A Red-Rose Chain

by Seanan McGuire

Cover image

Series: October Daye #9
Publisher: DAW
Copyright: 2015
ISBN: 1-101-60178-7
Format: Kindle
Pages: 368

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This is the ninth book in the October Daye series and continues to not be a series you should start in the middle, given how much the story depends on the texture of relationships that have been built over time.

It was inevitable that the events of Chimes at Midnight would have further fallout, even though they didn't come up much in the previous book. This is that fallout: a threatened war by a neighboring kingdom against the Kingdom of the Mists, in which all of the previous books have been set. Under the law of faerie they have three days to try to come to terms before the war starts. The queen sends Toby as an ambassador.

Toby is about as good of an ambassador as she was a private detective, and knows it.

While the politics in this series are enjoyably entertaining and much of what keeps me reading, I would never claim they're realistic examples of real negotiations and political intrigue. Real life is more complicated and a lot more boring than this. But I do like that Toby realizes, with some help, that there are different types of negotiations, and that sending a dangerous and violent wildcard under the protection of diplomatic immunity may accomplish things unrelated to traditional diplomacy, as long as she can hold her temper and her manners just enough to not give the opposing court an obvious excuse to remove that immunity. Behind that could have been layered some complex trickery, something that shows that the rest of the court isn't reliant on Toby and her growing power to solve all their problems. One of the disappointments of this book is that, despite the characters talking about it, McGuire doesn't do much with that idea.

Another disappointment is that McGuire is a little too dependent on a standard plot structure in these books, and it rears its head again here. Something bad happens, Toby gets involved, Toby makes everyone uncomfortable and pokes in lots of corners and finds things out while people try to kill her, something awful happens to her or her friends or both, and Toby musters enough resources in one form or another to resolve the situation. Some of this is three-act structure, but in a long series some variation on that structure is needed, or it can start feeling like old episodes of The A-Team. I thought there were some missed opportunities here for one of the other characters, perhaps May, to take a more central role. Hopefully in a later book.

That said, I continue to love McGuire's imaginative construction of faerie and the way she overlays it on west coast politics and geography. This is the first time in this series that Toby has traveled outside the Bay Area (at least in the mortal world); as an Oregon native, I'm glad that trip was to Portland. The scenes with Ceres were the best part of the book, and not just because McGuire fittingly incorporated roses into the faerie landscape of Portland. Ceres is a marvelous character who strikes the balance between alliance and neutrality that the best of McGuire's major powers do, but does so in a way that's much different from the Luidaeg. I hope we see more of her.

I also liked the character banter throughout, as always. Toby and Tybalt have settled into a new routine that I like almost as well as their old routine, but the highlight of this book was May, with both Jazz and Toby. That made it a bit more disappointing when May spent so much of the tail end of the story off-camera.

I'm afraid this isn't one of the best books of the series. The plot structure is a little too stock, the ending too abrupt, and the villains, while sadly entirely believable, were over-the-top evil in a way that I think makes the story less interesting. (The previous book, The Winter Long, had a bit more interesting nuance.) A Red-Rose Chain felt episodic in a way that the best books in this series aren't. But I still enjoyed it, and I think other readers who have gotten this far in the series will as well.

I do want to see more plots resolved via something other than Toby being a hero, though.

Followed by Once Broken Faith.

Rating: 7 out of 10

Reviewed: 2018-12-25

Last modified and spun 2018-12-26