Reviews

Review: THE CITY SCREAMS (An Ordshaw Novella), by Phil Williams

 

I received this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.

When Phil Williams sent me the copy of The City Screams, I hoped it would expand on the themes encountered in his previous two novels, Under Ordshaw and Blue Angel, since there are many dark corners in there that I would love to explore. What I found was instead a very different kind of story, one that however was both intriguing and fascinating: instead of investigating further the mysteries of the imaginary city of Ordshaw, here we travel to Japan, following the journey of an Ordshaw citizen, Tova Nokes, as she lands in Tokyo to undergo a revolutionary medical procedure.

Tova lost her hearing at a very young age, and although she adapted to her disability as she grew up, the offer from Mogami Industries to be part of their experimental surgery, one that will return her hearing, is too good to pass up. Moreover, aside from the opportunity to visit a different country, there is a bonus thrown in: the chance to meet Tova’s idol, the rock singer Natalie Reid – another Ordshaw citizen – and to finally be able to hear her music.

The operation does not seem to sort the desired effect, though, and all Tova is able to hear, once the new implant is activated, are anguished screams coming from all over the city – and the disembodied voice of someone called Ki, who tries to warn her about a sort of unspecified danger she must avoid at all costs. From that moment on, Tova will find herself enmeshed into a breathless adventure that looks more like an obstacle course than anything else, and it will take all her resourcefulness and strength to stay above water and keep hold of her sanity.

First things first, I just loved the Japanese setting in The City Screams: if on one side the story showed that Ordshaw is not unique in its peculiarities, on the other the alien-ness of the parallel world coexisting and interweaving with our primary one is enhanced here by the social and cultural differences of a society so dissimilar to ours, despite some of its leanings toward western mores. What’s truly intriguing here is Tova’s point of view: she is not only the proverbial stranger in a strange land, she also lacks one of her senses, which makes those new and surprising sights even more perplexing, adding to the sense of displacement she suffers once a maelstrom of weird events threatens to overwhelm her.

It’s quite easy to care for Tova as a character: despite the disability, she has managed to build herself a good life, one centered around family, work, friends – like the sisterly Ren – and boyfriend Ethan, who however does not shine for his supporting attitude.  Not unlike Pax, the central character of the other two novels in the Ordshaw series, Tova is a strong, determined person and at the same time a quite average one, but when push comes to shove she is able to unearth a reservoir of toughness and resilience that carry her over the increasing obstacles she finds on her path, starting with the anguish caused by the failure of the “miracle” implant.

Tova might not be the classic heroine, and she certainly is not the ass-kicking kind of person modern literature and movies have led us to expect, but for this very reason she feels real and relatable, an ordinary person forced to face extraordinary (and baffling!) circumstances and meeting them with admirable resourcefulness. The best moment in her growth came for me when Tova realizes that until that moment she had let others determine what she could or could not do, allowing them to put fetters on her ability to deal with life’s little and big problems – the moment when she consciously choses to walk on her road and not the one others picked for her:

 

[…]It was easier to stay in a bubble, not push it. The story of Ethan’s life. Hell, the story of her life before coming out here. After a thought, Tova casually signed, “F*** off, Ethan, I can take care of myself.”

 

What’s not to admire, indeed…  🙂

The City Screams, like its companion novels, leaves us with some unanswered questions, since the author clearly wants to keep the most important cards close to his chest for a final revelation, so this novella does feel somewhat… incomplete, especially when the real motivation for the mysterious Ki’s actions is revealed and ultimately sounds quite shallow and self-serving.  But meeting Tova is worth accepting a few more gray areas in the overall narrative, and the author’s words about finding her again in the near future – probably in the final book of the series – give me a renewed enthusiasm for this Urban Fantasy arc and its as-yet unexplored threads.

