Candle, Candle, Burning Bright...
There are probably as many different ways to be a hero as there are ways to die... a fact which is important to note primarily because the two things are so often inextricably linked.
Just ask October Daye; she’s an unwitting expert in the myriad dangers that seem to ride shotgun with all those acts of heroism. It’s not that she ever set out to be a hero, though--or to continually put herself in danger. Things just seem to work out that way.
In case you’re unfamiliar with the heroic Ms. Daye, here's a little background. Toby is Sylvester Torquill’s favorite knight in the fae realm known as the Summerlands, and she’s also something of a problem-solver for the fae in the human world. (She's particularly well-suited for these dual jobs by virtue of being a Changeling--half-fae, half-human--and thus able to function well in both worlds.) In the past, she's battled (and defeated) both a Changeling ex-lover bent on a ruthless, murderous quest to gain power (not to mention immortality), and a crazy half-Coblynau computer hardware whiz intent on carrying out an incredible - albeit ultimately futile - plot to “save” and “equalize” all of Faerie, basically by transplanting the essences of every fae into a vast computer program. (You're getting the idea, right? Have a tough job involving some nasty-angry-crazy fae business, dial 555-TOBY.)
As you might imagine, Toby has emerged anything but unscathed following these epic battles. She’s been shot, stabbed, beat up, and cursed--and we’re talking powerful magical spells here, not being subjected to some crude language. (She actually spent more than a decade living as a fish because of one such curse.) She lost her family, who moved on when they gave her up for dead. When a close friend was murdered, Toby had to use her own special ability as a half-Daoine Sidhe to “read” the blood (basically, reliving in her mind a play-by-play of all the horrible things that happened leading up to the murder, after sampling her dead friend’s spilled red matter) in order to catch those responsible for the heinous act. Her scars are both internal and external, and her sadness--not to mention a fair amount of bitterness--runs very deep.
So, yes, when Toby wakes up each day, she’d really prefer there be considerably less of that charging-headfirst-into-danger penciled in on her daily planner. Her life is tough enough, without the equivalent of walking around sticking forks into wall outlets in flooded rooms during electrical storms. (Okay, that's just crazy talk, but then again, so are some of the things poor Toby has to take on.)
As everyone knows, though, since when do Fate or Destiny listen to anyone’s druthers? An ordinary sort of life just isn’t in the stars for Sir Toby the knight or for Toby the San Francisco-based private investigator, who finds herself in yet another impossible, not to mention--hello!--ridiculously dangerous, situation in An Artificial Night, the third entry in Seanan McGuire’s continuing October Daye saga.
Fresh off her latest job--that of ridding a client of a most inconvenient Barghest infestation--Toby receives a panicky message from her old friend Stacy. It's the sort of terrible news which features in every parent’s worst nightmare: two of Stacy’s five children have gone missing, disappearing from home without a trace. In addition, one of the three remaining kids has fallen into a sleep so deep that she can’t be awakened. Toby is stunned; these people are the same as family to her.
Her initial search turns up few clues, but her rose goblin, Spike, is anxious. It’s clear that whatever has happened is magical in nature, so she goes to see her friend Lily the Undine at the Japanese Tea Gardens. Things take a turn for the worse at the Gardens, though, when Tybalt appears... requesting Toby’s help in locating the five Cait Sidhe children who went missing the previous night from his Court of Cats. The final blow occurs when she returns home to find a desperate Quentin (Sylvester’s page and Toby’s friend) camped out on her doorstep, frantic because his completely-human girlfriend has disappeared, same as the others. Like it or not, the services of a hero are obviously needed in order to find these missing children. And, like it even less, Toby--who feels the loss of children more keenly than most, after losing all contact with her own young daughter years ago--is the only one who can fill those shoes.
Having already talked to Lily and Tybalt, Toby consults with more fae friends. She meets with the Luidaeg (scary First-Born god-like being who--fortunately--has a soft spot for the Changeling p.i.), and checks in with her liege Sylvester and his wife Luna in the Shadowed Hills. The consensus is that a very bad character who goes by the name Blind Michael is almost certainly the one behind the rash of child kidnappings, all part of his infamous Wild Hunt, the stuff of legend... and nightmares.
Nothing is ever simple for Toby (as you've probably cottoned by now)... partly because nothing is ever simple in Faerie. Blind Michael’s realm isn’t a place one can just drive to; there are three magical roads which lead there--each of which demands a certain payment from the traveler, and each of which may only be traveled one time. Toby has nothing more than a special candle--made of blood and magic--to guide her on her way, and even the candle has issues: if Toby can’t rescue the kidnapped children before the candle burns itself out, then they--and she--will be trapped. (With crazy Blind Michael. Under his command, forced to do his bidding. Forever, amen.)
Still, there’s really nothing for it but to make the scary trip and enter Blind Michael’s world, where the situation she encounters is worse than any nightmare. It will take every bit of her ingenuity, along with some help from each of her friends, plus an ability to just let go of everything, to the point of reconnecting her own inner child, if Toby is to have a chance of succeeding... of being the hero who saves the day, rather than the one who dies trying. But, even if she can, somehow, pull off the impossible and rescue the children from the monster, the price demanded by the blood and the magic may still prove too high...
As much as I'm crazy about the first two books in this series--Rosemary & Rue and A Local Habitation--I love An Artificial Night that much more. It feels like this is the story I’ve been waiting for... without ever realizing that I was waiting for something at all! For the first time, Toby understands right from the start just what her mission entails, lending an added sense of urgency to her actions. Instead of having to figure out the whodunnit and the whydunnit, she already knows the who, the why, and even the how. The focus here is entirely on doing what must be done to accomplish the impossible, and it gives Toby cause to finally(!) admit that she isn’t an island... to see that she has friends who love and support her, and to acknowledge that she actually needs each of them--and their help--very, very much. An Artificial Night is both pure fairy tale--a spine-tingly reminder of all those fantastical stories from my youth--and gritty, tough tale, which feels really right.
Like I said, though, I have mad love for this whole series (which, fortunately, has many books yet to come). I adore Toby, one of the most mature protagonists out there (she’s older! she has at least a couple of serious relationships already under her belt! she even has a teenage kid!), who is also fortunate enough to find herself plunked down smack-dab in the middle of some fabulous, old-fashioned storytelling. I'm enamored of the world the author has created and continues to build on in each successive book. It’s vast and vivid and so very alive to me. And, I'm totally hooked on all the fascinating “side” characters (okay, especially Tybalt, as if that comes as any surprise), who get fleshed out a little more with each book-- but especially in this one. There are still untold layers to all the characters, and to the world, and it all adds up to a sort of perfection for me.
Bottom line, I can’t wait to see what happens next! (Really. There are only a couple of other series out there that can match the level of excitement I have for this one.) Whatever new hell McGuire has planned for her characters, though, I'm confident that Toby will be front and center, plunging yet again into some thrilling, crazy-bad danger... trying her damnedest, as always, to find another way not to die a hero.
GlamKitty Catnip Mousie Rating: 5 out of 5 Mousies!!
(Note: An Artificial Night was released on Sept. 7, 2010.)
(Note: An Artificial Night was released on Sept. 7, 2010.)