Only a glance at my previous reviews will show that the October Daye series is one which varies in quality quite a bit. While there have been some incredibly good entries, and some merely good entries, sometimes the series has been passable at best and on one occasion (The Winter Long), down right bad. The previous book however, The Brightest Fell, was a high point for the series and; if people won't mind me quoting my own review, proof that October certainly wasn't over.
Unfortunately, Night and Silence proves the old adage that whatever goes up, must come down, and (if the series continues in this vein), that winter is coming; or at least November.
As usual, October's life is a mess of flying hedgehogs and emotional upheaval. Whilst she had succeeded in rescuing both her fiancé; Tybalt the King of Dreaming Cats; and her sister May's girlfriend Jasmin, from her evil mother Amandine, their captivity has not been without cost. Tybalt has withdrawn from October, aggressively claiming he's fine, even though it's obvious he is anything but, whilst Jasmin has descended into apathy, causing May no end of worry. So it's not surprising that after a night of critter catching for Queen Arden, Toby just wants to sleep. Unfortunately, sleep might be a luxury, as Toby is woken by an insistent hammering on the door and accusations of kidnapping. Toby's human daughter Gillian is missing from college, leaving shattered windows and an abandoned car. Once her ex-husband Cliff and his suspicious wife Miranda realise that no, Toby is not actually behind the kidnapping, they grudgingly request her services as a private investigator to help find her. Toby; despite her antipathy towards Cliff, and especially Miranda, is more than willing to take the case, since the thought of Toby's little girl scared and alone is torture to her, and nobody knows better than Toby just how dangerous her enemies are, or what a truly terrible place the realm of fairy can be.
I will admit, my lady and I didn't have high expectations going in simply because of the book's premise. Kidnap has been a rather overused plotline in the series, indeed Gillian has been kidnapped before, so right from the word go it seemed likely McGuire would be retreading old ground. Also, as I've mentioned previously, October has been an increasingly unpleasant person to be around for the past few books due to her self-obsession, and McGuire's habit of having the universe revolve around her in an "if you're not with me you're against me", fashion. Indeed my recent blog article on the inequities of superheroes was written very much with Toby in mind.
Sure enough, as the book began, Toby's selfishness reared its ugly head, since of course, there can be no question that Gillian is "hers!" and nobody else's, and that Miranda, the woman who has effectively been Gillian's mother for the past fourteen years, is anything but a snooty interloper. Cliff meanwhile simply follows Miranda along, leaving Toby free to hate him without conscience.
Real adoption issues are complicated ones. My sister was adopted, and suggesting to my mother that she's not my sister's mother would be a good route to suicide. That being said, my mother and sister are in contact with my sister's birth mother, and relations are entirely amicable. This is of course not always the case, however in any circumstance when the biological parent and actual parent (the one who does the parenting), are in conflict, there are going to be a lot of complicated emotions and tangled loyalties.
Not here though. Gillian is completely and entirely Toby's and neither her father or adopted mother have any right to her affections. Indeed Toby's often repeated claims that Gillian is "mine", were getting to Mother Gothel levels of disturbing, particularly when you remember that despite Toby's repeated assertions that Gillian is her "little girl", Gillian is actually 19 years old and legally an adult.
Not only Toby's attitude to Gillian is disturbing. Toby freely tramples on feelings and obligations left right and centre, justified because her little girl is in danger, and damn anyone else. From neglecting others feelings to actively not bothering to tell concerned people like Sylvester Torquil for fear they would "get in the way." On one occasion she even pulls a knife on Arden because she needs the Queen's blood to enact some quick magic, and casually notes that "there was no time to explain", without considering that perhaps shouting "I need your blood!" might be a good idea before charging your monarch; especially a friendly and decent monarch, with a weapon. Indeed, in the way Toby on the one hand kept talking about "her family", meaning May, Quentin, Raj Prince of Cats etc, and then in almost the same breath would lament her loneliness because her little girl; a little girl with whom she's had zero interaction at all since Gillian was two, is missing, actually made Toby more than a little fickle.
One reason Rosemary and Rue first impressed me with its characterisation, was because Toby (as a contrast to Dresden), grew and changed as a character. She had a lot of good reasons to be upset, not the least having spent 14 years as a fish and thus utterly missing out on her daughter's life, and being a lowly changeling looked down on, and mistreated by purebloods. Yet she recognised throughout the cause of the plot that she still had people who loved her, and she still had the rest of her life ahead. The problem however, is that for the last few books, McGuire has had to simply repeat this characterisation over and over, with Toby finding yet more reasons to be lonely and depressed and yet more things she doesn't have, even when, to any casual outside observer she's actually got quite a lot, a loving family, a revered position in Fairy under a decent ruler who treats changelings as equals, the love of an amazingly attractive fiancé, not to mention fast healing powers that make her virtually indestructible, and the advantage of probable immortality. Unfortunately, the more Toby achieves and the more she complains, the more like a spoiled brat and less like a hero she becomes.
Speaking of spoiled brats, I was hoping at this point Gillian might actually get some personality. We've been told that Cliff and Gillian apparently wanted nothing to do with Toby, however this is the first time Cliff himself has appeared in the series, and Gillian's only other appearance was as a scared captive tied to a chair in One Salt Sea; and even there she acted more like 10 than 17. This is another reason why it's so damn difficult to care about Gillian, since other than sharing genes with October, we know absolutely nothing about her. Unfortunately, despite her being the focus of the plot, we still know absolutely nothing about her. When Toby visits her college, she finds Gillian's entire wall covered with pictures of Cliff and Miranda, (evoking yet another patented October sulk), since of course 19 year old students all decorate their rooms with hundreds of pictures of their parents. We don't learn what degree she's taking, what her aspirations are, what she's interested in, who her friends are or much else. Even when October uses traces of Gillian's blood to get in touch with her memories, all we learn is that Gillian loves her car; which in turn causes Toby to feel jealous (yes, she is actually jealous of her daughter's car!). Gillian in fact, for the second time in the series is the archetypal damsel in distress, a valuable and attractive stolen object which the protagonist is searching for, but one which might as well be inanimate for all the motivation it has; a stark contrast to some of the other kidnap victims in the series such as Chelsy in Ashes of Honour.