 

My Rating:

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Reviews

Wyrd & Wonder 2019 – MIDDLEGAME, by Seanan McGuire

 

Oh my, where to start in describing this novel? And how to do it without revealing too much and therefore spoiling your enjoyment the story?  Well, let’s begin with the cover, one that would have drawn my attention even without the name of Seanan McGuire, one of my favorite authors, acting like a magnet. That hand-shaped candle with the burning wicks at the end of each finger carries such an ominous overtone that I could not wait to learn what it meant – by the way, it’s a Hand of Glory, it features prominently from a certain point onwards, and “ominous” barely scratches the surface as far as I’m concerned…

The beginning of Middlegame might seem a little confusing, but my advice is to go with the flow and trust the author to carry you where she intends to: everything will become clear in no time at all.  Even though the story is set in modern times, it shows some intriguing anachronisms: in the beginning we meet James Reed, an alchemist and at the same time a Frankenstein-like construct created by another famous alchemist, Asphodel Baker, whose dream was to harness the Doctrine, the fundamental force ruling the world, to shape it according to her vision.  Baker never reached such a goal, hindered as she was by the Alchemical Congress, but Reed intends to continue his creator’s work – not so much to bring her legacy to fruition, but rather to gain absolute power.  Reed’s way to make the Doctrine pliable to his will is to channel it in living flesh, embodying its constituent elements in twin children, each of whom will receive half of this energy.

Roger and Dodger are two such twins (not the only ones, though…), brought to life in Reed’s lab and infused, respectively, with the gift of language and mathematics, the two halves of the whole Doctrine. They are then separated and given to foster families, to grow as normal children until maturity will turn them into the tools Reed needs to wield.  They are not normal children however, because their talents go well beyond the usual range to move into genius territory: Roger possesses an uncanny gift for languages, and Dodger plays with numbers as other girls do with dolls. One day, despite being hundreds of miles apart, they connect with each other, establishing a mind link that will indelibly shape their lives and their future, while at the same time mitigating in part their essential loneliness.  As much as their creator and his minders try to keep them apart, to prevent them from reaching the desired peak too early, Roger and Dodger move through the years in a complicated dance of closeness and distance, friendship and hurt, mutual comfort and profound misunderstandings that will culminate one day in their actual meeting and the start of an unpredictable chain of events, involving time flow and the fabric of reality.

There are so many levels to this story that on hindsight I’ve come to acknowledge the fact that the core concepts of the Doctrine and Reed’s megalomaniac plans become secondary to the evolution of Roger and Dodger as persons: they are wonderfully depicted characters, their journey from childhood to maturity a fascinating progress that has little to do with their uncanny abilities and more with their sense of kinship, that bond which unites them from early on and is never broken even through separation and fallings-out.  If there is a topic in which Seanan McGuire excels is the exploration of the human soul and the hurts children suffer as they grow up: Roger and Dodger are essentially lonely children, excluded by their nature and upbringing from their peers’ usual activities, always “on the outside looking in” and more often than not unable to understand the reasons for this rift.

There is a very poignant quality in the awareness of their isolation, which leads to the easy acceptance of the voice each of them hears inside their heads as the first contact is made and both children understand on some basic level that they have met their complement – the missing half, the part that completes them just as language and math, heart and reason, complete each other. Through them we explore the themes of friendship and family, of the connections we establish with other people and how deeply they can run, of the way our abilities can shape us and direct our lives.  But above all we come to care for these odd twins and the way their respective orbits move around the center represented by their need to be together in order to be complete, and that’s the kind of story that compelled me to keep reading and made me resent every moment when I had to put the book down.

One of the reasons Middlegame is so absorbing comes from its peculiar narrative style, one that does not care too much about linearity and starts at what looks like an ending, and a shocking one at that: “There is so much blood.”, a sentence that informs the overall mood of the novel and keeps the reader mired in uncertainty about the fate of the main characters. From here the story moves haphazardly from past to future to past, the only navigational directions coming from the time and date given at the beginning of each chapter: such fluidity has its roots in one of the novel’s core themes, which is also an astounding discovery of the twins’ powers.  I have often remarked how the vagaries of time can be a tricky subject where I am concerned, but here it all made a lot of sense, not to mention that it increased my perception of the stakes at hand, and just for once I did not care for the intricacies of time-hopping and its inherent contradictions because McGuire made it all appear so natural, so understandable in its very impossibility, that I could only accept and enjoy it.

