Thursday, March 17, 2011

Late Eclipses

Late Eclipses is the 4th instalment of Seanan McGuire’s Toby Daye Urban Fantasy series, chronicling the adventures of the changeling PI cum knight errant of the Shadowed Hills fae duchy.

As has become common with the books it begins in this world with Toby enjoying the fruits of her most recent case and sharing them with her Fetch and roommate May (May Daye, get it?) and her friend taxi driver/bridge troll and barghest fancier Danny, but with Toby trouble in Shadowed Hills, and the other faery knowes around her home town of San Francisco are never far away, and before she knows what is happening she’s been made the Lady of Goldengreen and her friend Lily the Undine and ruler of the Tea Gardens knowe is deathly ill.

The local queen, the Queen of Mists doesn’t much like Toby, in fact she seems to feel threatened by the feisty changeling, so why would she give her a position like Lady of Goldengreen? Probably because once Toby has accepted it, and she can’t very well refuse, she becomes beholden to the Queen and can no longer be protected as she has been for most of her life by her friend Duke Sylvester Torquill of Shadowed Hills. That’s problem number one. A bigger problem and mystery is the sickness that has afflicted Lily. Full bloods don’t generally die and certainly not from sicknesses like Lily seems to have contracted, and undines are even longer lived than most full bloods. Toby smells a rat, or more specifically a flower, namely oleander. As well as being the name of a shrub; oleander is also the name of the vindictive part peri Oleander de Merelands, a creature who was one half of the attack that robbed Toby of 14 years of her life and cost her human husband and her daughter. While Toby desperately tries to find a way to heal Lily and make a contingency plan for her largely helpless subjects, Luna Torquill, Duchess of the Shadowed Hills, and the wife of Sylvester also sickens. Taking advantage of the power vacuum left by the grief stricken Sylvester, who is now by his wife’s bedside night and day, his crazy daughter Rayseline takes control and lays the blame for everything right at Toby’s feet, thus delivering her into the hands of the Queen of Mist to pronounce sentence. Toby is going to have to escape imprisonment, find a cure and a killer and prove at the same time she’s not mad, that Oleander de Merelands is behind the whole thing and somehow get out of it all alive.

Seanan McGuire has created a great heroine in Toby, she’s made the shadowy world of the fae that exists alongside our own, rich, varied and very real, the books are building up a great roster of characters that she can draw on as and when she needs them and readers are already picking their favourites amongst the cast. May and Danny tend to feature high on many lists, as does Toby’s on again off again love interest Tybalt King of Cats and her former ‘boyfriend’ selkie Connor, now inconveniently married to Rayseline. My own personal favourite is the young Daoine Sidhe page Quentin, and he too has a cameo in Late Eclipses. Late Eclipses was the first appearance of Walther; the Tylwyth Teg chemist, I suspect it will not be the last.

Seanan is proving to be somewhat of a literary chameleon with this series, so far she’s written them in a noirish Chandleresque style, something reminiscent of Agatha Christie and now Late Eclipses which has elements of a Grisham type legal thriller.

Another kudo I have to give to Seanan is character development. I know I’m in the minority of fans in that I don’t particularly like Tybalt. Everyone else seems to want he and Toby to get together. I still don’t want that to happen and while I’d like to see them become reluctant allies I don’t have any desire to see them become lovers, but I have to admit that parts of this story made me feel for Tybalt and I even started to respect and like the guy…uh cat. To make me revise my opinion this far in, well that takes talent, something Seanan McGuire is rapidly proving that she has in spades.

Late Eclipses is another welcome addition to Toby’s exploits and while it ties everything up at the end, there’s plenty of scope and there are still a plethora of enemies out there who have a score to settle with Toby, I’d also personally like to find out more about Toby’s mother Amandine. One Salt Sea; the fifth Toby book, is due out in September and I’ll be adding it to the collection.

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