An Artificial Night

by Seanan McGuire

Cover image

Series: October Daye #3
Publisher: DAW
Copyright: September 2010
ISBN: 1-101-44276-X
Format: Kindle
Pages: 368

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This is the third book of the October Daye series, following A Local Habitation. It could be read out of order, as each chapter of Toby's story so far is somewhat standalone, but I wouldn't recommend it. You'd miss the character development and the background behind several friendships.

As with the previous book review, a caveat: I am reviewing this book four months after finishing it, rather than the normal couple of weeks, so apologies in advance for any thinness or inaccuracies.

The first sign that something is about to go seriously wrong in Toby's life this time is a visitor. She says her name is May Daye, and apparently she's Toby's Fetch: a duplicate in nearly every respect except personality, manifested to guide someone to their death. Their imminent death.

The second sign is that her best friend's children are kidnapped. The children who treat her like an aunt. And the cause of that kidnapping is far, far beyond the level of power that Toby could be expected to deal with.

I have profound mixed feelings about this book. On one hand, McGuire further expands Toby's web of connections and shows us more of Toby's friends and their background, and that's becoming my favorite part of this series. She introduces May, who I think is a great character: at first apparently much different than Toby, but with a similarity beneath surface impressions that one notices more over time. And I thought the climax of the story, once we finally got there, was very moving and well-done.

Also, I just love the way that McGuire uses children's rhymes and doggerel throughout this series as a magical element, and that's particularly well-handled here. Due to the nature of the antagonist, McGuire has a good excuse to bring that front and center, and the process of familiar rhymes expanding into deep magical rules was a fun intellectual experience.

Best of all, the Luidaeg plays a significant role in the story again. The Luidaeg is, hands down, my favorite character in McGuire's constructed universe, and she becomes even more so over the course of this story. Her complex relationship with Toby is clearly blossoming into a friendship that's surprising both of them deeply, but a friendship that has to play by an odd set of rules (like so much else in Toby's life). I loved her here. Seeing someone that difficult and abrupt show unexpected emotional depths is one of the story elements I enjoy the most.

The problem, though, is that quite a lot of An Artificial Night is very, very dark. And by that, I don't mean that there is a lot of tension, or that Toby is struggling against monsterous things, although both of those statements are also true. Rather, Toby is not only out of her league but ends up in some viciously nasty situations, and they persist for rather more of this book than I would have preferred. Putting one's protagonist through hell has a long tradition in urban fantasy, but I found the level of sheer helplessness that Toby struggled through to be a bit more than I wanted to read about. It was too reminiscent of events from Toby's background (as discussed in Rosemary and Rue) that I still don't like to think about.

There is, of course, an eventual payoff, as dark as the interim events seem. One knows that, given the genre and given that this is an ongoing series, and even just given the nature of stories. But as much as I like the growing cast of this series, and adored the scenes with the Luidaeg, I found parts of this journey to be deeply disturbing, and not in an enjoyable dramatic tension sort of way. I don't mind protagonists being seriously hurt (although it's not my favorite plot), or even some amount of despair, but this went beyond that. I think McGuire was going for a story about sacrifice and self-definition, about trying even when one can't possibly win, and I can appreciate the narrative arc. But parts of the book were simply awful to read for me.

I'm therefore not quite sure what to say in terms of a recommendation. I'm still reading the series, and will definitely read the next book. I think my reaction is somewhat idiosyncratic; the events here will probably not bother others as much as they bothered me. And I can't disagree with their dramatic effectiveness, or with the way that McGuire builds conflict out of the rules of fairy and is building Toby into a stronger and more capable person than she ever thought she could be. But there were still spots where I wished I were reading a different book. Hopefully the next book in the series will be that book I wanted to read.

Followed by Late Eclipses.

Rating: 6 out of 10

Reviewed: 2013-08-31

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