When The Wild Hunt Rides Things Get Tricky: Seanan McGuire – An Artificial Night

While I had expected this to be a Best Series finalists in the Hugo Awards again this year, I wanted to continue the series anyway. But the nomination gave me the necessary push to maybe start reading a bit sooner, because the more instalments I can read before the voting period is over, the better I can judge the Toby Daye books against their competition. And the competition is fierce!

artificial-nightAN ARTIFICIAL NIGHT
by Seanan McGuire

Published: DAW, 2010
eBook: 352 pages
Series: October Daye #3
My rating: 6/10

Opening line: One thing I’ve learned in my time working as a private investigator-slash-knight errant for the fae community of the San Francisco Bay Area: if something looks like it’s going to be simple, it probably won’t be.

Changeling knight in the court of the Duke of Shadowed Hills, October “Toby” Daye has survived numerous challenges that would destroy fae and mortal alike. Now Toby must take on a nightmarish new assignment.

Someone is stealing both fae and mortal children—and all signs point to Blind Michael. When the young son of Toby’s closest friends is snatched from their Northern California home, Toby has no choice but to track the villains down, even when there are only three magical roads by which to reach Blind Michael’s realm—home of the legendary Wild Hunt—and no road may be taken more than once. If she cannot escape with all the children before the candle that guides and protects her burns away, Toby herself will fall prey to Blind Michael’s inescapable power.

And it doesn’t bode well for the success of her mission that her own personal Fetch, May Daye—the harbinger of Toby’s own death—has suddenly turned up on her doorstep…

This may only be the third book in a pretty long series (14 volumes at the time I’m writing this) but after reading the first two, I felt confident enough to go into this one blindly. I didn’t read the synopsis, I didn’t check out any reviews, I simply trusted that Seanan McGuire would deliver the same or at least a very similar type of story that I had enjoyed previously. Except with new threats, of course. And maybe a start of that romance I’m hoping for?

Toby is faced with a new kind of problem, namely that kids go missing. And not just Fae kids, either, at least one human girl as well. So, in order to get back her best friends’ children, some Cait Sidhe that Tybald is missing, and Quentin’s human girlfriend, Toby sets out to first investigate and then plan a rescue mission. Which is easier said then done when the kidnapper is none other than Blind Michael who wants to use the children for his Wild Hunt!
Entering Blind Michael’s land is hard, but getting back is even harder. Toby wouldn’t be Toby, however, if she didn’t dive in headfirst anyway and do her very best to save those children and maybe, just possibly, not die herself in the process. Which would be easier to believe in if she hadn’t just received a visit from a very portentous person…

This is my first time reading through the October Daye series and as I’m only three books in, I can’t say too much about the series as a whole. But I do like its episodic nature with a dash of overarching story. Except this time, that story didn’t really advance and it’s more of a monster-of-the-week kind of instalment. Which is also fine because said monster happens to be terrifying! I really enjoyed exploring this new side of Faerie, one that is decidedly not lovely, but quite dark and with more than one horror aspect to it. There are certain scenes that are pure nightmare fuel if you think about them too long, which led to another exciting adventure with Toby as our reluctant hero jumping headfirst into danger for the greater good.

The thing is, this adventure is kind of over at the halfway point of the book. I’m trying not to spoil anything here but let’s just say the quest part of the story is done. Well okay, there are some loose ends. Sort of. But the second half of the book felt mostly like a re-hashing of what had happened before, only slightly altered, and therefore didn’t hold my interest quite as much. The plot as a whole didn’t feel as thought out as in the previous two books.

Another small gripe I have is the characters. Am I the only one who doesn’t particularly like Connor and gets annoyed when he’s there? That’s not the gripe, that’s just an aside. My problem is that this is book 3 of a series. We have met most of the side characters already. I appreciate McGuire giving us gentle reminders of who everyone is and how they relate to each other (seriously, that’s worth gold when you let some time pass between books) but I don’t like that she’s trying to evoke the same emotions she did in previous volumes with the exact same words. The Luidaeg is super powerful, we know that. We also know that, although she could have killed Toby already, she didn’t because she seems to like her and who’s to tell a Firstborn what to do? So pretending like Toby asking the Luidaeg for something is this grand dangerous endeavour just doesn’t work. We know she’s not in real danger because, unlikely as it may be, the two have become friends and the Luidaeg cares for Toby. So the attempt at a doom and gloom atmosphere when visiting the Luidaeg just feel flat.

Unfortunately, I had similar feelings about Tybalt, a big favorite of mine. I do so hope he doesn’t turn out to be an asshole or dies in the next book or something (I honestly don’t know, please no spoilers). Mysterious and brooding and helping Toby out while pretending he’s not really helping her out but only acting in his own self-interest, he’s the kind of fictional dude I can root for. Except this time, he didn’t get to shine despite appearing several times. Where there used to be tension and atmosphere in the first books, everything had kind of sizzled out at this point.
I did love the new character of May and the way her relationship with Toby and the others developed over the course of this novel.

While reading this, I constantly had the feeling like this book was rushed. Not so much because the plot happened to fast, but because it didn’t feel like McGuire put the same love and care into this particular volume like she did with the previous ones. Once you’ve finished the book, there’s actually not that much plot. There are a lot of characters but many of them were shallower versions of their previous selves. So it was a very so-so read for me, with exciting parts, characters I liked, but also with plot lines that I didn’t care for or that felt contrived, with characters I liked from earlier novels but didn’t much care for this time.

So far, this was my least favorite Toby Daye book because of its plot and character issues and the fact that, in the second half, I kept rolling my eyes at Toby’s hero complex. That woman keeps trying to kill herself in creative ways. Sure, it’s usually to save others, so you can’t even be mad at her, but damn it, Toby, have a shred of self-preservation!

Also, the Shakespeare quote titles are so pretentious, I can’t get over it. Whenever the title drops in the actual book, I can feel how badly the author and/or publisher wanted to make it fit. Sometimes that works better than others but the connection between urban fantasy stories about a Changeling and Shakespeare’s plays isn’t something I can see. Every title drop just feels like McGuire wants to let her readers know that she has read Shakespeare and we should all be impressed because random lines from his plays pop up at random moments in her books with no emotional impact or deeper meaning whatsoever. As much as I love Shakespeare, I am not impressed and I think the forced quote titles do the series a disservice. But hey, there are worse things to complain about. In the end, I only found this book okay but it will not stop me reading the rest of the series.

MY RATING: 6/10 – Good

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