The other characters in the story are truly secondary when compared with Roger and Dodger, so that the main villain Reed is not drawn too precisely, for example, although that turned out to be of little importance to me because in the end he was a little like Tolkien’s Sauron – a dire, evil presence in the background, mentioned but hardly seen.  A little more definite is Reed’s henchwoman Leslie, another alchemical construct assembled from parts of dead women (which is a thoroughly chilling concept): her penchant for murder, mayhem and the suffering of others plays an interesting contrast with Reed’s detached cruelty. But the one who most drew my attention, in a strange mixture of dislike and pity, is Erin, the surviving half of another pair of experimental twins, and Leslie’s deputy of sorts: hers is an intriguing journey and one that I don’t want to spoil – discovering her depths and facets is one of the fascinating surprises of this novel.

Much as I always enjoy works penned by Seanan McGuire, I have to acknowledge that Middlegame feels like a further step up in her writing, plotting and character exploration skills, certainly the best book I have read so far from this author.  Don’t let it pass you by, or you will miss an amazing story.

 

My Rating:

 

(image courtesy of kasana86)
Reviews

Wyrd & Wonder 2019: BLUE ANGEL (Ordshaw #2), by Phil Williams (review)

 

I received this book from the author in exchange for an honest review: my thanks for this opportunity.

As the saying goes, this second volume in the new Urban Fantasy series Ordshaw hits the ground running: while its predecessor Under Ordshaw needed to establish the playing field and to sketch the main characters’ profile and therefore suffered some slight pacing problems, Blue Angel can now afford to start exactly where we left off and drive at high speed toward the next phase of the story.  And ‘high speed’ is indeed the code word here, since events move at such a breakneck pace that at times I felt dizzy just trying to follow them all, especially when considering that, as was the case in Book 1, they all happen in a very short time span.

Book 2 alternates its focus between the characters we already know – Pax, Letty, the Bartons and Casaria – and some new perspectives, like Sam Ward from the shady Ministry of Environmental Energy, which add further layers to the story and offer an inside look on the MEE and the bureaucratic mentality of politicians dealing with the supernatural – which is not exactly a wholesome or comforting sight…

The sense of chaos that plagued me before is present in Blue Angel as well, but here it finally makes sense, because we are trying to patch together the pieces of this complicated puzzle, and like the characters we understand we don’t have all the tiles of the mosaic and we struggle alongside these fictional people to find some order in the madness that has hit the city of Ordshaw since the events of the previous book.  Toward the end, once some of the characters have finally understood that they stand a better chance of succeeding if they cooperate with each other, the picture becomes a little less fuzzy, but at the same time it takes on some very ominous overtones due to the unsettling discoveries made along the way, not the least of which is that there is a mastermind behind it all and it’s clearly NOT a friendly one.

As fascinating as the mystery is, however, the characters still take over the stage, particularly the fae: Letty continues to be the irreverent, loudmouthed pest we all know and love – and her brashness is inversely proportional to her size, which makes the diminutive creature even more hilarious – but here we see some important changes in her attitude, especially toward Pax. Despite the name-calling and the slanderous remarks she employs quite liberally, Letty doesn’t hide how she cares for the human young woman and her safety, and I enjoyed the direction their relationship is going, especially in consideration of the otherwise quite strained human/fae interactions.  Letty’s stance is further highlighted by the introduction of another fae, Lightgate, who makes Letty look like a dainty lady: Lightgate is a garish dresser who always goes around with a bottle of spirits from which she sip frequently, has a very low opinion of everyone who is not fae, and is prone to mindless violence.  Which makes her a delightful foil for Letty’s newfound point of view.

