One Salt Sea

by Seanan McGuire

Cover image

Series: October Daye #5
Publisher: DAW
Copyright: September 2011
ISBN: 1-101-54760-X
Format: Kindle
Pages: 368

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This is the fifth book of the October Daye series. It's the best book of the series to date, at least in my opinion, but this is a series with a substantial cast and political complications. You could probably start here and work out things on the fly, since each story is largely self-contained, but much of the emotional resonance would be lost.

As expected for this series, Toby's life doesn't have much time to stabilize after the events of Late Eclipses. This time, though, the initial threat is less personal and more political. The children of the rulers of the Duchy of Saltmist have been kidnapped, and war between Saltmist and the Kingdom of the Mists (Toby's home) is very near. All that stands in the way of horrible casualties, of fae that can scarce afford more death, is Toby's desperate detective work.

Toby's confidence and belief in her own abilities has been growing steadily throughout this series. One of my favorite themes in fiction is someone who doesn't really believe in themselves but tries anyway, because they couldn't live with themselves if they didn't, and discovers they're more capable than they thought. In this series, I think that works best when Toby is less scared and more angry, which is very true in One Salt Sea. That's one reason why I liked this book better than either An Artificial Night or Late Eclipses.

Another is that I love the politics and the depth of world-building and lore that McGuire brings to this series, and One Salt Sea is a showcase of both. We get the Undersea Duchy of Saltmist, which comes from both different traditions and different fae than the series so far. We get a plot that combines political maneuvering with a more traditional detective story than the last few books. We get more hidden traditions, past alliances and enmity that Toby didn't know about, and further development of Toby's own abilities. She has to tug hard on some threads, move between levels of the fae world, and draw on her network for uniquely fae forms of forensic analysis. I thoroughly enjoyed it, particularly the rocks. (You'll know what I mean when you get to that part.)

But the best thing about this book, by far, is the Luidaeg.

I've mentioned in reviews of previous books that the Luidaeg is my favorite character of the series. One Salt Sea just cements that. This is the deepest that the Luidaeg has been involved in a story: she gives Toby her mission at the start, substantial help along the way, and is deeply involved in the ending. We even learn some of her own background, and some of her own worries and pain. (And foreshadowing that there's more of this to come, which I'm eagerly looking forward to.) She's moved from a strange ally through a cautious friend to some combination of aunt and mother to Toby, while always staying her irascible and occasionally painful self. The bits with her in this book are the best so far, and there are a lot of them. It's a delightful reading experience.

McGuire also uses this story to clear up a plot element that's been lingering since the first book of the series, but that never worked emotionally for me. (I'm talking about this indirectly since it's a significant spoiler.) It's a great resolution, one with heft and emotion and hard choices and pain, and largely makes up for the showing rather than telling that we've gotten in the previous books, while also (at least I suspect) graciously shuffling that plot out of the way in future books. It's a good bit of series work and personal growth for Toby, and I think frees the series to focus on the bits I enjoy the most.

The ending of One Salt Sea hurts, but it's a good hurt, full of hard choices made well, bravery, and sacrifice. The best moments of this series have always had that, but I think this book is the most successful delivery of the whole package to date.

This has always been a solid urban fantasy series, but I think it's getting better as it goes along. One major reason is that McGuire doesn't seem to be running out of world-building oomph. In a lot of urban fantasy, particularly the werewolf and vampire sort, I feel like the lore gets thinner, more rehashed, and more mundane as the series ages. But McGuire is still introducing new elements, showing existing elements from new directions and in new light, and has been slowly building major puzzles around Toby's life and abilities that intrigue me. And, even more rare, the eventual revelations usually live up to the preceding tension. It's certainly a recipe to keep me reading.

Followed by Ashes of Honor.

Rating: 9 out of 10

Reviewed: 2015-12-31

Last modified and spun 2016-07-02