Chimes at Midnight is the seventh instalment in (prolific, Hugo-Award-winning author) Seanan McGuire’s October Daye series, following last year’s Ashes of Honor. Those who’ve followed the adventures of Toby Daye thus far already, no doubt, have a good idea whether they want to read this newest one. Those who’re thinking about starting the series, though, shouldn’t start here: its hectic pace, large cast, and reliance on the reader’s familiarity with the context make it a rather unforgiving point to enter the series.
But in Chimes at Midnight, McGuire shows her weird yet compelling urban fantasy series to its best advantage.
Urban fantasy has always been a bit of a mixed bag. The reader is very rarely there for the worldbuilding. This is particularly true in the case of the reader who has a more-than-passing acquaintance with the mythology on which so many authors base the underpinnings of their worlds. The more I read, the more irritated I become at the cherry-picking of elements (and inventing more) from a wide range of geographically, temporally, and culturally divergent mythologies to provide a grab-bag of co-existent Cool Shit ™ and Awesome Powers in the absence of an in-universe explanation as to why they should be co-existent.*
*I need more underlying interpretative framework, is all I’m saying here!—and fewer people using modern Irish for magic shit, that would also be nice.
That’s the long way around to say: on mature consideration, I’ve come to hate McGuire’s worldbuilding in the Toby Daye series. Hate it like I hated the tiny shard of glass that lived in the pad of my foot for three months, the one that reminded me it was there by hurting whenever I thought I’d finally gotten shot of it…
So the fact that I’ve mostly enjoyed this series, and particularly enjoyed Chimes at Midnight, rather surprises me. I put it down to McGuire’s ability not only to write novels that bounce along at hectic, breakneck pace, but also to write well-rounded, wise-cracking characters who invite the reader’s empathy.
And then smash (some of) those characters into pieces.
Chimes at Midnight opens with Toby trying to track down the source of a drug that is addictive and ultimately deadly to changelings, but merely pleasant for full-blooded fae. It turns out that this goblin fruit has the Queen of the Mists, San Francisco’s local fae monarch, as its source. The Queen already hates Toby, and when Toby makes so bold as to complain, it’s goodbye, Toby: you’re officially banished.
Toby has three days to leave town, but being Toby, she’s not about to go quietly. A visit to the Luidaeg and to a magic Library reveals that the Queen may not have such a perfect right to her throne as Toby’d always supposed. There commences a rapid attempt to find the lost Real Heir, convince her to step forward, and foment a successful revolt.
All this would be tense and complicated enough on its own. But before too long, a surprise attack leaves Toby addicted to goblin fruit, and greatly weakened. Under the influence of goblin fruit, her own magic has turned against her and made her almost fully human. More vulnerable than she’s ever been, the revolt she’s instigated suddenly becomes a race against time, because if she doesn’t overthrow the Queen and gain access to the magic of the hope chest in the royal treasury, she’ll be dead.
Cue climactic capers, unexpected revelations, and several Moments of Awesome.
Many of the regular cast of characters have parts to play here, including Tybalt, King of Cats; Quintin, Toby’s squire; and several familiar others. Introduced in this instalment, too, are some interesting new faces: Arden Windermere, the lost heir; Madden, her faithful hound; and Mags, the Librarian of the Library of Stars.
On the whole, this is a thoroughly enjoyable episode in the ongoing series, and may be the best of the Toby Daye books yet. If you liked the previous books? I’m willing to bet you’re going to like this one. A lot.
Chimes at Midnight is available now from DAW