As for the humans, Pax truly shines here as the only one with enough wits and intelligence not to be led astray by false trails and misdirections, while showing an inordinate amount of courage in the face of the harrowing situations she is involved in: there are moments when she regrets becoming involved in this whole, complicated mess, and when she yearns for the “good old times”

She’d been happy playing cards. She’d been happy wandering Ordshaw at night, not knowing what lay under the surface. She didn’t need this.

but these are just quick flashes of nostalgia for a simpler past, soon forgotten in the wake of the more compelling requirements of the adventure that started only a couple of days prior in that bar, and Pax never fails to rise to the occasion.  She is not your classical UF heroine, one gifted with special abilities she can call upon when needed: she is an ordinary person thrown into extraordinary circumstances, and doing her best to cope with them, which makes her more approachable and likable as a character.

The newcomer Sam Ward, the Ministry employee gifted with intelligence and foresight who was therefore shunted into a useless sinecure (that’s bureaucracy for you…) is equally interesting, so I liked the way she took over once the circumstances at the MEE changed drastically, and I have high hopes of her becoming a more permanent fixture in the overall story. After the antics from Casaria, the King of Weirdos, Sam comes across as a fresh breath of air and a voice for sanity in the general foolishness and lack of imagination that seems to be the main requirements for Ministry employees.

As a counterpoint, we see very little of Barton, which I confess did not feel like a great loss because he seemed more like a bumbling amateur than anything else – and some of the discoveries Pax makes in the course of the story would point out to him and his former underground explorer friends as clumsy fools seeking adventures to relieve the boredom of a dull life rather than true paladins of the city’s safety.

Clueless fools. They’d blundered into something big enough to affect the whole city, and then sat around boozing and making home videos […]  No wonder the Blue Angel had taken advantage of them.

This second volume in the Ordshaw series sets the stage for some interesting developments and revelations in what looks like a scenario where no one can truly understand what’s going on, unless some more of the Ordshaw mysteries are revealed. It’s going to be an interesting journey, indeed…

 

My Rating:

 

(image courtesy of kasana86)
Reviews

Review: UNDER ORDSHAW, by Phil Williams

 

I received this novel from the author in exchange for an honest review: despite having closed my blog to indie submissions a while ago, I was intrigued by the premise of this book since I read LYNN’s review of it for the 2019 SPBO event, so that when the author contacted me I was happy to make an exception.

Under Ordshaw is an Urban Fantasy story that follows the genre’s parameters only up to a certain point: we have a modern city setting coexisting with a paranormal reality made of fae and monsters – the latter haunting an underground system of galleries – but the similarities stop here. The main character is neither a detective, nor is she a specially gifted person (both being common occurrences in UF): on the contrary she’s a quite ordinary girl who is forced to face extraordinary circumstances despite her best efforts not to.

Pax Kuranes is a skilled card player living off her winnings: as we meet her she’s just gained a considerable sum in a poker game, one that will allow her not only to pay the almost-overdue rent, but to buy her place in a high-stakes tournament whose earnings might go a long way toward offering some security for the future.  Pax’s elation is short-lived though, because a young man in a bar swipes the money from her pocket even as he’s being arrested by a government official: angry and frantic about the money, and curious about the thief’s mutterings about a minotaur, Pax does a little digging and finds a strange, hand-drawn book in the man’s hideout – a book representing weird, creepy creatures that seem to come out of the worst Lovecraftian nightmare.

This is only the beginning of Pax’s eerie adventure, as she’s introduced to the mysteries of Ordshaw’s underground and to the existence of a terrifying and secret world peopled by monsters, fairies and agents of good and evil, whose line of demarcation is quite fluid and changes more than once in the course of the story: the man from the shady Ministry of Environmental Energy, Casaria, is definitely a creepy individual, especially when his p.o.v. chapters make the reader privy to his dreams on a future working partnership with Pax, which he hopes might evolve into something deeper. On the side of the “good guys” there is Barton, a man who stumbled by pure chance on the secrets of the underground and tried to keep its dangers at bay by acting in something of a Don-Quixote-like quest, but he looks more dedicated than effective, and pays the price of his self-imposed mission with injuries and the damage to his family ties.

