One of Toby’s oldest friends is in dire trouble. Lily of the Tea Gardens is slowly fading away, and no one knows what’s causing it. On top of that, one of Toby’s worst nemeses whose name is feared throughout Fae, Oleander, is back. Are the two related or is something else going on? And can Toby save the day without losing herself?
I picked this book up expecting it to be another mystery of the week entry in the series, but what I found was a surprising development in the overarching plot that kept my heart in my throat but also left me dubious about the possible directions the next book could take.
The plot starts out similarly to the previous entry in the series. Someone close to Toby is in danger. In this case, it’s Lily, and she’s sick, slowly fading out of existence. Over the course of the book, others close to Toby end up sick as well, as it soon becomes clear (this is really not a spoiler, it’s revealed early on) that someone is poisoning them. When Oleander showed up, I nearly groaned at how obvious it felt that she is the one to blame for all of this. But it’s not quite that straight-forward, and there’s also a sub-plot of Toby possibly going crazy….which changelings are known to do in this world. The book then isn’t just about Toby trying to solve the mystery, it’s also about her trying to determine if her blood has doomed her to sink into insanity. This gives the plot enough depth to keep it interesting.
Long-standing characters receive more depth of character development and new ones are added. Toby cotinues to have the wit that keeps the book upbeat even when things are grim. One quote in particular I think would work pretty well as a fitspo positive argument:
I promised myself that if I lived, I’d start working out. Better cranky and alive than cheerful and dead. (loc 1815)
As for the plot twist, I can’t talk about it much without spoilers. The spoiler free review would be that I am concerned the big overarching plot twist moves things a bit too far into one hero to save us land, which isn’t a fantasy plot I personally usually enjoy. For the spoiler version of this, see the next paragraph.
It is revealed that Toby is not the type of Fae she thought, she is rather a very rare type of Fae. This type of Fae is capable of changing the make-up of their own blood. She can thus morph into more Fae, changeling, or human as she desires. It also turns out her mother is from the first born, which makes her kind of Fae royalty. My issue with this is one of the things I like so much about the series is that Toby lacks the magical powers to the extent the Fae have. She also doesn’t fit into the human world. But she fights for her right to be in the world she chooses to live in, and her value in the Fae world is due to how hard she tries and her brains, not her blood. This plot development feels like it’s making it all about her blood. Her power is due to whose daughter she is, not who she herself is. That’s just not a message I’m as fond of.
Overall, this is an action-packed entry in the series that visits another mystery with enough different sub-plots and twists to keep it interesting. Fans of the series will be surprised by the big overarching plot development toward the end of the book and will be eager to pick up the next one to see where this plot development goes.
4 out of 5 stars
When two of Toby’s good friends’ children go missing from their own bedroom and another won’t wake up from being asleep, they call Toby in immediately to look for them. Soon the King of Cats reports that some of his kingdom’s children are missing too, and Quentin’s human girlfriend disappears as well. It quickly becomes clear that it’s time for the 100 year cycle of Blind Michael’s Hunt. Blind Michael, the Luidaeg’s brother, is incredibly powerful, and only three roads lead to his realm. Toby can only take each road once. That means she has only three chances to save the children and stop the Hunt.
I picked this book up immediately after finishing the second in the series and, oh man, it did not disappoint. This book presents an old school Brothers Grimm style blood-curdling, toes-curling fairy tale, peppered with characters we’ve already come to know and love.
Blind Michael is scary. What he does to the children is really scary. He turns the fae children into “Riders” monstrous twists on real fae features. He turns the human children into their horses for them to ride. Everything about Blind Michael and his twisted land scared the crap out of me, and I don’t scare easily. It was exactly the sort of scare I used to seek out as a child from the original Grimm Fairy Tales (the ones that are not cleaned up). This book goes a lot darker than the first two, which were already dark, and it went there in such a different way from the first two plots. The first two plots were entirely about murder, here we have someone stealing children from their beds. It’s a completely different type of scare and different sort of mystery for Toby to have to figure out.
The plot tells more than just this one mystery, though, it also brings out some information that is key to the overarching plot of the series. I really enjoyed how smoothly this was worked together, and I also must say I didn’t predict at all where it was going.
