The Winter Long

by Seanan McGuire

Cover image

Series: October Daye #8
Publisher: DAW
Copyright: 2014
ISBN: 1-101-60175-2
Format: Kindle
Pages: 368

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This is the eighth book in the October Daye series and leans heavily on the alliances, friendship, world-building, and series backstory. This is not the sort of series that can be meaningfully started in the middle. And, for the same reason, it's also rather hard to review without spoilers, although I'll give it a shot.

Toby has had reason to fear Simon Torquill for the entire series. Everything that's happened to her was set off by him turning her into a fish and destroying her life. She's already had to deal with his partner (in Late Eclipses), so it's not a total surprise that he would show up again. But Toby certainly didn't expect him to show up at her house, or to sound weirdly unlike an enemy, or to reference a geas and an employer. She had never understood his motives, but there may be more to them than simple evil.

I have essentially struck out trying to recommend this series to other people. I think everyone else who's started it has bounced off of it for various reasons: unimpressed by Toby's ability to figure things out, feeling the bits borrowed from the mystery genre are badly done, not liking Irish folklore transplanted to the San Francisco Bay Area, or just finding it too dark. I certainly can't argue with people's personal preferences, but I want to, since this remains my favorite urban fantasy series and I want to talk about it with more people. Thankfully, the friends who started reading it independent of my recommendation all love it too. (Perhaps I'm cursing it somehow?)

Regardless, this is more of exactly what I like about this series, which was never the private detective bits (that have now been discarded entirely) and was always the maneuverings and dominance games of faerie politics, the comfort and solid foundation of Toby's chosen family, Toby's full-throttle-forward approach to forcing her way through problems, and the lovely layered world-building. There is so much going on in McGuire's faerie realm, so many hidden secrets, old grudges, lost history, and complex family relationships. I can see some of the shape of problems that the series will eventually resolve, but I still have no guesses as to how McGuire will resolve them.

The Winter Long takes another deep look at some of Toby's oldest relationships, including revisiting some events from Rosemary and Rue (the first book of the series) in a new light. It also keeps, and further deepens, my favorite relationships in this series: Tybalt, Mags and the Library (introduced in the previous book), and of course the Luidaeg, who is my favorite character in the entire series and the one I root for the most.

I've been trying to pinpoint what I like so much about this series, particularly given the number of people who disagree, and I think it's that Toby gets along with, and respects, a wide variety of difficult people, and brings to every interaction a consistent set of internal ethics and priorities. McGuire sets this against a backdrop of court politics, ancient rivalries and agreements, and hidden races with contempt for humans; Toby's role in that world is to stubbornly do the right thing based mostly on gut feeling and personal loyalty. It's not particularly complex ethics; most of the challenges she faces are eventually resolved by finding the right person to kick (or, more frequently now, use her slowly-growing power against) and the right place to kick them.

That simplicity is what I like. This is my comfort reading. Toby looks at tricky court intrigues, bull-headedly does the right thing, and manages to make that work out, which for me (particularly in this political climate) is escapism in the best sense. She has generally good judgment in her friends, those friends stand by her, and the good guys win. Sometimes that's just what I want in a series, particularly when it comes with an impressive range of mythological creations, an interesting and slowly-developing power set, enjoyable character banter, and a ton of world-building mysteries that I want to know more about.

Long story short, this is more of Toby and friends in much the same vein as the last few books in the series. It adds new depth to some past events, moves Toby higher into the upper echelons of faerie politics, and contains many of my favorite characters. Oh, and, for once, Toby isn't sick or injured or drugged for most of the story, which I found a welcome relief.

If you've read this far into the series, I think you'll love it. I certainly did.

Followed by A Red-Rose Chain.

Rating: 8 out of 10

Reviewed: 2018-12-03

Last modified and spun 2018-12-04