Book four for Toby Daye has the series settling down at last. Book one was a firm introduction to a new world, featuring the varied fae who inhabit San Francisco and the Summerlands beyond. But books two and three were much more about Toby than they were about that world because the thrust of both of them had her leave; firstly to Fremont, CA, the earthly location of the fae duchy of Dreamer’s Glass, and then to Blind Michael’s realm in the Summerlands. Here, the action finally comes home and it’s a welcome change, as if Seanan McGuire found that she’d had enough of sketching an increasingly wide area and decided to circle back to colour in her initial outlines.
This starts immediately with a host of early setups. The Queen of the Mists is an unpredictable soul who never liked Toby, a precocious changeling, so when she gifts her Evening Winterrose’s knowe, Goldengreen, we have to assume that there’s something going on that’s going to come back to bite her in the ass sooner or later. For a start, that means that she’s now peerage, which is rather unprecedented for a changeling. We’ve always wondered about Tybalt, the King of Cats, because for someone who supposedly doesn’t like Toby at all, he sure seems like a future love interest and the unexpected kiss he gives her at the Beltane Ball suggests that that road is starting to shape itself. She dreams about her mother’s tower in the Summerlands and Oleander de Merelands, fae assassin, shows up; needless to say, dreams aren’t just dreams in the world of Faerie.
Most importantly, Lily, the Lady of the Tea Gardens and long term friend, has been stricken with something of serious intent. She’s mysteriously dying and Toby, with her constant drive to help the people she cares about, has to try to fix that problem before she loses another friend. And, of course, it’s not a problem easily solved, which means that Toby has to place herself into danger and things much worse, in the process, trying to track down Lily’s pearl to hopefully cure her.
And, all while she was starting to settle. We’re in San Francisco here, at last, with characters we know and are interested in seeing build. Toby’s shopping at the Safeway in which she used to work, when trying to hide from her Fae life. She finds that she’s finally starting to move on from her human life, the husband and daughter she lost by spending fourteen years as a fish, utterly against her wishes. Even May is settling in, May being Toby’s fetch, the doppelganger whose only job is to take her into the afterlife. With that not apparently happening any time soon, she’s moved in and the pair are now roommates.
I enjoyed a Toby Daye novel that effectively takes everything and everyone we know about her world in San Francisco and the Duchy of Shadowed Hills, places them all into a bag and shakes it up. When she opens it back up again, we find ourselves trying to second guess the author into who’s going to carry on down their obvious story arc, who’s going to show a new angle to their character or flesh out who they are so that we can finally see a potential and who’s going to live and die, join the fun or leave it.
Most obviously, there’s Raysel. For all the potential of notables such as the King of Cats and the Queen of the Mists to shape this series, we expect that to happen through nuance and planning. Tybalt isn’t going to sweep Toby into marriage on page five and the Queen isn’t going to lop off her head in chapter two. It’s wild cards like Raysel who have always posed immediate danger and that’s never been more the case than here. After all, she came back broken from the kidnapping that Toby failed to solve and she blames her for that, even though Toby the P.I. spent even longer away, at the bottom of a koi pond. That grudge was always going to reach a showdown at some point and, well, that point is book four, especially given that Toby just killed Raysel's grandfather in book three.
This dance is no less dangerous than any other Toby has joined, but it’s dangerous in new ways. In addition to the physical danger of being beaten up and left for dead every five minutes, which isn’t unlikely with Oleander de Merelands back in town, she’s also faced with political danger, something she’s even less prepared to battle. There’s still a mystery to solve, but she can’t just breeze into a duchy this time and pretend that the rules don’t exist. There are ramifications to that sort of behaviour, especially with her now the Countess of Goldengreen and her liege’s daughter ready to take her down. Blaming Lily’s illness on Toby seems like a pretty good shot at that.
Seanan McGuire is a prolific author whose prolificity seems to be increasing. Every time I turn around, there’s another Seanan McGuire book announced or even another series. But here, I think, must be the point where she finally felt ready to go. The first Toby Daye book is a huge amount of fun but it’s a beginning and much of it set the stage for a series that I don’t believe she was ready for. The following two feel like she was distracting herself from those possibilities and this one feels like she’d come to terms with what the series would be and then she happily set it all in motion. I wonder if it was an easy book for her to write, as an author embracing her future, or a very difficult one, as she finally figured how that future needed to be reached. It’s very possible that it’s both.
And so it feels like a fresh beginning, not to a series but to a set of story arcs that had been placed on hold and left there for a while, but now unleashed and taking flight. There’s a Dundrearyism wrapping up a chapter here, as Toby says to her fetch that ‘We’ll burn that bridge when we come to it.’ I think that sums up the novel rather well as McGuire herself decides that she’s come to the bridge that will set her series alight and she sets fire to it, only to see it rise like a phoenix from the ashes.
I’ve been reviewing a Toby Daye novel each month all year, but I’m going to skip May because McGuire has a new InCryptid book out and it’s the one I’ve been waiting for since the beginning of that series. Antimony Price finally has a book of her own and I’m fascinated to see how that’s going to play out. See you then for ‘Magic for Nothing’. ~~ Hal C F Astell
For reviews of the first three books in the series click on the title #1 Rosemary and Rue, #2 A Local Habitation and #3 An Artificial Night.