Tuesday, August 1, 2023

The October Daye Re-Read: A Red Rose Chain

Welcome back, dear readers. Today we’re going to revisit the ninth novel in Seanan McGuire’s October Daye series: A Red Rose Chain. We are now exactly just past the halfway point through the (thus far) published books. Nine down, seven to go - though this autumn is going to throw havok into my reading when Seanan McGuire will publish not one, but two new October Daye novels that are directly dealing with the consequences of Be the Serpent - which means at some point this year (and likely very soon) I will hit another pause like i did last year when I dealt with the emotional fallout of that novel.

A Red Rose Chain has its own emotional fallout, which depending on your perspective is either tied to the return of the deposed Queen of the Mists (do we ever learn her name and is it actually important that we don’t?) or the part where Toby is tortured and killed. Spoilers, of course, but Toby is only mostly dead as is her wont and has an incredible revival. Frankly, I’m not convinced this series isn’t going to end with Toby really truly actually dead rather than getting a happily ever after, but we’ll see.

I’ve already started with the spoilers because that’s apparently how I’m rolling today, but this is a re-read essay for the ninth book in a series where I’ve been spoiler heavy the whole time. So, let’s keep reading along and expect more of the same.

Alright. Here’s the whole set up (and, I suppose, the conclusion). Toby overthrows another kingdom. Not bad for a changeling. It’s like this - Queen Arden’s seneschal is hit with elf shot (meaning, will be sleeping for the next hundred years) and the Kingdom of Silences declares war on the Mists. Arden, being a newer ruler, and Faerie as a whole having been fairly peaceful (more of less) for quite a while means that there is a lack of diplomats and this *is* the October Daye series AND Toby is a named Hero, the extraordinarily undiplomatic Toby is sent as diplomat to help stop a war.

The complicating factor, and of course there is a complicating factor is that the current King of Silences was placed on the throne by the former and deposed Queen of the Mists (whose name we still do not know, not that it really matters as far as we are aware) and that Queen is behind the throne in Silences. That Queen, of courses, hates Toby. Hates.

We’re all quite certain that everything is going to go well and there will be no complications, right? Right.

The whole book is a complication.

Silences is one of those Faerie kingdoms where the word “traditional” means racist (speciest?) as hell and incredibly discriminatory against changelings and less human presenting fae. So, besides being inclined to oppose everything Toby is seeking to accomplish, Silences is generally just a shitty place to be if you’re not full on in the favor of the reigning Monarch. But maybe that last point is everywhere if you’re not full on in favor. It’s just degrees of what it means to be in favor and what sort of person you need to be to fall in or out of favor.
“Regicide is nowhere near as much fun as a good, old-fashioned deposing.”
Toby is going to get a reputation. Deposing a ruling monarch once is a coincidence. Deposing a ruling monarch twice is a pattern. I believe this comes up later when another character alludes that other monarchs are not comfortable with Toby entering their realm given her history of overthrowing kingdoms. The thing is, Toby has no chill. When the options are let her friends and family be injured, through her actions or inactions allow actual war to occur, or to depose a King - Toby’s going to take down the throne.

One thing that I haven’t mentioned is that the way that Silences agreed that they would not invade Mists is if Toby physically gives herself over to Silences to be experimented on and for the False Queen to have Toby’s blood. Remember, in this world blood is literally magic - and Toby has some of the most remarkable magic with her ability to heal and to change the magical genetic composition of the blood of others (assuming a mix). The consequences would be horrific for Faerie, ignoring the brutality to Toby and even assuming that Silences would, in fact, hold to their word of not going to war. This should not be assumed.

Also, speaking of war, I have an eight year old at home and he is fascinated by the concept of war and invasions, and one country taking over another, and of empire. He doesn’t get it from me, that’s for sure, though I know for a fact that I was much the same when I was his age. It’s an abstract concept, though I try to convince him that war is a terrible and awful thing and that even when it is necessary (a distinction I am not yet making), it is still terrible and the cost of war is immeasurably awful and that families and communities and non-combatants are destroyed (I also don’t use that term). All of that is with the understanding that I haven’t been to war myself, though if there is another major war in the next decade I probably will and honestly, I’d rather not see things that I shouldn’t have to see and I would rather my country and other countries not have to go through that - all because of the choices “leaders” make.

The reason for this digression is Tybalt’s explanation of why Toby’s mission is important.
”Preventing a war is always the right thing to do,” he said gravely. “War is not a game, for all that some would play it as they would a game of whist. War is a tragedy in motion. Everyone is innocent, and everyone is guilty, and the crows come for their bodies all the same.”
As a breather, now that I’ve talked around war too much - In some ways, all of this buries the ledge that Walther works out a cure to elf shot. That’s amazing! It’s a reminder of how strong Toby’s magic is in identified specific strands of magic to give Walther the tools to work out the cure. There will, naturally, be long running and unexpected implications because if elf shot is no longer the way to stop conflicts short of killing, then how this plays out in the long term will be fascinating to see. Not that we’ll be getting novels or perspectives far enough out in the series for that to truly shake out.
"Arthur pulling Excalibur from the stone got him a kingdom and a legend and a whole bunch of crappy knock-off stories. Hell, it got him a Disney movie. Me pulling a knife out of my own heart got me pain, pain, and more pain, until I felt like I was on the verge of blacking out again.”
Finally - let’s just consider just how much of a badass that Toby is. She is stabbed in the heart and pulls the knife out. The whole scene is incredibly dramatic and well done. The moment gets into the depth of the raw power of Toby’s magic. It has come up a number of times that she may be functionally immortal and she very much does not want to test how far she can go, though the series is bringing her closer and closer and closer to finding out. This being the closest yet. Stabbed straight into the heart and Toby pulls out the knife while she feels every millimeter of that pain. Just incredible.

Next up in the re-read will be Once Broken Faith, though I am fairly certain there’s going to be a bit of a gap between this essay and the next because I do have copies of both Sleep No More and The Innocent Sleep for review and those are going to take priority and all of my emotional energy. There’s no way Seanan McGuire doesn’t break my heart multiple times with those two books.

Open roads and kind fires, my friends.

Joe Sherry - Senior Editor of Nerds of a Feather. Hugo Award Winner. Minnesotan. He / Him