When I discovered the Newsflesh Trilogy by Mira Grant, I learned that she is the alter-ego for Seanan McGuire, Urban Fantasy writer, and I was of course curious: until that moment, my attempts at reading this particular genre had not ended well – the books I happened to pick up seemed centered on repeating clichés and cookie-cutter characters, so that I was convinced Urban Fantasy was not my cup of tea. But Mira Grant’s writing prompted me to give the genre another try: now, after seven books in the October Daye series, I’m very happy I did, because Seanan McGuire is the kind of author who gives Urban Fantasy a good name, to paraphrase the old song.
October “Toby” Daye is a San Francisco private investigator, and also a changeling – half human and half fae, therefore never fully belonging to either world: the fae generally despise mixed bloods, their contempt in inverse proportion to the percentage of fae blood in any changeling, while humans must be kept in ignorance of the differences – some subtle, some less so – in their appearance, because the secret of faerie’s existence is to be kept at all costs. When we meet Toby for the first time, she’s chosen her human side and tries to build a normal life for herself: a husband, a child, a job she enjoys. But one of her investigations crosses the purposes of a powerful fae who transforms her into a fish, condemning her to several years of this limbo while the world goes on without her. Once the enchantment wears off, Toby’s family has adapted to her sudden disappearance and moved on, and she finds herself alone and adrift, with no clear purpose in life and a defeated attitude that leaves little room for hope in her future. It’s only through her reluctant involvement with the fae world, due to a brutal murder she’s asked to investigate, that she starts – slowly and painfully – to come out of her shell, and to gain a new lease on life as she rebuilds herself literally from scratch, collecting friends and allies along the way.
The first book in the series, though still fascinating, feels somewhat slow, so I urge any potential reader to overlook that and to stay on board for the ride – it’s the same advice I followed when I started, and I’m glad I did: this series gets better and better with each following book. The world-building expands in concentric circles, creating a fascinating tapestry out of the intersecting – but never really touching – realities of our primary world and faerie, and presenting a huge variety of fae and changelings, all with their individual traits that make them alien in appearance and abilities, and at the same time very human in their passions and desires. With each following book I’ve become more and more invested in these stories and characters, in the parallel world of faerie, with its complicated, often cruel politics and interweaving alliances, with its powerful allure. And of course I’ve become invested in Toby, her slowly growing family and her evolving personality – the clear trend of this series is growth, and I’ve found my initial patience more than amply rewarded.
What makes Toby special? First there is her single-mindedness: once she sets on a task, she pursues it with relentless determination, learning from the mistakes she makes along the way. Yes, she’s not perfect, and that’s another detail that endeared her to me – she’s flawed, and fallible and accident-prone: unlike the cookie-cutter heroines I mentioned above, Toby is far from the all-powerful-ninja-warrior that seems the norm in this genre. She gets hurt, she bleeds, and she pays dearly for missing important clues, or for trusting people she shouldn’t or not listening to sound advice. There’s something approaching a death wish in her, more evident at the beginning and lessening as the story goes on. Or if not a death wish, then a grim determination in completing her chosen tasks, in fulfilling the obligations she takes upon herself with little or no regard for personal consequences, an attitude that speaks volumes about her psychological make up and also explains the strong loyalty she engenders in the individuals gathering around her like planets around a sun.
What’s more, Toby manages all that in spite of her shortcomings as a changeling – on the contrary, she turns what pureblood fae consider a limitation into her main strength: she can go where individuals of both worlds cannot, she can perform feats denied to others. In short, Toby non only does not make any excuses for what she is not, but shows the world – both worlds – that strength can come from those very differences. And she pays the price for it every day, by giving of herself for the sake of others, with constant demonstrations of dogged selflessness.
With these premises, and McGuire’s fresh outlook on the genre, it’s hardly surprising that these books are gathering increasing success and acclaim: my direct experience is that they deserve it in full. Let yourselves be captured: you will not regret it.
My Rating: 8,5/10