Sunday, February 27, 2011

No Sanctuary to be Found, Amidst the Portents of Change

>>ARC Review<<


Revenge and retribution, regret and recriminations. Not an ideal mix... but it’s really no more and no less than Changeling (half-fae, half-human) October Daye--fearless knight and reluctant hero--has become accustomed to dealing with on a daily basis. 
Let’s take stock, shall we? (Note: If you haven't read the first three books in this series--Rosemary and Rue, A Local Habitation, and An Artificial Night--yet, why?? Hie yourself over to my reviews of each of them, first. Here, here, and here. Then go find each book and read it. Then come back here. You'll thank me, really.) Anyway, back to the recap... First, Toby endured being turned into a fish and left for dead-- and would have died, were it not for the kindness of a human passerby who happened to notice the floundering fish and scooped it off the pavement and into a nearby pond. (That pond, by the way, was her home for the next fourteen years... during which time, she lost the human husband and daughter who assumed she’d deserted them.) 
Next, she was betrayed by former lover Devin, who murdered one of her oldest and dearest friends, the Countess Evening Winterrose, before trying to kill her, too. (Yes, she defeated him in the end... but Evening was no less dead, and one of Devin’s young protegés, a teenage girl, was also a victim in the fatal fracas.)  
After failing years earlier to rescue her liege Sylvester Torquill’s abducted wife and daughter (the whole fish episode had put the kibosh on that), she then worked doubly-hard trying to save his niece, Countess January O’Leary, when someone started killing off her employees. (Toby figured everything out in the end and nabbed the murderer... but not in time to save January.) 
Most recently, she risked everything to mount a huge rescue operation of a group of human and fae children, all of whom were kidnapped by a crazy First-born fae known as Blind Michael. (Oh, that First-born part? Just so you know, it simply isn’t done, “going up against”--let alone killing--one of them... but she did, and in the process, she saved as many of the children as she possibly could.)
Yes, she’s an imperfect hero... but it’s the role she’s taken on, for better or worse. 
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When Late Eclipses--the fourth in Seanan McGuire’s October Daye series--begins, Toby has mostly been laying low. There was the whole recovery thing following her ordeal with Blind Michael, for starters. She’s also well-aware that she’s in some pretty serious trouble--committing a cardinal fae sin, if you will, for killing him--and has just sort of been waiting for the hammer to fall on that part.
The period of regrouping comes to an abrupt end when a summons from the Queen of the Mists--who harbors an intense dislike of Toby--leads to a shocking announcement. Before Toby has a chance to wrap her mind around the queen’s decree, though, something far more urgent takes precedence: Lily, the Lady of the Tea Gardens--another one of Toby’s oldest friends and staunchest supporters--is gravely ill, felled by a mysterious malady. And, as powerful a healer as the Undine leader of the Gardens is, she cannot simply heal herself... leaving her gentle, peaceful subjects--most of whom were unloved outcasts before finding their way into Lily’s care and protection--terrified for their futures.
Toby, of course, will do everything in her power to make things right; she just hopes desperately that “everything in her power” is enough, for once. She consults the Luidaeg, but this time the scary First-born (who thankfully has a soft spot for Toby) has nothing to offer. She moves on to Plan B, enlisting the aid of a local fae chemistry professor to study Lily’s illness through means both magical and scientific, and requesting help from long-time acquaintance Tybalt, the King of Cats (with whom she shares a complicated, to put it mildly, relationship), to guard Lily’s Knowe. 
That, unfortunately, is when things go from strange and scary and awful... to strange and scary and much, much worse. (Hell in a handbasket? Yeah, like that.) 
When Toby last ran into her liege’s twin brother Simon Torquill and his lady friend, the beautiful-but-deadly Oleander de Merelands, more than sixteen years ago, the pair captured and enchanted her (the fishy business, again). But, since no one has heard from Oleander since then, she’d been relegated to little more than a menacing figure in Toby’s nightmares.
But now, she’s back... or so it seems, after Toby first smells Oleander’s signature magic, then has a run-in with her. Well, kind of... maybe. In a scene reminiscent of the old “Is it live... or is it Memorex” ads, Toby isn’t entirely certain whether she’s actually interacting with the real Oleander or with her projection... but either way, one thing is sure: Oleander is alive and well somewhere, and up to no good.
Just when it seems things can’t possibly get any worse, they do; more sickness hits those closest to Toby. Sylvester’s wife Luna comes down with something--something as inexplicable as whatever is ailing Lily. And then, the Kingdom of Cats is hit by a mysterious and deadly plague. 
As for Toby? Well, she gets blamed for all of it--the sicknesses, the troubles, and the body count--as people start to die. The punishment for the crimes of which she’s accused? Not good. Really not good. So far from “good”, in fact, that she doesn’t see any way out of her predicament; she only hopes to somehow save as many of her friends as possible. As Toby says, 
“In the end, there’s never a sanctuary. You run until there’s nowhere left to run to, and then you fight, and then you die, and then it’s over. That’s how the world works, and if there’s a way to change that, I hope someone’s eventually planning to let me know.”
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Late Eclipses is chock-full of everything I can’t get enough of in this series. The fabulously-wacky-and-endearing characters are all present and accounted for; in addition to those mentioned earlier, there’s plenty of May (Toby’s spunky fetch), Quentin (Sylvester’s page/Toby’s sometimes-sidekick), Danny (lovable bridge troll, cabbie, and adopter of orphaned Barghests), and Connor (gentle Selkie--now married to Sylvester and Luna’s nutty daughter Raysel--and ex-boyfriend of Toby). Raysel, though anything but likeable, is always fascinating. There are a couple of cameo appearances by Amandine, Toby’s absent (and crazy) fae mother. Nor are the pets forgotten; we see a good amount of Spike (Toby’s Rose Goblin) and a little bit of Cagney and Lacey (Toby’s cats).
What about action and excitement? Late Eclipses has them in spades; it’s a roller coaster ride from beginning to end. Seriously, this one doesn’t let up... ever. Toby’s body is moving as fast as the wheels in her mind are spinning, although she does become very, very exhausted. 
And speaking of Toby, I remain absolutely crazy for this heroine. She and her problems are completely believable. She suffers aches and pains, injuries, and a lot of killer headaches. (Honestly, I would love her for that alone, even if she did nothing else.) She regrets so many things in her life, and constantly feels guilty for the ones she’s convinced that she mucked up. (When she has a couple of steamy kisses, I felt like standing up and cheering, because Toby seriously deserves some unqualified good stuff in her life.) 
There’s an inescapable poignancy to this series, and an underlying melancholy. Nothing is perfect--not in the mortal world, and certainly not in the fae world of the Summerlands. There’s suffering and loss, and hardship and grief, as a lot of bad things happen to some very nice people. No matter what, every action has a repercussion, and every resolution comes with a heavy price.   
Did I figure some things out well ahead of Toby? Sure... but I also have the benefit of watching from the outside, which is much easier to do. Would I make the same decisions that she does? Probably not every single one... but then again, this isn’t my story, it’s Toby’s story. 
Bottom line? I am beyond thrilled with this latest entry in what is, hands down, my absolute favorite urban fantasy series. I plan to be right here, anxiously watching as Toby fumbles and fights her way through an ever-changing world... weeping with her when she suffers another loss, and celebrating when she manages a win. And I have faith that someday, there will be more wins than losses, more smiles than tears. 
GlamKitty catnip mousie rating: 5 out of 5 mousies!!

[Note: Late Eclipses will be released March 1, 2011.]