And then there are the fae, winged creatures only a few inches tall, who nonetheless prove quite aggressive and sometimes lethal – if someone ever needed a confirmation of the maxim about size being unimportant, they would need to look no further than Ordshaw’s fae, especially Letty, the leader of a small, mutinous group and my absolute favorite character in the novel.  Letty is brash, aggressive and foul-mouthed, and yet she turned out to be the best drawn player on the scene, and one I had no trouble picturing in my mind’s eye, from her gossamer wings to the middle finger she keeps flaunting at the slightest provocation.

What lurks in the bowels of the city has been dwelling there for a long time, and has been the object of a tug-of-war between the fae, with their nomadic city, and the humans on the surface, both groups at odds and competing for the possession of a bizarre artifact that might change the balance of power in both realms, and the story builds – despite some “hiccups” in pacing – toward a climatic chase in the underground tunnels as the various characters try to shift the balance of power and to stay alive at the same time, since the horde of dreadful creatures of the depths has been roused and is out for blood. And flesh. And other assorted body parts…

I enjoyed Under Ordshaw, mostly because of the almost-relentless pace at which Pax and her allies and enemies find themselves facing the events, and I liked how she must work to gain some understanding of what is happening, as her view of the world is subjected to a few extraordinary revelations that will change her outlook forever. As far as Urban Fantasy series go, this book is merely an introduction of background and characters and also a promise of more to come with future installments, where hopefully the reader’s perception and knowledge will be expanded, and as such I’m aware that any problem in both narrative and characterization is bound to be straightened out in the future.  Still, there are a few details that puzzled me, and somewhat marred what might have been a total immersion in this world.

For starters, throughout the course of the book I had the distinct impression that there was something eluding me, that there might have been some other information about past events that was not shared with the readers: in several instances I felt as if I had jumped midway into a TV serial and struggled to make head or tails of the story because I had missed the previous episodes.  It was frustrating at times, and also distracting: while I can understand the need to avoid the dreaded “infodumps”, I would have enjoyed a more organic development of the playing field, so to speak, that might allow me to place the characters’ actions in a more understandable context.

And speaking of characters, sometimes I struggled a little with their depiction: quixotic Barton and his estranged wife Holly, for example, are at odds with each other because of his nocturnal forays in the underground and her suspicions about his infidelity, but I failed to see some genuine drama there, and their interactions felt stilted at times, well beyond the uneasiness of two people driven apart by secrets and doubts.  Then there is Pax, who is introduced as a fiercely independent person who tries not to be weighted down by any kind of tie, and yet we see her constantly enmeshed into other peoples’ troubles, the prime example of this being represented by Rufaizu, the thief whose actions draw Pax into the terrifying world of the underground: most of Pax’s choices in the story stem from her need to know Rufaizu’s fate after his arrest, and her determination in that respect feels at odds with the brevity of their encounter and the simple fact that their whole “relationship” is based on his theft of her hard-won money.

Still, Under Ordshaw offers a promising peek into a bizarre world that just begs to be further developed, and as such deserves to be given the chance to grow.

 

Reviews

Review: THE ROOK (The Checquy Files #1), by Daniel O’Malley

 

When a book starts with a character waking up in a public park with no memory of one’s own identity, and surrounded by corpses wearing latex gloves, you know the authorial promise underlying such a story is that of a thrilling adventure and a journey of discovery, and that’s what’s in store for Myfanwy Thomas as she comes to under a torrential rain, with only a letter in her pocket working as an anchor to what used to be her life.

Dazed and terrified, Myfanwy follows the instructions in the letter – a missive penned by her old self who knew that her memory would be wiped and took every step to insure that her newborn persona possessed all the elements to carry on as best as she could. Myfanwy Thomas is – or rather was – a member of the Checquy, a British secret organization that for centuries has collected and trained as operatives all the people who showed supernatural abilities, employing them against any equally supernatural threat against the country.

