I read Rosemary and Rue far too long ago and when ill I came across this one on my Kindle and immediately dived into it, recalling the quality of the writing in the first book.
October “Toby” Daye is a changeling, the daughter of Amandine of the fae and a mortal man. Like her mother, she is gifted in blood magic, able to read what has happened to a person through a mere taste of blood. Toby is the only changeling who has earned a knighthood, and she re-earns that position every day, undertaking assignments for her liege, Sylvester, the Duke of the Shadowed Hills. Now Sylvester has asked her to go to the County of Tamed Lightning—otherwise known as Fremont, CA—to make sure that all is well with his niece, Countess January O’Leary, whom he has not been able to contact. It seems like a simple enough assignment—but when dealing with the realm of Faerie nothing is ever as simple as it seems. Toby soon discovers that someone has begun murdering people close to January, whose domain is a buffer between Sylvester’s realm and a scheming rival duchy. If Toby can’t find the killer soon, she may well become the next victim.
This is a classic murder mystery where the potential victims are all within a closed environment – in this case a software systems industrial unit – and Toby is desperately struggling to discover the perpetrator before everyone is wiped out. A complicating factor for Toby is that she is not working alone – Sylvester wanted her to take along one of the young pureblood courtiers to get him out of the way. So when she finds herself pitchforked into the middle of a situation far more dangerous than she expected, she is also responsible for a youngster who has no training or preparation for this kind of assignment. Though Toby increasingly is coming to the conclusion that she hasn’t sufficient preparation for it, either…
I loved this extra insight into McGuire’s haunting, dangerous world of fae where creatures who live for a very long time are slowly failing against humanity. As for the variety of types – think of the TV show Grimm. The standout characters are brilliant, abstracted January, who is responsible for keeping her people safe and running a successful company; Alex with the red eyes, who Toby finds she enjoys being around far too much. And poor little April – a young tree dryad who escapes the slaughter of her community when the oak grove where she lives is bulldozed flat to make way for a housing estate and is found wandering alone and traumatised by Jan. She is rescued and, before she fades away, is digitised to wander around the server as a shy, ever-present entity who occasionally runs errands for the staff and spends much of her time with Jan, who she regards as her mother.
Often in this type of murder mystery, the victims are the props – no one likes or cares much about them and they are there to provide clues and possible red herrings as the investigator and reader tries to puzzle out who is doing the killing. While I didn’t particularly care about some of the characters who died, there was a real sense of loss conveyed in the story. Each one was mourned by those around them, which had the effect of both upping the stakes and creating a sense of menace as Toby tries to discover what is going on.
I guessed part of the puzzle before we got to the denouement, but that didn’t really matter, as this case was as much about the ‘why’ as the ‘how’. And the answer is something of a heartbreak. Perhaps it was because I was feeling ill, but the ending left me with a lump in my throat as McGuire’s depiction of the final funeral drew to a close. This one really packs a punch and I now need to get hold of the next book, An Artificial Night, before too much time goes by.