There are basically two themes in the book, one I appreciated and the other I didn’t particularly agree with. Let’s start with the one I didn’t agree with.
There’s a theme in the book that children on some level must deal with and be held responsible for the choices of their parents. Toby tries to pretend otherwise, but that doesn’t work out so well for her.
Blood will tell. I tried to pretend it wouldn’t that we could change, but blood always tells. We carry the burdens of our parents. (loc 312)
It basically reads as the idea that you can’t run away from your family or from your blood, your nature. Personally, I don’t like that frame of thought. You can leave your family of birth and not have to be held responsible for them. You are not your parents. You are your own person. You are not responsible for what your parents do after you leave home. So this theme didn’t sit well with me. Other readers who agree with this theme will obviously enjoy it more.
The other theme was one I was quite happy to see so directly addressed in an urban fantasy and that is of suicidal ideation. There are many different ways that suicidal ideation can manifest, but with Toby her symptoms are that she firmly believes her death is imminent and is planning for it, and she repeatedly throws herself into risk situations because she doesn’t care if she dies. Suicidal ideation essentially means that a person is lacking self-preservation instincts and is ok with dying. They won’t actually commit suicide but they will put themselves into dangerous situations because part of them does want to die. So they might run across a street without looking, go walking alone at 2am in a dangerous neighborhood, etc… Toby’s depression from the first two books has grown so much that she is now at this point, and people have started calling her out on it. Seeing her realize that she’s, in layman’s terms, got a death wish, is interesting and well-done. What I appreciate most about it is how directly it is addressed.
Because, dear October, you’re the most passively suicidal person I’ve ever met, and that’s saying something. You’ll never open your wrists, but you’ll run head-first into hell. You’ll have good reasons. You’ll have great reasons, even. And part of you will be praying that you won’t come out again. (loc 3876)
Overall, this entry in the series brings back the characters readers have come to love and puts them into a new mystery much more terrifying than the first two. Two strong themes in the book include nature/nurture/ties to parents and dealing with suicidal ideation. Fans of the series won’t be disappointed. This is a roller coaster ride of emotions and peril.
4 out of 5 stars
Toby Daye, changeling, private detective, and knight to the knowe of the powerful Sylvester, feels like she has her feet back under her after returning to human form after 14 years as a fish and also solving the murder of a powerful fae. When her liege requests she go investigate why he hasn’t heard from his niece in a while, she expects it to be a quick visit, although possibly a bit irritating since she has to bring along young Quentin, a teenaged full-blooded Daoine Sidhe fae. Sylvester’s niece just so happens to own the only fae tech company, and she claims that she has indeed been calling her uncle. But when an employee turns up dead and Toby finds out there have been two mysterious deaths previously, she realizes there’s more here than immediately meets the eye, particularly since she can’t read anything from the blood of the dead.
I enjoyed the first book in this urban fantasy series about a changeling investigator so much that I immediately checked out the second ebook from the Boston Public Library on my kindle. (If you have an ereader, definitely check out if your local public library will let you do this. It saves me so much money!) This book brought me right back into the wonderfully built world of Toby and offered up a new murder mystery even more mysterious than the first.
Readers of the first book know that Toby’s special fae power is the ability to read a person’s memories from tasting their blood. I found it startling and intriguing that McGuire immediately took this power away from Toby in the second book. There’s nothing to read in the victims’ blood. Why is that? It’s a plot I may have expected in the fourth or fifth book, but not so soon. From a writing perspective, it’s bold to take away your hero’s superpower in only the second book in the series. And it works. There’s ultimately a logical explanation for why the blood is telling Toby nothing (and no, it’s not Toby’s fault), so it never feels like a gimmick. I think that is what I like most about this series. The author utilizes techniques that could easily turn into a gimmick but she always keeps it from actually being a gimmick so it instead is utterly engaging and enthralling.
The fae world is also clearly much larger than we originally saw in the first book. The fae have a tech company so that they can rework modern technology to work in the fae knowes. On top of that, we also meet many more races of fae, as well as ways for the races we already know to exist and appear. For instance, Sylvester’s niece, January, has a daughter. But her daughter is in fact a tree fairy. Tree fairies are normally tied to a tree or a forest, so how is she in this tech building? January tied her branch to the computer server after her forest was destroyed, and she was able to keep living after adapting into the server and treating the server as a forest. Very cool idea, and it works beautifully in the story.