A timid, unassuming person, Myfanwy however rose to the position of Rook in the Checquy thanks to her superior administrative abilities, which acted as compensation for her reluctance to employ her power of controlling other people’s bodies through her mind.  For some reason, though, someone in the Checquy choose to mind-wipe her, so that Myfanwy – being forewarned by several sources gifted with precognition – decided to leave to her “successor” a thick file of information about her past life and her work, so that the new Myfanwy could step into the old one’s life and even try to uncover the identity and motives of the person who harmed her in such a way.

As a premise, this does sound quite intriguing, and for the initial chapters the story did prove fascinating, provided that I exerted some light suspension of disbelief, but after a while my objections started piling up in such a way that like the proverbial elephant in the room I could not ignore them anymore, and I had to acknowledge the fact that the execution of this story ended up ruining my enjoyment of it. The uneven pace, the improbable characterization and the overall mood – that seemed to hover uncertainly between suspenseful drama and snarky humor – all added up to a huge disappointment that would have made me stop reading there and then if I had not held to the slender thread of curiosity that required I learn how this convoluted scheme would be resolved.

First problem: the pacing. The foretold wiping of her memory allows old-Myfanwy to leave extensive notes for new-Myfanwy so she can have enough elements to more or less safely navigate through her life, and in the beginning this narrative choice looked like an interesting way of detailing some necessary background. That is, until it got completely out of hand: every time a situation warrants information that new-Myfanwy does not possess, a document in the huge purple binder that old-Myfanwy left her comes to the rescue, listing in often excruciating detail some past event or the personal data on Checquy officers she needs to work with.  When that happens in the middle of a dramatic episode, the change in narrative speed feels jarring and the information – as useful as it might be – just like an obstacle to be overcome before going back to the heat of the moment. Repeat this instance a sufficient number of times, and what used to be simply upsetting becomes monumentally annoying, especially since the level of detail provided is so burdened with useless trivia that the temptation of skipping ahead to the real meat of the story becomes irresistible.  Too much of a good, useful thing is not necessarily a good thing, and in this instance the author seemed to forget – or ignore – the fact that overloading the readers with a plethora of details would prove distracting, or worse.   And then there is one question that kept nagging at me: the infamous purple binder in which old-Myfanwy crammed her previous life is a prominent feature in the story, to the point that new-Myfanwy is always carrying it around and scanning it, even in the presence of other people, which might have raised some eyebrows or given away her little problem with amnesia – and yet it never happens, which to me seems improbable at best.

Problem number two: characterization. After the initial shock of being “born” again with no memory of self, Myfanwy comes across as something of a Mary Sue: armed only with the information in the letter left by her predecessor, she proceeds to step into old-Myfanwy’s shoes with apparent little or no difficulty.  What’s more, while her previous incarnation was a timid, self-effacing creature that garnered little respect from her peers, this new woman is decisive, assertive and quite proactive, especially where her job is concerned: she can make quick, effective decisions on the direst of situations and she has no qualms about employing her supernatural powers with a strength no one suspected she possessed or felt the desire to apply – and yet no one even bats an eyelash or comments on such amazing personality changes, which sounds eminently strange for anyone, let alone a secret organization where layered screenings and security measures against enemy infiltration abound.  On the other hand, the new Myfanwy (just like the old one) has problems with social interactions, so that when faced with official meetings she reverts back to her awkward girl persona who worries more about the state of her hair or the complexities of a daring dress than about the current problem, which led me to wonder whether it was a matter of inconsistent characterization or the usual glitch that occurs when a male author writes from a female perspective. Or maybe it’s just snarky old me…

