It is a rare series that doesn’t feel like it’s losing some of its shiny newness by the time Book 7 comes along. Hell, the Urban Fantasy landscape is littered with clever ideas that pale by Book 2, or tumultuous courtships that are totally played by Book 3, or witty banter that is already being recycled by Book 4. So many of these series feel like they have no well-plotted direction, and no over-arching theme driving them forward; plus, by Book 7 you’re pretty much guaranteed to have seen at least one “filler” novel, heavy on the exposition but light on the action, moving our protagonists infinitesimally closer to their next major trauma. Let’s face it: by this stage, the bloom is usually, if not off the rose entirely, at least considerably faded. Enough that one may even be considering breaking up with the series altogether.
An enchanting exception to this rule is the October Daye series by Seanan McGuire, which feels just as fresh and compelling in its seventh instalment (Chimes at Midnight, DAW, released September 3) as it did in its first, 2009’s Rosemary and Rue. McGuire’s world-building is second to none, her impeccable research evident in even her most off-hand of remarks, and her first person protagonist, the eponymous Sir October “Toby” Day, is, if anything, even more captivating now than she was when first we met her.
Although, admittedly, when we first met Toby, she was perfectly, almost idyllically, happy; luckily, that only lasted for the Prologue, because really, what kind of Urban Fantasy heroine would she have made for us if she’d stayed that way?
Toby’s world is that of Fairy, and she herself is a changeling: half-fae, half-human, all-awesome. Whether tracking down a friend’s killer, freeing kidnapped children or taking down a lethal, though not illegal, drug trade, she does not shy from breaking her race’s courtly rules, and is utterly relentless in her pursuit of justice. (And coffee. Toby really likes coffee.) Whether in the early days, when she wrongly considered herself a loner, or more recently, alongside her current coterie of helpmeets, apprentices and sidekicks, Toby fearlessly speaks truth to power and will always make the hard choice to do what is right—even when that choice breaks her heart.
One of the secrets of this series’ uniquely continuing appeal is undoubtedly the manner in which McGuire is constantly shifting her own paradigm, never getting too complacent, nor allowing Toby to get too comfortable. When things kick off, Toby is – in true UF, kickass chick form – a Private Investigator, and there are certainly a couple of her outings where this genre is represented in fine style. But among this series’ entries we also have a country house murder mystery and a full on Dark Fantasy novel, and the latest entry has as much in common with The Belgariad as it has with novels of its ostensible ilk, dealing with a Rightful Heir situation just as much as it does with the otherworldly creatures of this hidden, magical San Francisco.
These forays into assorted other tropes only add to the sheer cleverness of the novels, and they certainly contribute to the humor, which is almost constant – except for when tears of anger and sorrow are called for, that is. There are laughter and loss aplenty in these books, and (of course) a fun-filled love triangle that we, as readers, are aware is happening long before its focal point has even begun to suspect. This is because Toby, while certainly no lackwit, could also win some kind of international Award for Obliviousness; indeed, often the best that can be said for her detective skills is that she gets there in the end. But that’s okay – the fun part is seeing how she does it, how self-deprecating and wry she can be about it, and just who she brings along with her for the ride.
Because as entertaining as it is in Toby’s head – and it is; she’s as likeable and relatable as she is sometimes strident and strange – it is as much her supporting ensemble as the woman herself that really sets these books apart. From the haughty Tybalt, King of Cats, to the earnest Quentin, not-so-humble squire, Toby assembles around her a loyal band of otherworldly creatures – from spectral death omens to mermaids to trolls to rose goblins – as well as winning the reluctant favor of that most terrifying of fairy legends, the Luidaeg.
Now, looking at that word “Luidaeg” without having had recourse to either a pronunciation guide or (and this is highly recommended) at least one of these books in its audio version, you’d perhaps not come up with lou-shak as your mental idea of what it sounds like. There are a few other ancient-language words to try the vast majority of us who – unlike McGuire – are without degrees in Folklore: Daoine Sidhe (doon-ya shee), for example. But by and large, it’s easy enough to get the gist of the many, many fantastical creatures either featured or mentioned herein without necessarily knowing how to pronounce them aloud, and really, the realm is so fascinatingly full of coblynau and kitsune and undine and so many more that stopping to puzzle out a) what a gwragen is and b) how one might say it, really isn’t necessary. If at some point McGuire needs us to know that species’ skills and special powers in detail, she will tell us.
Because while each of the October Daye novels is complete unto itself, there are also always a few questions that remain unresolved – one major hanging plot point took five books to unravel, while others are still ongoing. McGuire doesn’t do proper, this-is-the-last-page, are-you-kidding-me? cliffhangers (she’s not that cruel), but there are nagging uncertainties that linger at the conclusion of each Toby adventure, the current battle won but the war still ongoing.
Throughout these books (and three novellas, one found online here, and the others appearing in separate collections) there is so much to enjoy. There is mystery and humor, romance and despair. There is snappy dialogue, intense introspection, lyrical prose, potent sarcasm and heartfelt emotion that can make you sigh in joyful contentment or cry in abject sorrow—sometimes simultaneously. There are enough legendary fairy species included, both famous and obscure, that even the most inveterate Lost Girl fan must surely be impressed. Seven books in, and Toby’s world is still delightful, her cause still righteous, her escapades still fascinating.
It really is a rare series that can claim such a thing. And October Daye is rare, indeed.
Rachel Hyland is Editor in Chief of Geek Speak Magazine.