A Tunnel in the Sky

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The October Daye Series
by Seanan McGuire

Reviewed by Galen Strickland
Posted January 11, 2024
Edits and Addenda on February 29 and March 22

1. Rosemary and Rue / .5 "Strangers in Court" / 2. A Local Habitation / 3. An Artificial Night / 4. Late Eclipses / 5. One Salt Sea / 6. Ashes of Honor

Seanan McGuire is arguably the most prolific genre author of the past fifteen years. Rosemary and Rue was her first novel, published in September 2009. It was also the first of the October Daye series, which now totals eighteen novels and numerous other shorter stories. Under that name, which I assume is her real name, she has at least six other series, some of which may be complete, others still ongoing. Before this I had read all of the Wayward Children series, with another of those published this week, on hold at my library [now reviewed]. She also writes under at least two pen names, Mira Grant, and more recently A. Deborah Baker, a character introduced in the novel Middlegame, an author of children's stories. I'm not sure how far into this series I will read, but I will continue as long as I enjoy it. I plan on the first six books, one each month, then a switch to another series in July. The Kindle file I just read includes a novella, which according to ISFDb is a prequel, the only story so far set before Rosemary and Rue. Some of the later books also include an extra story, but I don't think that includes any others in the first group of six. If I later read further into the series I will probably create new page(s), as I have done with Wayward Children and other long-running series.

In 2010, Seanan won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, which has been renamed the Astounding. Rosemary and Rue is the only one in this series with an individual award nomination, being a finalist for a Locus in 2010. I would bet some of them have been nominated for a Hugo, Nebula, or other award, but none made the final ballots. The series as a whole has been a Hugo finalist for Best Series four separate times, in 2017, 2019, 2021, and 2023. In between those, her series InCryptid, the one I hope to start later this year, was also up for that award twice, then in 2022 Wayward Children won..

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Paperbacks of Rosemary and Rue might technically be out of print, but Bookshop offers it through third-party sellers. Amazon shows it direct from them (at this time at least), and for Kindle, and it should be available through other e-book sources. A purchase through our links may earn us a commission.

The main character, October Daye, is also known as Toby. I assume the other books will be written like this one, Toby telling the story in first-person. As is my usual way, I have not sought too much information about the books ahead of time. I knew it would be in the Urban Fantasy camp, but otherwise I knew nothing. At the beginning of this book Toby is a private investigator who runs into a snag on her latest case, which is a kidnapping of the wife and daughter of Toby's liege lord. Toby is what she calls a changeling, although I would think the term halfling would be more accurate. Her mother is fae, her father human. She has certain magical abilities, but they are less than those wielded by purebloods. Toby is herself married to a human, with a daughter who would be quarter-blood. Apparently they do not know of her true nature, so Toby must have mastered several cloaking spells to keep that information from them. She talks about the magic she is using in pursuit of her suspect, counter-acting whatever cloaking spells he employs. That investigation ends abruptly, as her quarry casts a spell on her, turning her into a fish. She spends the next fourteen years in the koi pond of the Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park. There is a map at the front of the book of the Western United States, with the state lines as we know them, but overlaid with the names of the various Fae kingdoms. Toby lives within the Kingdom of the Mists. Toby's mother is Amandine, a Daoine Sidhe, whose power includes blood magic, some of which Toby inherited. A taste of another being's blood gives her insight into their fate, useful in a murder investigation she gets involved with later.