And finally, the overall mood: more than once, while reading The Rook, I was reminded of one of my main contentions with Andy Weir’s The Martian, which was the light tone that often seemed inappropriate when applied to the situation being described.   Here I encountered the same problem, as if the author were undecided whether to keep this story in a playful vein or stress the dramatic side of it, which consists of scary manifestations that end in a high number of casualties, when not dealing with the political maneuvering inside the Checquy, which appears no less vicious than an enemy’s attack.  This uncertainty about what I was reading, which could be seen as either a dark thriller with fantasy elements or a humorous take on the genre, certainly did not help in my assessment of this story, or my enjoyment of it,  and the last pages, plagued by a lot of convoluted explanations and the mandatory Evil Guy Gloating Before Killing the Heroine sounded the… death knell for this story, and I stopped reading before reaching the end, because I could not bear to go on anymore – which is a pity since the premise had all the numbers to result into a compelling book.

 

My Rating: 

Reviews

Novella Review: SUFFER A SEA CHANGE (October Daye #12.1), by Seanan McGuire

 

At the end of October Daye’s latest novel, Night and Silence, there was a welcome surprise, the novella Suffer a Sea Change which explores at some length (and promises more for the future, hopefully) one of the most poignant narrative elements of its parent novel.

A synopsis is out of the question, since it would spoil both the main book and the enjoyment of this novella, so what I can share is that it deals with a very interesting point of view character: Gillian, October’s daughter, the daughter that for so many years felt abandoned and betrayed by her mother, not knowing the real reason for Toby’s prolonged absence and her choice not to be part of Gillian’s life anymore.

One of the details I immediately noticed was how Gillian’s inner ‘voice’ is similar to Toby’s: finding herself in a scary, unusual situation, she often resorts to that form of dry sarcasm that is her mother’s way of dealing with fear and helplessness.

Gillian’s nature might be closer to her mother’s than she suspects, and this might be one of the elements that could bring them together – and considering what a weak, contemptible person Cliff turned out to be in Night and Silence, or in light of the discovery of step mother Miranda’s not-so-crystalline motivations, I believe that an intelligent young woman like Gillian might be able to see the whole picture once she’s been given all the elements she needs.

My hope for a reconciliation lies mostly in some considerations from Gillian, like this one:

 

I hadn’t quite been able to work up the energy to hate her. When I thought about her, it made me sad, not angry […]

 

or this one:

 

I had spent so much of my life hating my biological mother that it was like a physical pain in my gut to realize that she might not be the villain of the piece after all.

 

It’s clear that Gillian needs to come to terms with her confused feelings about her mother, but first she will have to work through her own problems, and adapt to a different outlook on life, and that is the promise that comes across in this short story: that she will not be alone in doing so and that the greatest help might come from the Luidaeg brings me to hope for some very interesting developments where the Sea Witch is concerned, especially in relation to Toby and the people she cares about.

There is a great deal of emotion and character development in this short story, but I can safely say it’s one of the best I read among the companion tales to October’s main journey: the promise is there, all we have to do is for it to be fulfilled – in time.

 

My Rating: 

Reviews

Review: NIGHT AND SILENCE (October Daye #12), by Seanan McGuire

 

Even risking to sound like a broken record, I need to stress once more how this series keeps raising the stakes from one book to the next, how far it is from generating any kind of “reader fatigue” and how much I keep feeling invested, as a reader and a huge fan, in the ongoing story of October and friends.

More than in previous instances, this will be a difficult book to review because talking about it without giving away any spoilers is going to be a monumental feat, but I will try anyway, focusing rather on the character development and the emotional responses engendered by this twelfth installment in what I consider one of the best Urban Fantasy series of these years.

Since the blurb on GoodReads or other sites already mentions it, I feel safe in reporting that the main focus of Night and Silence is the kidnapping of Gillian, Toby’s estranged daughter, who disappeared from the Berkley campus leaving only an empty car and some traces of blood.  After the events of the previous book, Toby and her extended family are not in the best of shape: Tybalt and Jazz are dealing with their own version of PTSD, the King of Cats more than Jazz, and the distance he’s put between himself and Toby is hurting them both, leaving them unbalanced and vulnerable.  The appearance of Cliff, Toby’s former lover and Gillian’s father, and of Miranda, Cliff’s new wife, at Toby’s door, accusing her of the girl’s disappearance, launches a breakneck chase all over San Francisco, both in the mundane parts of the city and in the fae encroaching realms – a chase that will bring to light many unexpected revelations and a couple of actual narrative bombshells.  Not to mention a lot of shed blood – and I mean a lot: this might very well be the book in which October bleeds more than in any previous installment of the series…

 

“You lost a great deal of blood.”
“I didn’t lose it,” I said. “I know exactly where it is.”

