But on a more personal stake, October’s own daughter has also gone missing – and the same perpetrator is indicated. Saving the children now includes saving her own, mainly human, daughter as well.

There are few distractions from this main plot in this book – despite the running of Goldengreen and her knew squire – October has a kingdom (and children) to save in a mystery that takes her to the bottom of the ocean, confronts old enemies, follows a long path of clues and calls upon all her friends and allies to help.

The world building of this series continues to be amazing – and draws me in each book with as thirst to know more, especially now the whole concept of Undersea has opened up. Even almost-throwaway things like the origins of the Selkies are beautiful rich additions to an extremely varied and well planned world. I get a really huge sense of vast numbers of notes, maps, biographies and histories on Seanan McGuire’s desk that goes into making this amazing world.

The story itself is extremely well balanced and paced. There’s a maintained urgency without rushing and the story blurring. We take the time to be fully exposed to the emotional impact and consequences of what is happening without maundering around or getting bored by it or reduced to yelling “just rescue them already!” at the book. It’s well put together between emotional depth and exciting action with revelations coming often enough to keep things interesting without them being cheap or overwhelming.

And all of it was well written – the emotional scenes were strong and painful, the sense of tension and threat and the looming horror of war was fully presented and conveyed, the pain of the parents, the sheer amount at stake was all powerfully presented without being excessive or melodramatic

The story itself has sufficient clues and twists to keep it interesting as a mystery without so many that it becomes lost and convoluted – there are no loose ends, no excess distraction and the investigation is actually sensible and reasonable rather than relying on coincidences or random leaps of logic – again, a really well balanced story with the mystery and the logic working well together even in a world of fae and magic.

If I had one quibble about the story it would be that fairly early in the books the Duchess of Saltmist realises and seems to believe that her children have not been kidnapped by the Queen of Mists or her agents – so I’m not entirely sure why she is pursuing the war and imposing such a tight deadline on it as well.

October remains a strong character. She makes her own decisions, she takes the lead and she is respected for doing so. She still has a lot of self-doubt issues and she’s certainly entwined in other people’s nets more than a little but ultimately she is the leader others follow, she is the one everyone else looks to for guidance and she is the one other’s can rely on to get things done.

She’s also a well done altruistic character.  Her motivations, including her personal stake in the adventure, prevented her from being a female protagonist who is sacrificing so much for the sake of others. He personal loss, coupled with the fact it was a war she was facing and that the people she was saving were children combined to make her altruism very personal and personally motivated. It also helps how she has been cast as a hero – because being a hero comes with its own narrative – saving the world even at personal cost is what a hero does, it’s what a hero is about. Still, I’m not entirely happy with the ending fate of Goldengreen.

I am also pleased that the love triangle with Connor and Tybalt stayed low key and the main story wasn’t derailed by a clich├ęd romance. I also like the end result of Gillian’s story – while it was very tragic, it also didn’t devalue the parents who raised her for so long – it would have been more tragic to make the other choice and completely dismiss the life Gillian has lived and the family she has.

Finally, I liked that October grieved. Really grieved. For several pages she was lost, she avoided all contact, she  mourned. There was no moment of sadness then moving on, she didn’t suck it up and deal and she hasn’t fully recovered  by the end of the book either

We do have a lesbian character with May, October’s Fetch. And I really liked her – she’s devoid of any kind of stereotypes and she and Jazz show genuine affection for each other. It’s one of the few portrayals of GBLT characters in the genre that I haven’t been given any reason to complain about and I actually enjoy every time she appears – after book after book where I have cringed whenever the representation appears, it’s deeply refreshing to be able to freely enjoy 2 lesbian characters, in a happy relationship who aren’t dogged by stereotyping and have so far managed to exist for 2 books without being killed. This must be some kind of record. If I have any complaint at all about these characters it’s that we don’t see enough of them; Jazz is barely more than a name and we’re seeing much less of May since she entered a relationship. It’s also unfortunate that when we do see May it is largely because October has called for help – however, even October at times feels pangs about relying on May and the presence isn’t so repeated as to turn her into a full on servant. It’s also alleviated by May clearly having her own life and October’s needs being so extremely important and altruistic. We do have an Indian character in Jazz, but I think that’s about it in terms of racial inclusion.

One thing in these books I find increasingly unpleasant is the treatment of mental illness – it’s becoming the excuse for so much. Especially with the idea that mixed-blood fae are more likely to be mentally ill and unstable. And, of course, all of these fae are dangerous – even causing a war for that matter: Rosalyn, Oleander, the Queen of Mists – insane and dangerous on a grand scale. It’s a tired trope in fiction – very few mentally ill people are dangerous, actually less than neuro-typical people. Mentally ill people are far more likely to harm themselves than others. But it’s such a convenient way to present a problem without motive or with excess or unreasonable motives.

All in all, this book got so much right. The balance between emotion and plot, the pacing, the main character and the rich, amazing world that it not only continued a great series in the same line but took it a step higher as well. I loved this book and am eager to read the second one – this series is heartily recommended.