With The Winter Long (the book we previously considered worst in the series), I wondered if McGuire had been undergoing some sort of personal tragedy or difficult circumstance at the time, since the plain nuts and bolts of the writing in The Winter Long just wasn't there. What is almost more depressing about Night and Silence, is that here McGuire was definitely on form. The quips and snark and general banter was as snappy as ever, and the pure investigation part of the story, looking for clues, questioning witnesses, following false trails, speculating on motives and methods, was highly engaging, indeed to say how much my lady and I disliked the main character, we read the middle portion of the book pretty quickly. Despite the investigation suffering slightly from the same problem as Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, namely that when you introduce a single new character into a long running series with a mystery, that new character might as well have "I solemnly swear that I am up to no good" tattooed across their forehead, this portion of the plot was quite compelling.
Unfortunately, despite some interesting revelations about the nature of fairy and one new character proving to have a fascinating backstory, Toby's shear unpleasantness and tendency to be quick to judge made these revelations far less effective, especially when one of them caused Toby to not only start bullying a woman who was as much an innocent victim of magical circumstance as Toby was; including enduring a pretty extreme punishment for her supposed crimes, but casually join in the harrying from other members of Fairy who have age old grievances against said victim.
Speaking of bullying, the way Tybalt's PTSD was treated in this book was simply dreadful. Even if we give Toby the benefit of the doubt and assume she's telling the truth about Tybalt's walking out on her insisting that he's fine (something we don't actually see), Toby's treatment of him when he returns is still disgusting. First, Tybalt of course only shows up in his expected position as Toby's white knight, running in to save her from a ghoulish creature. Rather than being pleased that he returned, much less grateful for him saving her bacon, Toby then lays into Tybalt and castigates him royally for daring to not be there; because apparently the PTSD is all his fault. What is worse, is that even comparatively nice natured characters like Quentin join in with this castigation, and poor Tybalt, already feeling bad enough, literally has to grovel for Toby's forgiveness.
Only after this grovelling does Tybalt admit he has a problem, whereupon he simply resumes his usual role, old fashioned romance novel dialogue and fanatically slavish devotion.
I am fairly sure that were a female character to go through a traumatic experience, only to have her male partner respond effectively with "about time you pulled yourself together", when she faced her own trauma to help him out, the situation would be universally condemned.
If all this wasn't enough, another problem in the book was McGuire referencing other October stories. Up until now, all the books have only referenced events in the main series. For the first time however, Toby started to refer to events outside the books, events which are fairly crucial to the universe, such as reversing death and apparently retconning everything bad that happened in a local habitation, as well as some hints about how Toby became a knight. Checking the October Daye wiki, apparently these are references to short stories McGuire makes available only to those who support her on the monthly payment site Patreon. Even if we assume that Seanan McGuire, an internationally bestselling author of comics and novels with a regular book contract and convention circuit schedule actually needs the money from people's monthly Patreon subscriptions, (which does seem a fairly large assumption), to so casually put major backstory or potentially universe changing events like reversing death into a side project which most people will not have access to is hardly fair to her fans. Of course, if McGuire does publish these stories elsewhere, perhaps in their own collection, I could be proved wrong, but since her Patreon has been going for four years, (even though her Patreon page still claims it would only run for a year to help her finance moving house) I doubt that will be happening.
Despite how good the investigation was, so good it kept our attention away from the inequities, the book's climax was very disappointing. Once again, it turns out to be an old villain behind the action, a villain who literally had a clone of themselves made to escape a previous defeat (yes, McGuire actually did use that cliché). Toby was able to power through the confrontation, quipping all the way since her fast healing makes swords through the back a minor inconvenience.
Though the ending did promise interesting directions for several characters, including a call back to the poor forgotten nice guy Connor the Selkie, and promises that perhaps Gillian might develop such a thing as a personality in the future, despite a long time spent with the ever fantastic sea witch the Luidaeg, matters still dragged, mostly due to Toby's self-pitying sermons, Tybalt's utter ignoring of her mistreatment of his PTSD, even going as far as making some major changes in his political life just to be with Toby, and a surfeit of self-indulgence.
The most shocking thing about Night and Silence, is not just that it is a bad book, but that the things which made it a bad book, things which are mostly the exacerbation of traits which have existed in the series for the past few entries, are things which McGuire herself plainly does not notice. The universe has become less nuanced, allies more one note adoring, villains (and indeed anyone who disagrees with Toby), ever more cardboard, and the main character herself progressively more self-indulgent, arrogant and untouchable, and increasingly the central focus of all events, not merely a changeling trying to do her best in a world full of forces and people far more politically and magically powerful than she is.
Only the fact that the next book promises to be a Luidaegg heavy story, actually encourages my lady and me to continue with the series at all, and in fairness to McGuire, whilst the series has fallen into a morass from time to time, it's usually pulled itself out, and though this morass seems deeper and more cloying than anything up to now, there is at least some hope the next book will claw back some lost ground.
Review by Dark
4.3/10 from 1 reviews
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