I will freely admit that at first I was not completely sold on the kidnapping angle, since this particular story-line had already been explored in a previous book, but I should not have worried – as I soon became aware – because Seanan McGuire had no intention to retread old paths and managed to lead both her characters and her readers on a breathless adventure that paves the way for a number of unpredictable scenarios that will be the fuel for the next volumes.

What Night and Silence does very well is make us think about the meaning of family, and family ties, and the detail that comes to the fore with dramatic intensity is the contrast between what I might call Toby’s ‘original’, human-oriented family, made of Cliff and Gillian, and the one she built around herself with May, Tybalt, Quentin and all the other friends she’s made along the way.  Once more we are reminded of the fact that when October came back from her involuntary 14-year stint as a fish in a pond, Cliff did not even give her the chance to explain (hard as that might have been without revealing the existence of Faerie), and literally slammed the door in her face. He does not come across as a very nice or considerate person, and here he appears as completely subjected to his wife Miranda’s will: together they have done their best (or rather, their worst) to fuel Gillian’s pain and lack of understanding for Toby’s disappearance into a full-fledged hate of the girl’s natural mother.  And once a huge revelation about Miranda’s history and motivations becomes clear, the extent of their combined efforts takes on a sinister light that made me despise them even more, particularly when I kept witnessing Toby’s resigned acceptance of Gillian’s rejection: she can fight like an enraged lioness for the sake of her child, but she will not try to change the young woman’s point of view, and that’s quite painful to see.  On the other hand, there is a very intense conversation with Cliff, at some point, where finally October makes him face his responsibilities, and it’s a welcome exchange. Much welcome.

The only bright lights in this quite bleak panorama come from Tybalt and the Luidaeg: the King of Cats might be still recovering (and it looks like it’s going to be a long, long road) from his ordeal at the hands of Amandine, he might feel diminished in his ability to be an effective ruler, but when October is in dire need of his help he does not hesitate and shows that the strength of old is still there, ready to be deployed for the sake of the woman he loves.   I make no mystery that I’m not exactly partial to romance in my reading material, but in the case of October and Tybalt I’m always ready to make an exception, and I believe that’s because their relationship feels very real, with no need for the usual frills of a romantic entanglement: they are not simply lovers, they are friends and comrades who have learned their mutual strengths and weaknesses and know how to support each other when need arises.  The combination of Toby’s cynical approach to life and Tybalt’s old-world manner of expression makes for many delightful exchanges that always bring a smile to my face.

As for the Luidaeg… well, my favorite character after October truly shines here in Night and Silence: she is her usual gruff and abrasive self of course, and that’s to be expected, but she also shows her deep capacity for love and affection that the brusque manner she uses as a cover does not mask very well. Among the many revelations offered by this book, there are some concerning the Luidaeg that shine a new light on her character and, most important, on her past and the circumstances that made her who she is, that is, besides what we already knew about her…     What the Luidaeg does here for October and her own is the proof (as if we needed one…) of her deep affection for this changeling and also of the feeling of responsibility she harbors for Toby – I would be tempted to say that she is more of a mother than Amandine could ever be, even though I can almost hear her vehement denial of this conclusion…

If The Brightest Fell ended with many unresolved question and a dark pall hanging over the characters, Night and Silence offers a slight glimmer of hope for the future: it might not look much, at face value, but the potential for the righting of some wrongs in there, even though we already know that October and her friends’ path will never be smooth or easy.  But we would not want it any other way…

 

My Rating: