Monday, January 28, 2013

Ashes of Honour (October Daye #6) by Seanan McGuire

October Daye is managing to move on with her life after the loss of both Connor and her daughter – but it’s hard and her grief is a background for this book. But, perhaps more so for that grief, she cannot turn away Etienne when he comes to her for help. He has a daughter, a changeling daughter who he never knew about. Her mother has only just informed him of her because she has gone missing – not just gone missing, but literally vanished before her friend’s eyes.

Perhaps not impossible, given that Etienne’s a Tuatha de Danaan, a skilled teleporter, but there’s definitely something suspicious with this disappearance. And to make it worse, Chelsea is one of those Changelings without limits – or controls – on her power. She can break barriers that were never meant to be broken, open portals to places that were best kept sealed and the consequence of doing so may be to bring down those barriers entirely, devastating faerie.

Getting involved quickly drops her into a whole heap of fae politics – only further complicated with chaos in Tybalt’s court of cats

This is another excellently written adventure with the multiple threads of the story coming together and conflicting with each other. They have a desperate mission, the world itself could rest in the balance and at the same time –with the worst possible timing – Tybalt is faced with his own revolution from the court of cats. I like how the four story threads we have here: finding Chelsea     , stopping Chelsea destroying the world, finding Raj and dealing with the court of cast are all interlinked, even extremely closely related storylines but they also serve as competition for time. It adds to the tension to have it all going on at once but also adds to the realism to have them inter-related.

The story is well paced, well balanced and nicely mixes character emotion and bonds with action to keep it moving at a decent pace. It’s nice to see the world develop and have some names put on long mentioned faces while at the same time visiting some of the older characters in the series; including Tamed Lightning. This gives a sense that it’s not just Toby. I also like that, while Toby is a special one-and-only-kind-of-fae (except her absent mother), she isn’t a special one-and-only-kind-of-fae with the Awesome Super Power of Awesomeness as is so often the case. Her strength, her power, her agency, her excellence as a character is not based on the special shiny powers she has or her amazing ability to kill things – because she doesn’t have them. She does have super miraculous healing which means she doesn’t spend nearly as much time healing as she did – but it does mean she can keep on being a punch bag which is one thing this series occasionally makes me uncomfortable about (though the first book was by far the worst on that and it has got exponentially better.

And the Luidaeg is still awesome. It is known.

Toby is grieving in this book, which is something I like. Not, as anyone who has read my reviews knows, because I’m a big fan of angst. I’m not. But she didn’t angst, there were no dramatic monologues, no pages and pages of woe is me. But her grief is still profound. She has just lost her daughter and Connor and that should leave a mark that can’t just be wiped away casually. It’s a well written grief that contains the fullness of the emotion without having Toby cowering in a corner screaming woe at the moon.

We also have some excellent interactions with her friends trying to help alleviate that grief when the isolation of it starts to worry them  – including some excellent lines: “We do not raise the dead by mourning them so fiercely that you join them.” Toby has some excellent friends and the strength and importance of those bonds of friendship is always apparent.

The only element I found almost wryly amusing is her friends’ believe that she is being reckless as a form of passive suicide – after reading the books that preceded her grief, I don’t think her behaviour was appreciably very different. Reckless? Perhaps but not ridiculously so and, ultimately, she is a Hero which has a lot of meaning in this world.

I also like that the romance with Tybalt is now advancing. This is the kind of romance I much prefer in books – one that is built over acquaintance and knowledge and slowly brewing tension that brings them closer together – it’s real and built on a powerful foundation rather than “oh I saw you for the first time and will now LOVE YOU FOREVAH!”

Equal to Toby’s carefully balanced emotions we also had Etienne. Again, worried, confused, frightened, torn and deeply conflicted over his daughter while determined to save her. His emotions are plain without being melodramatic, his actions are sometimes foolish on the strength of the emotions, but rarely on a level that makes you think he hasn’t got a brain in his head. And I loved that everyone greeted news of his relationship with “you dated a folklore professor?!”

This book also continued the later books side inclusion. We still have May and Jas (albeit in the background) and we’re joined by Li Qi Zhou, an Asian woman, January’s widow and a bisexual or lesbian woman and the mother of April, the Dryad Countess of Tamed Lightning. She’s also a constant presence so, while May and Jas are often left behind in the adventures, she was with them through most of it. I won’t say she was part of the group and doubt she’ll remain as a central character, but she was there and constantly there as well. She didn’t embody any of the stereotypes that are so common in the genre, didn’t exist for titillation and didn’t give me one single grey hair. My only issue? When May came out and entered a relationship she was moved to a background character and now we have the one off woman to provide the inclusion - but only AFTER her wife was dead. And don't remember January or the people of Dreamer's Glass making any kind of thing about January being married and her wife being absent - it feels a bit of a retcon for the dead woman.

One nice turn around from a previous problem I had with the books is mental illness. The big baddy is expressly labelled as Not Insane. Where there’s a lot of people in this series who are dangerous because of their mental illness so it was pleasing to see them repeatedly reject the fact that this villain (I’m not naming them, it would be a spoiler) is mentally ill and is, instead, driven only by ambition and greed. I can’t say I fully understand the villain’s motives or what they hoped to gain from what they did. Or, for that matter, whether or not the good guys even thwarted them since it seemed to end up with them in exactly the position they wanted to be – but it’s not always incumbent on the good guys to understand why the bad guys are putting the entire world at risk, merely that they are and that this is generally considered to be a Bad Idea.

This was another great book that balanced everything extremely well. I’m left without much to say – there’s always more to say when a book is filled with problems than when a book is good, well written, with a good story, great characters and not dripping isms everywhere. It’s a wonderful continuation of an excellent series.