Monday, September 11, 2023

Review: The Innocent Sleep, by Seanan McGuire

Reading the October Daye has been a journey in coming to terms with and ultimately accepting Tybalt as Toby’s love and her partner. Some of that journey mirrored Toby’s in the books, but something about Tybalt has never quite sat right with me. I’m in the middle of a years long series re-read which pauses each time a new book comes out so my brain is perpetually in a weird place with this series when we get to the summer and I begin reading the new October Daye for purposes of review (and for purposes of joy, because I am not remotely unbiased and I really love this series).
“You seem pretty possessive, and that’s me being nice about it. I could be a lot nastier if you wanted me to be.” - August Torquill to Tybalt

The Innocent Sleep is the 18th novel in Seanan McGuire’s October Daye series and unlike every other book in the series, it does NOT follow off the events of the preceding book but rather from the events of book 16, Be the Serpent (my review). The Innocent Sleep is a companion novel to Sleep No More (my review) and they each run through the same events but from differing perspectives. Sleep No More is Toby’s novel. The Innocent Sleep is Tybalt’s, which means that I spent a significant part of The Innocent Sleep annoyed at Tybalt because the more we’re in Tybalt’s head the less I appreciate the character.
“I know the way of ward and wording. I know the roads through riddle and restriction. Do you truly think my husband can stop me from doing anything I want to do?” - Titania
Readers already knew that Toby was caught up in Titania’s counter stroke and if they read Sleep No More first the way I think most will they will have already gone on this journey once to break Titania’s spell and restore the world back the way it was. I suspect the success of The Innocent Sleep depends on how invested particular readers are in Tybalt as a main character on his own rather than just as the romantic accessory of Toby’s heart that he is.
“Why not? You seem pretty possessive, and that’s me being nice about it. I could be a lot nastier if you wanted me to be.” - August to Tybalt.
I do a slight disservice to Tybalt, but I’ve always had issues with Tybalt as a character. He comes across as very self righteous but also borderline abusive and obsessive in a very controlling way. His anger at this particular situation makes sense and is reasonable. Everything is messed up. Badly. His words and actions about his “right” to speak for October and answer for her and make decisions for her is not reasonable, especially when October is not able to push back, which is truly half of their relationship.
“You don’t get to give people consent to hurt me,” said October. “No one gets to give people consent to hurt me except for me. Not you, not my family, not the damned Queen of the Mists, not even Fair Titania. *No one*”
Even in these magically adjusted circumstances, and perhaps because this is a false reality overlaid on top of actual reality Toby is who she is and that pokes through from time to time - enough to remind the reader that this isn’t exactly a medical case of altered mental status. This is who Toby is in Titania’s reality and Tybalt doesn’t get to dictate Toby’s actions and his rage is misplaced (and frankly concerning).

That’s really where my issues with The Innocent Sleep lie - being in Tybalt’s head is a frustrating experience and I fully expect that other readers don’t have the same problem with Tybalt that I do and everything is cool and this is how they want him to be. I don’t. Because of that, The Innocent Sleep is the novel I needed to get through in order to see the stage that McGuire sets at the end of this book and, likewise, at the end of Sleep No More. I want what’s next in this story. I want to find out what happens next, when the reckoning with Titania will fall (because there is no way that I believe she is off the board), if the next book is the one where Toby finds Maeve, and all the things.

Better yet, to spend a full book back in Toby’s head the way it should be.

The place to end, though, is with a threat from a Firstborn - which I always enjoy because they talk such a good game but don’t often smack down the ordinary heroes we love.
“Don’t think that just because I choose harmlessless now, you can afford the cost of offending me.”

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