When Toby is able to throw off the fish spell her marriage has ended, her husband not wanting to have anything to do with her, and her daughter hardly remembers her at all. She didn't want to go back to her liege lord, didn't want to resume being a private investigator either, and her mother is going mad in the Summerlands (not sure about her father yet). She is drawn back into her old life anyway. She had been working as a cashier in an all-night supermarket, since her magic spells work better at night, keeping her pointed ears and other fae features hidden. I won't go into the details of the case, but it involves a fae killed by iron magic, and they had called Toby just before their death, casting a binding spell on Toby, which compelled her to solve the murder. It is a long, twisty, perilous road to figure out the truth. Along the way she finds out who among the fae, pureblood or changeling, cared about her, and who only wanted to use her for their own ends. I guessed wrong about a couple of them. I suppose she will go back to PI work, since she has been fired from her supermarket job. While it is not the type of story I am usually drawn to, I trust Seanan to be entertaining enough to continue. So, think of a blend of a gender-flipped Dresden Files, with a big dollop of the TV show "Lost Girl," plus some Buffy snark, and you'll get an idea of the wild ride in store. To be continued, with either the second novel or the prequel novella, which I have not read yet..

First Update: Posted February 29, 2024
As far as I have been able to determine, the prequel novella "Strangers in Court" is not available separately, and only in two editions, the 10th Anniversary hardcover reissue of Rosemary and Rue, and the e-book released at the same time, which is what I read. A purchase through either of those links may earn us a commission. Bookshop does not offer e-books, and they have no listing for the hardcover, so it may be out of print, Amazon having enough copies warehoused somewhere. They show paperbacks only available from third-party sellers, but those are earlier editions, "Strangers in Court" not included.. You might be able to find the hardcover through eBay or bookfinder.com.

As I said above, this is the only story set before the first novel. The events in Rosemary and Rue began in 1995, then skipped over the fourteen years she was a fish, picking up in 2009, the year the book was published. "Strangers in Court" begins on September 1, 1992, the day Toby realizes she is pregnant, which means her daughter was not even three when her mother disappeared. I won't give too many details about this story, one reason being not to spoil, but also some of the events are blended in my mind with things that happened in the first book. In Rosemary, when Toby had to report to the Queen of the Mists that another of her subjects had died, she went to the Queen's knowe, which was in a seaside cave. Knowe is a Scottish word meaning “a hillock, or mound, in folklore often associated with fairies…” But the Queen had a previous knowe that was mysteriously destroyed, which Toby discovers in this story. She actually stumbles into it, when the ground beneath her feet opens up into a chasm. The Fae had ways of masking themselves and their realms from humans. People could see the rift, but not the wrecked palace within it. Toby could, and she went into the rift to see if there was anyone who needed help. The Queen and most of her court had been able to escape, but Toby did find someone still there. It was Countess Evening Winterrose (aka Mrs. Winters), who in the first book [REDACTED]. Toby helps the Countess in a search for a treasured item, and in the course of that was lucky in removing the wards protecting another area, allowing her to discover the caves that would become the Queen's new knowe.

I assume each story will give us flashbacks to previous events, Toby's memories resurfacing when prompted by other things. I thought it odd when she says she didn't have much blood magic like her mother, but this is an earlier story, so it is possible she had not yet had to use that magic to determine how much she possessed. It was hard for me to understand the Queen's disdain of Toby in the first book, and especially now knowing how much Toby had helped her and the whole court. Other things we know already concern the time Toby spent with her mother in the Summerlands, but her mother was increasingly depressed and psychotic, but without enough information for the reader to understand the what and why of that situation. I'm still not sure about Toby's father, whether he is even alive. I don't know, but I think Toby had been sheltered in Shadowed Hills for a while, which is the domain of her liege lord, Duke Sylvester Torquil. She didn't want to live there permanently though, and had her own apartment in San Francisco. At the time the Queen accepted the caves as her new knowe, Toby was vouched for by the Duke, and that association continued until her lost years, then was reestablished later, but she still kept her own place. Which is where she is when she gets word the Duke needs her for a special assignment, to investigate why he has lost contact with his niece..

