Genre: Urban Fantasy
Publisher: DAW on September 1, 2015
Audio: Mary Robinette Kowal for Audible Studios
Things are looking up.
For the first time in what feels like years, October “Toby” Daye has been able to pause long enough to take a breath and look at her life—and she likes what she sees.She has friends. She has allies. She has a squire to train and a King of Cats to love, and maybe, just maybe, she can let her guard down for a change.
Or not. When Queen Windermere’s seneschal is elf-shot and thrown into an enchanted sleep by agents from the neighboring Kingdom of Silences, Toby finds herself in a role she never expected to play: that of a diplomat. She must travel to Portland, Oregon, to convince King Rhys of Silences not to go to war against the Mists. But nothing is that simple, and what October finds in Silences is worse than she would ever have imagined.
How far will Toby go when lives are on the line, and when allies both old and new are threatened by a force she had never expected to face again? How much is October willing to give up, and how much is she willing to change? In Faerie, what’s past is never really gone.
It’s just waiting for an opportunity to pounce.
I don’t know how she does it, but Seanan McGuire continues to surprise, delight, and shock me with this series – even as far in as book nine! In the interest of avoiding spoilers, this review is going to be a bit vague when it comes to the actual plot of A RED-ROSE CHAIN and the previous books in the series, focusing instead on why I was so damn impressed by it.
Using tiny nuggets from the earliest books in the series, Seanan McGuire expands Toby’s world and adds new creatures, new kingdoms, and new powers to the mix that work perfectly within her original schema. Recent character development among the main and secondary characters can also be traced back to their experiences in the earliest books, which blows my mind. The amount of planning that must have gone into this series is truly staggering.
This series has spent considerable time grappling with the idea of “unbelonging,” the feeling that because of your differences, people look down upon or even hate you and all that you stand for. Given that Toby’s the central character of the series, it’s not surprising that her changeling status has primarily been the focus of this feeling of unbelonging; however, I was really excited to see another character step out of the shadows and into the spotlight so we could explore their struggle to conform to the strictures of Faerie – and the human world. Once again, McGuire shows her commitment to representing queer characters in a sub-genre that is on the whole woefully lacking in sexual diversity, and I couldn’t be more pleased to see it.
Fae Court politics also comes into play in A RED-ROSE CHAIN when Toby is sent on a diplomatic mission to a neighbouring kingdom to prevent a war. I really enjoyed seeing the gang navigate their way through the rigid social hierarchy and formal etiquette – with more than a few stumbles, of course – since Toby has typically operated outside the bounds of the Courts up until this point. The Kingdom of Silences is very different from Toby’s home in the Mists, ruled over by a king whose desire to achieve a kind of Fae racial purity strikes a chord with many of the more traditional, rules-bound Fae. Every fantasy series, regardless of sub-genre, needs a villain whose thing is racial purity – it’s basically the law. But once again, McGuire puts her own unique spin on things and made King Rhys one of the creepiest villains I’ve read about in ages.
Seanan McGuire’s ability to weave in and out of various styles continues to impress me. Having recently read several of her books from different universes each with completely different tone, I feel confident saying that McGuire can write anything…. and she can write it well. Over the course of the last two years, she has slowly, quietly become one of my absolute favourite authors and I automatically buy her new releases. Whether you’re looking for light-hearted or dark urban fantasy, mournful ghost stories or social commentary disguised as lyrical portal fantasy, Seanan McGuire has you covered.
I highly recommend the October Daye series to virtually everyone who enjoys urban fantasy. A RED-ROSE CHAIN proves that Toby and her friends have staying power, and their stories aren’t in any danger of becoming stale.