Even though I was basically able to predict whodunnit, I couldn’t figure out why or how, so the plot still satisfied me as I waited for Toby to figure all of that out.
One thing that kind of disappointed me in the book is that Toby meets a type of fae who can emit a magical scent that makes the person smelling it think they are massively attracted to him and thus sleep with him. They then become obsessed with this type of fairy, and the fae feeds off of the obsession. I was glad to see the book treat this as rape (basically drugging someone into sleeping with you) but I was also disappointed to see our heroine have to face off against an attempted rape. As I said in my review of the previous book, I get really tired of urban fantasy heroines being threatened constantly by rape. My hope is that this was a one-off type thing to introduce the concept of this type of fae rather than the new normal for the series.
Toby herself and the worldbuilding continue to be my two favorite aspects of the series. The plots are good, but I’d read almost anything plot-wise to visit Toby and her world again.
The essence of Toby and why I love her is evident in this quote:
Long dresses weren’t designed for walking in the woods. My mother could’ve made the walk without stumbling; she fits into the world that well, even insane. That’s what it means to be a pureblood. I stumble and fall, and I always get up and keep going. That’s what it means to be a changeling. (page 371)
Picking a quote to show why I love the worldbuilding so much is a bit harder, but here’s a particular favorite that really punched a visual of what this world is like home for me. In this passage, Toby is explaining that she and her mother are Daoine Sidhe and can see memories through blood:
My mother was so strong she could taste the death of plants. She could never stomach maple syrup; she said it tasted like trees screaming. (page 91)
As a born and raised Vermonter who grew up harvesting maple syrup, that line was a bit of a gut punch. An eloquent one.
Overall, readers of the first entry in the series will be pleased with this second outing. Toby continues to be a strong character set in a fascinating world. The mystery plot is another murder, but it is a series of murders and has a very different solving pattern and outcome than the first. Recommended to fans of the first book to continue on to the second as soon as they can.
4 out of 5 stars
Hello my lovely readers! Many book bloggers are familiar with Carl of Stainless Steel Droppings’ two big reading challenges he runs every year. I often participate in the fall challenge for reading horror/thriller/mystery/etc… but I have never participated in the spring challenge for reading fantasy, because I used to think I don’t like fantasy. I’ve discovered that I’m wrong. I do like fantasy, just mainly urban fantasy and fantasies that are not set in a Medieval Europe style setting. So I thought that this year I would participate in Once Upon a Time IX!
Once Upon a Time IX focuses on reading books that fit into the categories of fantasy, folklore, fairy tales, or mythology between March 21st and June 21st. I’m signing up for the level called “The Journey.” Read at least one book in any of those categories. I’m hoping to read more than one but I was worried if I signed up for a higher level it would feel like too much pressure to me. My personal goal right now is three books.
Books I already own that fit the challenge are listed below. I’d love to hear from you in the comments if there’s one you’d particularly like to recommend to me from my list!
- Carpe Jugulum by Terry Pratchett
- Cycle of the Werewolf by Stephen King
- Deadtown by Nancy Holzner
- Fables Vol. 1 by Bill Willingham
- Fated by S. G. Browne
- A Local Habitation by Seanan McGuire
- The Nonborn King by Julian May
- Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos by H. P. Lovecraft
- Unshapely Things by Mark Del Franco
- The Veiled Mirror by Christine Frost
- Watership Down by Richard Adams
- The Years of Rice and Salt by Kim Stanley Robinson
Eugenia Markham is a shaman who spends her time sending the fae back to their own world. She hates the fae both for trespassing into our world and for kidnapping women into their own. When fae start referring to her by her given name, rather than her working name, she becomes concerned something is awry. What she discovers is a prophecy that will change everything.
I picked this up because I love Richelle Mead’s Georgina Kincaid series (review) so much. I wish any of the summaries I read of the book had even hinted at one of the big plot points, as I think how a reader responds to that plot point will dictate how much they enjoy the series overall.