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Posted February 29, 2024
After a night out with a few of her other changeling friends, drunken Toby is helped home by Tybalt, a Cait Sidhe, the local King of Cats. They have an adversarial relationship, but at the same time it is clear Tybalt has a lot of respect for Toby, which is probably not the case for any other changeling, and maybe not many purebloods either. When she wakes the next morning she finds a note he left her, saying the Duke had called and needed her help. Every time the Duke contacts her he tries to convince her to come back to his knowe, but Toby continually rebuffs him. She likes her apartment, and her PI work, both of which she would have to give up to live in Shadowed Hills. The Duke tells her to go to the County of Tamed Lightning (aka Fremont, California), to find out why his niece has not called him in almost a month, when she normally checked in at least once a week. It is the first time Toby finds out he even had a niece, but his family situation is…complicated. January had started a computer tech company in Tamed Lightning, but when Toby goes to the ALH building she is told there is no January Torquil working there. Turns out she uses her estranged father's name, O'Leary (his real name being Malcolm ap Learianth). The case is complicated by the fact information is being withheld from the very beginning, including January being among the first group of people she sees there, but no one would acknowledge she is the person Toby is seeking. Then there are the dead bodies, the first death having occurred about three weeks before.

When it is finally established that January O'Leary is the person she is there to see, Toby questions her about the lack of communication. January swears she has called her uncle numerous times, but the calls either don't go through, or she left messages, but had not received any reply. It takes a while for Toby to realize she has the same problem. The Duke had provided hotel lodging near ALH, and from there she can call and talk to him, but she later finds out the messages she had left using the ALH phones are not being received. There are already three bodies on cots in the basement, with a fourth coming shortly after Toby's arrival. Quentin, another in the Duke's service, was sent along to assist. He is another Daoine Sidhe, but neither Toby or Quentin can read any information from the blood of the victims. Fae bodies do not decompose as humans do, but there is another process that takes care of the bodies. The "night-haunts" arrive and take them away, either secretly if no one is aware of the fae who died, or else they leave a simulacrum in its place, indistinguishable from a human, in cases where police or a coroner have to be called. So why haven't the night-haunts taken care of the bodies? And what killed them in the first place? Toby is only able to detect tiny punctures on the wrists and neck. [No, not vampires.]

Fae are essentially immortal, but that only applies to their normal existence. They can be killed, which is where the night-haunts are supposed to come in. What is killing these fae, and why are the night-haunts not coming for them? Toby takes a big risk, consulting with one of her (not quite) friends about a summoning ritual. She is able to gather all the ingredients for the spell, not knowing if it will work, and if it does, not knowing if the night-haunts will take her. It does work, they do come, and Toby learns a big secret about them, one she swears she will not reveal to anyone else. They tell her they had come for the bodies, but didn't take them since there was nothing there for them to take. Same reason Toby was not able to read anything from their blood. That's enough about the plot. I had two major suspects early on, but was puzzled by the how and why, and the mechanics of the deaths. Both of my suspects turned out to be involved, but the reveal of all the particulars was still satisfying. This book could have been shorter. Lots of back and forth over the same ground, repetitive actions and statements, but it is still an exciting, perilous story, which proves Toby is a force to be reckoned with. Toby is haunted by her heritage, and by how she feels insignificant within the world of the purebloods, but a lot of that is self-inflicted. Throughout this investigattion, most of the others, both pureblood and changeling, resented her intrusion, withheld information, wouldn't follow her orders. But in the end, the survivors acknowledge her help, her strength against almost insurmountable odds. That does not mean she won't face the same obstacles on her next case..

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Posted March 22, 2024
As the series progresses we will learn more about the various fae species, their history, ancestry, and relations to each other. Toby learns things in this book of which she was previously unaware. Some characters are based on ancient myths, while others are Seanan's creations. In one of her notes she says not all her suggested pronunciations may be traditional. All fae are descendants of Oberon and Titania, or Oberon and Maeve. Those born to either couple are known as the Firstborn. In the previous book, the one Toby consulted about the night haunt summoning ritual was the Luidaeg, the oldest Firstborn, daughter of Maeve, alternately referred to as the sea witch, Antigone of Albany, or the Lady of the Lake. Whenever Toby mentions her everyone else recoils in fright, yet Toby considers her a friend, or at least a confidant, a source of knowledge. I made the mistake of checking a wiki page, where I stumbled across information I'm not sure Toby knows at this point, but I won't reveal it at this time. I won't be checking that page again for a very long time, since I don't want any more spoilers.

