An Artificial Night by Seanan McGuire
An Artificial Night (October Daye, Book 3)
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I admit that I get excited when I find novels that are set in Northern California. So many stories occur in places like Los Angeles, New York, Chicago and Seattle that finding one in my own backyard is something of a treat. Seanan McGuire’s October Daye novels satisfy my craving, as they’re set in the Bay Area and feature locations that I’m familiar with. An Artificial Night is the third in the series and, in my opinion, the best one thus far.
Toby’s morning starts off badly when her Fetch arrives at her door. A Fetch only shows up if you’re supposed to die in the near future, so Toby’s reaction is understandable. But soon she has other things to worry about besides her own demise. Two of her best friend’s children have gone missing, and a third can’t be woken up. The kidnappings aren’t confined to them—several other children from Faerie families have been taken as well.
The culprit is Blind Michael, the leader of the ghostly Hunt that is sometimes seen around San Francisco. Once every hundred years, he Rides, and before he Rides, he collects children to be new Riders. If they’re not rescued by Halloween, they will belong to Blind Michael forever.
Following the rules of children’s rhymes and games, Toby infiltrates Blind Michael’s lands. Her only protection is a candle that must remain lit for her to return home. And if she is caught, she too will Ride.
I appreciate the complexity that McGuire gives to her Faerie society. It’s not just one big group that lives in roughly the same area and is governed by one ruler. Instead, there are many small kingdoms, “pocket” lands, and territories. The larger number of people in power (and jockeying for said power) allows the author to weave a lot of political maneuvering into her tales, which gives them more depth than a straightforward action story.
Toby herself displays a lot of growth, especially in this novel. The previous books set up a lot of her backstory and sketched out the pattern of her actions, as well as established her relationships with those around her. In An Artificial Night, this all bears fruit as Toby is forced to confront not only her own actions, but what they’re doing to those that care about her.
The secondary characters get a good workout as well, particularly the enigmatic Luidaeg, sea witch and friend of Toby. She was present in the other books, but her role has been expanded somewhat here. It’s good that the author chose to do this, as the Luidaeg is a wonderfully contradictory character—threatening to kill you one moment and aiding you the next—and she really embodies all that is both fascinating and dangerous about Faerie.
By melding old tales of the Wild Hunt with the strict rules of children’s games and rhymes, McGuire creates a unique tension in her novel. It puts the feral and innocent side by side. Blind Michael is very like a child himself in his adherence to rules and fairness, but otherwise he’s a bloodthirsty tyrant. It’s a strange conjunction of opposites that nevertheless works in a creepy way.
An Artificial Night has action, adventure, magic, and a heroine that you can’t help but cheer for. Toby is one of the strongest and most complex characters to come out of the urban fantasy genre. Out of all the series currently running, this one gets top marks.
This review appeared on Owlcat Mountain on October 21, 2010.