There was a sentence in this book’s foreword that made me fear for a moment this could be the final book in the series, because Seanan McGuire states that “Everything I have done with October’s world to this point has been for the sake of getting here, to the book that you now hold in your hands”. Luckily it was not so. First, a quick peek at the author’s website assured me there are several more titles in preparation, and second, hindsight showed me that what she meant with those words is that this book was intended to be a huge game changer. And indeed it is…
It’s going to be difficult to review The Winter Long without mentioning important plot details, but to do so would mean spoiling the many surprises a reader has in store with this eighth installment in the October Daye series, so I ask your forgiveness if I will sound more cryptic than the Sphinx at times.
The book is mainly about revelations: revelations on Toby’s past, revelations on her mother Amandine (a figure that’s still heavily shrouded in mystery), but above all we are treated with new insights on the beginnings of Toby’s story. When we first encountered this character, in Rosemary and Rue, she had just come back to life after spending sixteen years as a fish in a pond, transformed by a spell incurred during her investigation on the kidnapping of her liege lord’s wife and child. Back then at the beginning Toby was lonely and adrift, having lost everything that mattered to her, while at present she has built herself new bonds with family and friends – people who care deeply for her and for whom she cares just as deeply.
All this however does not cushion her from the shock of meeting Simon Torquill, the brother of her liege lord Sylvester, the abductor of his sister-in-law and niece and the one responsible for Toby’s own transformation. Simon’s appearance and enigmatic announcements take her literally back to square one, and she learns that the truth – if there is any to be found, indeed – is not what she thought until that moment. October must deal with the crumbling foundations of her certainties and forge ahead in the darkness – sometimes figurative, sometimes literal – to prevent a hostile takeover and the upheaval of both her life and her world.
And this is as much as I dare to reveal about the plot…
One of the reasons I’ve greatly enjoyed this series, apart from the main character and the wonderful mix of secondary figures orbiting her, is the constant growth I’ve seen in October: from a broken-down person with no ties to either world (the “normal”, everyday world and faerie), she becomes a strong woman who harbors no fear of tackling anything or anyone threatening the people she cares about. She is not, however, the classical Urban Fantasy kick-ass character who flies unscathed through adversities, leaving a trail of defeated enemies in her wake: no, October suffers and bleeds in the course of her adventures, she remains fallible and she learns from her mistakes, even though she’s still prone to making new ones. She is part fae and does have some powers, but her spirit remains very human, and the way she balances on this narrow line is part and parcel of her strength as a character.
Here, in this eighth book, Toby is forced to throw away almost everything she knew for certain and start over – and not only that: she must deal with betrayals and a web of lies she was unaware of. These revelations are more painful than enlightening, and I love the way she reacts, again moving along the narrow border between sorrow and rage in the way I’ve come to expect from her. This is what McGuire must have meant when she said she had been working for seven books to reach: a complete change of the rules of the game, and a new start. Where this new start will lead… well, it’s something I will have the pleasure of discovering in the next books.
A few words about other characters: some of them gain new facets as we get to know them better, like the Luidaeg – the sea witch who is October’s main ally and a wonderful, snarky character that’s one of McGuire’s best creations; or Quentin – October’s squire, who is growing more than just in years and height; or Tybalt – King of Cats and October’s lover, whose mix of flowery, Shakespearean language and witty humor gives us some of the best moments of the book. But the biggest surprise comes from Sylvester Torquill and his wife Luna: until now they were October’s go-to persons for advice and shelter, but in the huge upheaval brought on by this book they are the ones who undergo the deepest changes, especially Sylvester. What I always perceived as silent wisdom looks now like feeble uncertainty, and it’s as if a veil was lifted, finally showing him for what he is – to say more would be too much.
October’s world is shifting, her alliances and foundations are shifting and changing, and so is the course of this series that is showing, book after book, it harbors no fear of reinventing itself to keep fresh and intriguing. If you have not read it yet, do yourself a favor and start now. You will not regret it.
My Rating: 9/10