This story revolves around one of the Luidaeg's siblings, Blind Michael, whom Toby had not heard of before. That is because he lives in his own secluded area of the Summerlands, from which he ventures forth only every one hundred years. As I mentioned above, fae are immortal, but not Toby, since she is a changeling. At this time she is in her late 50s, although I am sure she appears younger to most humans. It is possible she could live several hundred years, yet she lives as if any day could be her last. She has several close friends who are also changelings, some of whom have children of their own. Blind Michael hunts children every hundred years, fae, changeling, or human. The fae and some of the changelings he captures become his Riders of the Hunt, some changelings and humans become the ridden, transformed into horses or other beasts of burden. Two children of Toby's closest friend are taken, another lost to a trance from which she cannot be awakened. While she prepares to go after the children, Toby also learns that several of Tybalt's Cait Sidhe have been taken as well, so she promises they will be part of her search too. The Luidaeg tells her what she must do, where she must go, how she must conduct the search. If she ignores any of that advice, Toby will be lost to Blind Michael herself.

Toby is very stubborn. She doesn't think of herself as a hero, just someone who does what needs to be done, regardless of the cost she must pay. She and the Luidaeg have an uneasy alliance, the Luidaeg reserving the right to kill Toby when it suits her. Yet they continually make bargains with each other, incurring debts, and Toby's situation with Tybalt is similar, even if not as perilous. To complicate matters, even before Toby learns of Blind Michael's abductions, she gets a visit from her Fetch, who identifies herself as May. A fetch is a simulacrum, appearing identical to the person whose imminent death they announce. Not the one who will deal the death blow, just the harbinger. But Toby doesn't have time to deal with May. She knows she will die some day, and she's not too worried about when that will be, other things are more immediately important, particulary rescuing two children who know her as Aunt Birdie. It is possible when this book was new readers thought it was going to be the end of the series, but more than thirteen years later we know Toby would be having many more adventures. I suspected May would play a different role than fate intended, and she does, just not the way I thought. This book is again a bit longer than it needed to be, with several chase sequences too similar to those in the first book.

Toby had to go to Blind Michael's lands three times. On her first visit she meets his wife, Acacia, who has hidden herself away from her husband in the deep forest. Acacia is related to a fae very close to Toby, but again I won't reveal that information. Maybe later if they recur in other books. She finds her friend's children, and those from Tybalt's court, along with several others, about twenty in all. Quentin Sollys, the fae who assisted her in the second book, followed her without her knowledge, since his agenda was to rescue his human girlfriend, whose transformation into a horse had already begun. It is possible the Luidaeg could reverse that spell. On her second journey Toby needed to find Karen, the girl who was in a trance. Toby deduced her spirit had been trapped by Blind Michael. She does rescue her, but in so doing has to bargain with Blind Michael, remaining with him to insure Karen's release. I won't reveal how she eventually gets away from him, but then goes back to enact her revenge. The most important thing we learn is how much Toby means to everyone else, pureblood fae and other changelings. Some of that is due to her heroism, the rescues, and the revenge. A lot has to do with how she is connected to many of the fae, but that knowledge will have to wait for another book. Exciting and dangerous, but a satisfactory conclusion, with much to look forward to. Recommended..

