Monday, August 7, 2023

Review: Sleep No More, by Seanan McGuire

Sleep No More is the 17th novel in Seanan McGuire’s October Daye series and it follows off of the explosive ending of Be the Serpent. Which is to say that there is absolutely no way to write about Sleep No More without getting deep into the major revelations of that preceding novel. Everything in this book fully hinges on the events of Be the Serpent in ways that isn’t always the case earlier in the series.
“Nothing was wrong. Nothing *could* be wrong, not in Titania’s Faerie”
Titania returned in Be the Serpent, which interestingly enough almost plays as a bigger deal than Oberon himself returning - but that, I believe, is because Oberon came back for several books and refused to do anything until the last possible moment Titania is back and is pissed off and though Oberson’s action prevented her from doing direct harm to Toby, the long view of Faerie has a very different view of what actual “harm” entails than what our friends living in the moment consider harm to be.

Be the Serpent ends and Sleep No More begins with Toby living in Amandine’s tower with her sister August and they love each other and have known no other life than the one they are living.

The reader knows this is a problem, but for Toby this is the way things are. The Queen of the Mists is in power, Titania is the benevolent (but don’t cross her) ruler of all Faerie, and all is right with the world that is not friendly to half breed fae. Everything that Eira and the unnamed Queen of the Mists wanted throughout the series, that’s reality.
“She said Titania had remade Faerie in her own ideal and image. If that was so, believing in the truth of April’s reality would mean denying the one in which I lived now, the one where I was happy.”
Except it’s not, right? This is Titania’s major counter stroke not just against Toby but against Faerie. This is the Faerie that Titania was prevented from making by the countering powers of Oberon and Maeve.

This is a tough read.

What I mean by that is Sleep No More took quite a while to really engage with it because I know that this isn’t real and this isn’t right, but it takes some time for small revelations to occur to reset the understanding of the world for particular characters. Which means, to a point, that the world of October Daye and the overall story is straight up on pause for a significant part of Sleep No More.

What I did like, quite a bit actually, is that Sleep No More offers a look at who most of our core characters would be in subtly different situations: Quentin without Toby, Arden if she was able to fully escape after the Earthquake and her father’s assassination, Etienne if he had learned of his daughter soon, Sylvester without his family or a cause. Because this is overlaid on the “real world”, it feels a bit like a Matrix situation or even a Wheel of Time vision of an alternate timeline (to reference another major series I’m in the middle of a re-read of).

Something else I also appreciated is that Toby tends towards heroism. Granted, this is a remade reality - basically an illusion placed on several kingdoms of Faerie - and as such, not the way all these characters actually developed. But, with that said, even when she doesn’t quite want to believe that things aren’t right - when given a real opportunity to step out and try to make things right, she does. Time and again.
“And she finds some of her self-respect where Titania hid it in the couch cushions,” said the Luidaeg dryly. “Good for you, Toby”
This book also tells us just how strong Titania is. It is said that the Three (Oberon, Titania, Maeve) were to the Firstborn as the Firstborn were to the rest of Faerie, and the rest of the Faerie are orders of magnitude less powerful than their Firstborn.

There are a number of other aspects of this book which I would like to talk about - but those would be hitting points much more suited for a conversation or re-read than an initial one. Like, it’s more that I have questions than these are points I’m considering.

I hesitate to say “obviously”, but obviously Toby starts breaking free of Titania’s spell and helps others to do so - and McGuire starts pushing towards moments that truly feel like the endgame to the entire series, or at least the beginning of that end game. Once *that* begins, Sleep No More starts to hum because we’re now making true forward progress.

Forward progress is great - but the pause at the beginning of Sleep No More when Seanan McGuire has fully reset her world and needs to show us how it is changed and what has been lost and (in some cases) gained so that we have a greater context of the magnitude of what Titania has done is a bit frustrating on this initial read and I suspect will be even more so on a second read. It all makes sense, especially in light of what we learn of Titania, how she operates, and what restrictions she may have upon her (and also what she is likely trying to accomplish - this isn’t a farce or a lark) - but it’s tough until we start to get Toby back.
Joe Sherry - Senior Editor of Nerds of a Feather, Hugo Award Winner. Minnesotan. He / Him