Without revealing too much, early on in the book, fae start showing up and attempting to rape Eugenie. She finds out that there is a prophecy that her child will be the one to bring about large changes in the land of the fae. (This is not particularly a spoiler, it is revealed early on and there are even more plot twists later on to complicate this). What this means for the reader is that our main character must repeatedly physically fight off would-be rapists. If I had realized this was such a key plot point, I would not have personally picked up this book, and I think there are probably quite a few other readers who would be similarly bothered by this repeated scene of our heroine trying to fight off rapists. To be clear, this is not one single solitary incident. It is one of the main repeated problems for this character. Fae keep trying to rape her.
Another plot line is that the fae are known for kidnapping and raping young (this is specified, young, as in early to mid teens) human women. Because the fae have fertility problems. In fact, the case that Eugenie takes on early in the book is trying to save a teenaged girl who has been kidnapped by the fae. Eugenie normally doesn’t go into the land of the fae in a corporeal form (she does send her spirit via astral projection), but she agrees to in this case because she is so bothered by the knowledge that this teenage girl is facing a lifetime of rape.
These are just two non-spoiler examples of the rape plots, and there is at least one more that I won’t reveal as it’s a big spoiler. Readers who for whatever reason do not want to read either about rapes occurring off-screen or about the threat of rape or about a woman repeatedly having to physically fight off rapists should not pick this book up. These are key and frequent plot points in this book.
Having said this, I do not judge the book for including these plot points. Rape is a part of some fae mythology, and the author has every right to include it in an urban fantasy book based in fae mythology. I also think the author handles the inclusion of the rape and threatened rape well. Rape is never excused, rapists are denounced, and there are some fae characters who state they would never have sex with a human female who hasn’t consented. The author has a valid reason for including the rape plots, and she handles them well. I simply wish that it was clearer from the official book blurb what a large role rape plays in this book, and thus, in my review, I am being certain to be clear for potential readers the extent of rape plot points in this book.
So what about the rest of the book? Eugenie is mostly what one expects from an urban fantasy heroine. She is strong, talented, wears her hair short and hates dresses. She has a questionable roommate and a cover story of being some sort of private investigator. What makes Eugenie unique in urban fantasy is that she is a shaman trained by her step-father, and the only really supernatural humanoids in her world are the fae and some mythological shapeshifters from other cultures (think of Japanese myth’s shifters). Don’t come to this series looking for vampires and werewolves. You won’t find them. The fantastical world of this book is simply that there is another world of fae, and sometimes they cross over into ours.
The prophecy at the center of the book has more to it than it originally seems, and the plot twists are surprising and exciting. Yes, many urban fantasy books revolve around a prophecy that has our heroine at the center, but this is the first one I’ve seen in a while that’s more about the heroine’s child than the heroine herself.
As is to be expected, Eugenie has two potential love interests, a half kitsune (shape shifting fox) half human man and a fae. Personally, I didn’t like either of her love interests. One is too bourgeois/royal, and the other is too macho for my taste. But I can see how other readers would enjoy one or the other or both of them and appreciate Eugenie’s difficulty in deciding who has her heart.
The audiobook narration by Jennifer Van Dyck starts out a bit awkward and gets better with time. For the first half or so of the book, her narration can sometimes be a bit stilted. She almost sounds like she’s reading lists. She pauses at odd times. Also, her voice sometimes comes across as elderly, which doesn’t suit the tone of the book. For the most part, though, the narration doesn’t detract too much from the book, it simply doesn’t elevate it either.
Overall, this is an entry in the urban fantasy genre that sticks closely to the well-loved trope of a strong, non-girly woman battling supernatural forces while also adding on some unique elements, such as a prophecy about her future child and sticking to the fae of mythology. Readers should be aware that attempted rape and rapes occurring off-screen feature frequently in the book. The plot itself is twisting and exciting, with enough unique elements to keep regular readers of urban fantasy engaged. Recommended to urban fantasy fans looking for a universe that sticks more closely to the traditional mythical depiction of the fae world and who don’t mind the inclusion of rape and attempted rape in the plot of the book.
3 out of 5 stars