Monday, September 20, 2010

Review of An Artificial Night

An Artificial Night is the third book in the October Daye series by Seanan McGuire, this year's John W. Campbell Award winner for Best New Writer. The first two books in this urban fantasy series about faerie are Rosemary and Rue and A Local Habitation, respectively. There has been a very short wait in between books, and both the fourth and fifth books are scheduled for publication next year (Late Eclipses in March and The Brightest Fell in September, continuing the trend of beautifully worded titles taken from Shakespeare).

Life is never dull for Toby Daye, a changeling private investigator who does work for the Faerie court. One moment she's capturing Barghests who have taken over the feast hall of one of the Faerie nobility. The next morning her own personal Grim Reaper shows up at her front door, cheerful and eagerly awaiting Toby's imminent death. As if that weren't enough, Toby comes home from breakfast to a frantic call from her friend Stacy who needs her to come look into a situation. Two of Stacy's children disappeared in the middle of the night, and one of her other children will not wake up.

It turns out other children are missing as well, including a human girl. Toby soon learns that this means Blind Michael is stealing children to become animals and riders for his Wild Hunt. With so many taken, including some who are dear to her, Toby cannot do anything other than try to retrieve the children - even if the appearance of death at her door means this does not bode well for her.

Each book in the October Daye series is better than the last, and this series has become one of my top three urban fantasies (right after the Kate Daniels series by Ilona Andrews and the Mercy Thompson series by Patricia Briggs). The second book was a big improvement over the first one, and this latest installment was slightly better than the second one. The plot was tighter with a wonderfully creepy atmosphere in the realms of Blind Michael. It's dark and there is not a vampire or werewolf to be found - it's all about the fae.

One of the reasons this book seems stronger than the others may be that it's not about solving a mystery - the cause of the disappearing children is discovered early in the story and most of the book was about how to rectify the situation. While I mostly love Toby as a character, I'm afraid I don't actually believe in her as a private investigator. She seems to have issues grasping simple clues in each book, and her ability to solve cases seems to rely more on sheer luck than any actual skill. Perhaps good fortune is part of Toby's changeling heritage that hasn't been revealed yet since she did admit in the beginning of this novel that solving her latest case had nothing to do with her prowess as an investigator (plus, she does seem pretty lucky not to be dead by now as often as she's nearly been so in these three books). When it came to figuring out who took the children, she also didn't do a whole lot of problem solving but instead came to the conclusion by coincidence leading her to the person she needed to talk to. Admittedly, she'd had a rough morning with Mae, her own personal Fetch who looked like her and was just waiting to carry her off after she died, showing up at her door. Yet I can't ignore this or think of it as a special case since she's seemed equally dense at figuring out clues in the previous books.

In spite of the fact that I am hoping there is an explanation for Toby's less than stellar investigative skills, I do enjoy reading about her. She's funny with a rather amusing way of phrasing her narration, and she's certainly not all powerful. Her tough but vulnerable attitude and willingness to dive into danger reminds me a lot of other urban fantasy heroines, but her voice in the second book went a long way toward making me like her. However, I did find myself thinking Toby's voice was not as strong or full of personality in this installment as the previous one. After some thought, I don't think that there was a big difference between the second and third book narration, but Toby's voice no longer seemed as "Toby." The last book I read by Seanan McGuire was Feed, a novel she wrote as Mira Grant, and I found myself thinking at times that Toby's narrative style sounded very much like George, the narrator in Feed.

Most of the characters other than Toby are also very enjoyable to read about, both new and old. Luna's past is explored, and it was fun to learn more about her origins. The rose goblin Spike was fleshed out a little more and even though he can't speak to Toby, he has his own personality and endearing ways. Tybalt remains my favorite and even though there wasn't as much of him in this novel as the second one, the parts that were here were very good. Part of his allure is just how mysterious he is so I don't really mind if that is dragged out a little, especially considering we did get some setup hinting there may be more about him soon. There were also several references to Toby's mother that made me quite curious about where that may be going. This part of the series is handled very well - even though each book stands on its own with a definite conclusion there are some tantalizing bits to anticipate in future installments.

My personal preference for fae is the darker the better, and I am beginning to wonder just how dark these fae are. Although there are certainly some who are on the creepy side such as this book's villain Blind Michael, many of them seem to genuinely care about others. There are times they look out for themselves or do good if it benefits them, but I am beginning to wonder if some of the fae are further on the Tinkerbell side of the faery goodness spectrum than I'd initially thought. Since all the important characters are at least partially fae, the average reader may not be able to sympathize with them if they seemed too inhuman, though. It's a difficult balance to maintain, and there is at least still plenty of blurriness when it comes to motive for many of them.

Although I do have one major issue with the series so far - the main character's incompetence at her job - An Artificial Night is an entertaining read that kept me turning the pages. It's dark and eerie with some delightful characters I'm looking forward to reading more about.

My Rating: 8/10

Where I got my reading copy: ARC from the publisher.

Reviews of other books in this series:
Other Reviews of An Artificial Night:


Janicu said...

Great review. I am still in the middle of reading this (OK, I got sucked into MAGIC BLEEDS), but read your review anyway. Looking forward to the tidbits about Toby's mother (I'd been wondering what her back story was). And the lack of Tybalt is sort of killing me!

Kristen said...

Janicu - Thanks! There isn't much about Toby's mother's actual backstory, but there are enough references to her that I would imagine there will be more about her soon. One part in particular had me very curious.

I love Tybalt too (who doesn't - that seems to be what everyone says)! There wasn't as much of him in this book as the last, but the parts with Tybalt were awesome. From what was here, I'd imagine there will be a lot more of him in the next book. I'm hoping so anyway!

When I got MAGIC BLEEDS, I dropped all other books to read it as well. It's so very good! And all these reviews of Bayou Moon are reminding me I haven't read On the Edge yet.

orannia said...

Great review Kristen. I so need to read the first book...and meet Tybalt :)

Kristen said...

Orannia - Thank you! Oh yes, you should definitely meet Tybalt... I think you would love him! And these are very fun books anyway. I'm looking forward to the next one.