Monday, February 7, 2022

The October Daye Reread: An Artificial Night

Welcome back, dear readers. Today we’re going to revisit the third novel in Seanan McGuire’s October Daye series: An Artificial Night. We assume you’ve been reading along with us because this will be rife with spoilers. You have been warned.

When I wrote about A Local Habitation I noted that this was the book that fully hooked me on the series and that’s for damn sure. I’ve enjoyed revisiting Rosemary and Rue and A Local Habitation, but Seanan McGuire goes HARD in this book. An Artificial Night is a on the edge of being a straight up horror novel with Blind Michael taking the children and Toby’s borderline suicidal quest to get them back, not to mention the body horror and emotional trauma (as if the series isn’t rife with emotional trauma).

US Cover

I continue to be amazed at what McGuire introduced so early in the series because I’ve been reading it for so long and I assume some of these things don’t show up for several more books, but no - events that I assumed took place later start here. I’m not talking Blind Michael, which could be an essay just on that, but May. October’s Fetch, the harbinger of her impending death.

Let’s circle back to the plot for a moment. Children have gone missing. Two of her friend Stacy’s children are missing, there are weird traces of magic in their room, and another daughter of that family is asleep and cannot be woken. As if that is not bad enough, Tybalt asks Toby for help finding the missing kids from the Court of Cats. And then - Toby’s not yet squire Quentin tells her that his human girlfriend is *also* gone.

Blind Michael was mentioned several times in Rosemary and Rue. We never have to wonder if a major plot point at any time in the series hasn’t been already seeded into the story because it has even if we have no idea why.

Blind Michael is one of the Firstborn of the faerie - so that means immense power. It means other things, but I think a discussion of the Firstborn can be held for another couple of books until it really comes to the forefront. The way this series has gone so far, I’ll be talking about the Firstborn in the next book, but we’ll see how this goes. But - Blind Michael’s deal is that every one hundred years he Rides - but to ride, he steals mortal and fae children to transform into mounts and riders. An Artificial Night opens into the lead up to that Ride.
Part of me - most of me - wanted to say, “Yes, it would matter; please tell me to stay here. If you tell me, I’ll stay.” I didn’t want to go. I’m not a hero; I never have been. I just do what has to be done.

But when you get right down to it, isn’t that the definition of a hero?
An Artificial Night would be a depressing short story if that was all there would be, that this would be an unending cycle every hundred years and nothing would be done. But this is October Daye. This is Toby. Her family and friends have been taken and things will be done, even if it takes her life. Enter Toby’s Fetch, a creature that has all of Toby’s memories and experiences right up until the moment the Fetch was created.

German Cover

May feels like she should be a one-off character, but this is Seanan McGuire and she keeps everything. Also, I’m not 100% convinced that McGuire didn’t introduce May because she did, in fact, want to make fetch happen.

Regardless of that, May becomes one of my favorite characters in the series (along with the Luidaeg, but I’m not sure I can actually talk about the Luidaeg too much. Like how even though we don’t know her very well yet in this third novel, but we can still hear the heartbreak (as well as fear and anger and curses) when she is being asked for help by those she cares for - which also suggests just how tired she must be of anyone asking her for help, because she knows that it costs and she knows the price is commensurate with how big of an ask something is. This being an October Daye novel and with how things work around here, it is Toby coming with the requests and there is a deeper relationship between Toby and the Luidaeg than the reader knows and frankly, deeper than Toby knows - but that is something that gets fleshed out later.

There is a lot of conversation about heroism in An Artificial Night, but there are also hints that a “hero” is more of a thing than just the actions that a person does. There may be heroic actions, but then there is being a hero. So much of this series involves Toby settling into the mantle of being a Hero as a thing that a person is. That really begins in An Artificial Night.
Maeve’s children are hot and strange and come in every shape imaginable. Oberon doesn’t claim most of his descendants, leaving them to the mercies of their mothers. Those few races that he does claim…those are Oberon’s children. And Oberon’s children are heroes.
There is a point in this novel when the Luidaeg calls Toby “child of Oberon” even though the Daoine Sidhe are claimed by Titania and not Oberon. That’s not a mistake. That’s groundwork being laid.

Toby is a hero and very soon in the series she will be straight up a Hero and she is standing up to a Firstborn as a still relatively weak changeling that so many other full blooded faerie (and I believe some Firstborn) tried and failed to reign in. There is a pervading sense of menace in An Artificial Night and everytime she invades Blind Michael’s realm there is a very real sense that Toby isn’t coming back and that’s even knowing there are eleven further novels already published and in which Toby prominently features. It doesn’t matter. An Artificial Night is scary.

I was going to spend a little bit of time talking about how Toby ends up absolutely drenched in blood and how that later in the series it becomes almost a joke (especially in When Sorrows Come) - but instead I think I’m going to leave you with some words of wisdom from the Luidaeg.
Patience! Dad’s balls, they don’t teach kids any manners anymore. I should slaughter the lot of you.
Open roads and kind fires, my friends.

Previous Rereads
Rosemary and Rue
A Local Habitation

Joe Sherry. Co-editor of Nerds of a Feather, Hugo Award Winner for Best Fanzine. Minnesotan. He/Him