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Posted April 15, 2024
I realize some people don't care about spoilers, but I'm not one of them, and I hope to be as vague as I can with my comments. I mentioned above that I stumbled upon spoilers when searching for information, not all of which have been revealed through the first four novels. I also mentioned the antagonism the Queen of the Mists had for Toby, which has also not been fully explained. Some of it may have to do with Toby's mother, Amandine, who had alienated many, and who has been isolated in her own self-imposed exile. There are obvious rivalries between the various Duchies and Counties within the Kingdom of the Mists, which encompasses much of Northern California. However, that kingdom is subservient to the Kingdom of the West, situated in Toronto. One of Toby's closest allies is Quentin Sollys, indentured to her liege lord, Duke Sylvester Torquill of Shadowed Hills. The King of the West is also a Sollys, but I'm not sure how Quentin is related, either his son, a Prince, or lesser relation. It was probably mentioned when he first appeared, but I don't recall, and I'm not searching for that information now to avoid stumbling on more spoilers. No matter Quentin's relationship, his service to Duke Sylvester would seem to indicate the Duke is highly favored by the King.

At the beginning of this book Toby is summoned to the Queen's knowe, where she is declared to be the new Countess of Goldengreen, a position previously held by Evening Winterrose. It is possible the Queen did that with an ulterior motive, building Toby up only to knock her down later. It is implied that being a Countess on her own would remove her from her service as a knight to Duke Sylvester, which might mean he would not be able to protect her later. What is not clear is if the Queen was involved in cases Toby is called on to investigate. The first is the illness of Lily, an undine, whose knowe is within the Japanese Tea Gardens of Golden Gate Park. Not long after that, the Duke's wife Luna falls ill, for which Toby suspects a poisoning. Then Tybalt reveals many of his Cait Sidhe may have been poisoned too. All of them are close to Toby, allies in previous adventures, although the case could be brought that she held resentments against them. When Lily dies, both the Queen and Rayseline, Luna's daughter, accuse Toby of murder and attempted murder.

It is obvious to the reader Toby is innocent, but even she starts to suspect she is losing time and memory, and possibly her mind. Could she be responsible without realizing it, and if so, is she being manipulated by someone else? Due to the nature of all the poisons later identified, derived from the plant nerium oleandar, a flower extremely toxic in the real world, Toby's main suspect becomes Oleandar. She had been an ally of the Duke's brother Simon, the pair who had kidnapped Luna and Rayseline in the first book. One of the children Toby rescued from Blind Michael in the third book, Karen, is an oneiromancer, someone who divines future events from dreams. Karen showed Toby a dream that involved both Oleandar and Amandine. Did that mean that Toby's mother was also involved? At another point, both a spoiler and not a spoiler, Toby dies, but within another 'dream' Amandine is able to bring her back to life. When that happens, Toby, and everyone else, learn something about her true nature. Well, not everyone. The Duke already knew, but it was information he had withheld from her.

We will learn more in later books of course, but for now it seems Toby is not a Daoine Sidhe, or at least not only a Daoine Sidhe, which would mean that Amandine is something other than a pureblood Daoine Sidhe. The spoiler I saw involved Duke Sylvester, and since he knew more about Toby than she did herself, and also because, in spite of him keeping things from her, she still feels loyal to him, I don't think it will be long before she learns more about his involvement in her life and family. In the end, the Queen still holds a grudge against Toby. It is clear Toby had nothing to do with Lily's death, or the poisonings of Luna and the Cait Sidhe, but the Queen still wants to execute Toby for her killing of Blind Michael. Many of the Queen's Court object to that, especially Duke Sylvester, who had petitioned the King of the West to pardon Toby for that killing. That is sure to reinforce the Queen's grudge against Toby. Many other purebloods and changelings respect and admire Toby, and at least one of the Firstborn is among them. More of Toby's ancestry is revealed, but not by me at this time. I can't wait to learn more.

I would not classify these books as great literature, but they are great stories nonetheless. More character driven than the introspective, psychological and sociological musings of the Wayward Children series, but there are still similar moments. Toby is continually faced with the dangers of Faerie, but she is also well aware of the dangers of the mortal world. On more than one occasion she has to consider whether being human would be such a bad thing. Yes, she wouldn't live as long, but then again she has actually died already, but now may have more years ahead of her than she originally thought, more time to discover more truths about herself. If she can avoid dying again that is. Another exciting and perilous adventure. Recommended.


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Seanan McGuire


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