Today we’re going to revisit the eighth novel in Seanan McGuire’s October Daye series: The Winter Long. We are now exactly halfway through the (thus far) published books. Eight down, eight to go. Thinking about Be the Serpent and the major revelations that occurred in that book, The Winter Long fits a pattern that Seanan McGuire set up from the start and which I noted when writing about Late Eclipses. Every third book is “an emotional pivot point” but every fourth book is a “WHAM”, which is something I thought about earlier in the series but didn’t when I stepped into The Winter Long.
AFTER reading The Winter Long, however….oh, yes, This book is a WHAM.
We assume you’ve been reading along with us because this will be rife with spoilers for past books and likely also for future books. Actually, absolutely for future books, including Be the Serpent. You have been warned.
"Simon chuckled. For some reason it didn’t sound mocking: it was more self-loathing, the laughter of a man who had looked upon his life and found very little to be proud of.”Simon Torquill has been Toby’s Big Bad lingering in the background of the series thus far. He turned her into a fish and left her in a pond for fourteen years. Simon was October’s original boogeyman. He’s the one who broke Rayselline. He’s been behind even more. With Oleander now out of the picture, Simon is the twisted evil made all the worse by being the brother of her liege, Sylvester.
The Winter Long isn’t Simon’s redemption story, that so weirdly happens later and it’s still something I’m wrapping my head around (spoilers, through the course of this series Seanan McGuire manages to rehabilitate Simon far more than one would possibly expect to the point that Simon is actually sympathetic), but what occurs in this novel is the explanation that Simon wasn’t actually a Big Bad. He was a mini-boss. Defeat Simon and there’s something much, much bigger waiting behind him and THAT boss has been pulling the strings all along.
The Winter Long reveals that Eira Rosynhwyr is the Big Bad of the series, and even light of Be the Serpent’s Reveal (capital letters, told you there would be spoilers) of Titania’s return and who *she* was all along (which should make Titania the really real Big Bad, but it still feels like Eira is in light of how that novel ended). Seeds were planted earlier, but it begins here. Eira becomes She Who Must Not Be Named. Back to Eira a bit later.
All Toby truly wants is truth and honesty from her friends and family, as well as some of the peace and quiet that she is likely never going to get until the series ends (and maybe not even then the way McGuire keeps escalating) - but following the Sylvester’s betrayal of Toby in the last book by not respecting her wishes, there are secrets Sylvester is holding deeply because of promises that he has had made to others and he will hold to those promises no matter the cost to his relationship with Toby - which honestly is a damn shame because he clearly loves Toby almost as much as his actual daughter and he is gradually letting that all slip away.
“I won’t claim to have never lied to you, but I have not lied to you since we decided to try taking this relationship seriously,” he said quietly. “I love you. Lying to you would be a mistreatment of what that love means.”-Tybalt, following Sylvester’s emotional betrayal of Toby’s trust.
I laughed, a cold, jagged sound. “None of the other people who say they love me seem to feel that way.”
“Then they are not very good at loving,” he said.
Late in the novel she describes Sylvester as getting a 100 as a liege but falling down as a friend, which he refuses to atone for in any manner, which is probably the truest cause of the rift.. Early Sylvester says it is due to promises to Amandine, but late he doesn’t even bother to explain himself, going so far as to say that he doesn’t feel the need, which is hella rude.
There are SO MANY revelations in The Winter Long and they all have different moments of paying off throughout the series.
”No, that would be easier,” said the Luidaeg. “You have a sister, and she hasn’t been elf-shot,although whether she’s alive or not is anyone’s guess. Her name is August. She’s been missing for over a hundred years, which means the only way your mother can divorce Simon is to admit August is dead. Until that happens, August has a say in the separation.”
The important part here is not the existence of August, though, yes, but that the children have a say in family divorces. This will come up later and is emotionally important.
There’s also a reminder that the Luidaeg is the truly frightening thing. She has a rant, which is really well done. But there’s a line that comes after that only really makes sense later in the novel - it’s the Luidaeg telling Toby that the thing she should be afraid of isn’t her it’s Eira, except she can’t say it but she’s getting Toby out of the way.
In this book we learn that Eira was the Firstborn who set the humans on the Roane to slaughter them and take their skins (thus becoming the selkies) - and also that Titania bound the Luidaeg to always tell the truth and to help any who ask - which set her on the past to becoming the sea witch. Eira has also been laying groundwork to have more pieces in play since she maneuvered getting Quentin to Shadowed Hills - which is a thing that happened. But basically, what we’re learning here is that Eira is behind EVERYTHING.
But speaking of Eira, the biggest revelation of The Winter Long is that Eira - Firstborn Eira - was actually Evening Winterrose - onetime friend and ally of Toby and who, as far as we knew, died in Rosemary and Rue - the first book of the series. Turns out that’s not the case.
There are more hints about things that the Luidaeg can’t talk about - but this is where we get more that Toby’s heritage is different than she might have thought. Not so much that her father isn’t who she thought - but Amandine is the daughter of Oberon, which makes her Firstborn - but, she is NOT the daughter or Titania or Maeve. So - who?
Luideag uses a (magical) key and asks for her mother’s (Maeve)’s help and GETS IT. The first real hint that Oberon, Titania, and Maeve may be in reach. Maeve NEEDS to come back, especially in light of the rest of the series still coming. But, because of this bit in The Winter Long, Toby will recognize Maeve’s magic when she does. As with so many little things throughout the series, that’ll be important.
That, I think, is what I appreciate most about re-reading October Daye. Each book is a delight on its own, but it is those little moments that only seem minorly significant the first time through but pay off with so much depth on the re-read. Seanan McGuire has been seeding the entire series with so many little bits that are absolutely intentional but which seem like almost throw away bits. Every one of them pay off, and the ones that haven’t absolutely will. And I look forward to rediscovering which other moments will be important again.
Open roads and kind fires, my friends.
Joe Sherry - Co-editor of Nerds of a Feather, Hugo Award Winner. Minnesotan. He / Him