It’s funny that I came to this realization while reading a story about addiction, but the Toby Daye books are basically my reading crack. There’s nothing to not love, and they remain disturbingly consistent is their high caliber. Seriously, we’re six book in and by now the series ought to have stumbled at least once. The only possibly negative thing I can say about these is that none of the subsequent volumes have knocked Book 3 from its position as my favorite. And that says a lot more about An Artificial Night than it does about the next three books. Part of me wonders if I just don’t read enough Urban Fantasy to give Toby competition, but I’ve gotten three other people hooked on this series…and one of them never reads fantasy.
So why are they so good? In my opinion, it’s because everyone matters. By now, it’s probably obvious that as a reader I care more about good characters than I do about good plots. With McGuire’s books the save the world or die bit is just the frosting. What really matters is that I care passionately about an animated rosebush. When I finished Chimes at Midnight, I was complaining to a friend about how one of my favorite characters dropped out of this story halfway through. In a very purposefully, goose bump raising way. I pointed out that what I really needed was a spin-off series. After all, if you told me I could either have more about Toby or more about the Luidaeg, I’d spend months agonizing over which to choose. Wouldn’t a lovely series about the sea witch’s back story be perfect? (FYI, a short story about the Luidaeg was nominated for a Hugo this year.) And while we’re at it, why not one about Sylvester…oh, and Tybalt! The King of Cats definitely needs more page time. Heck, I’d even settle for entire story based off Quentin. And that’s when I begin to understand why McGuire must hate us all. After all, she’s one of the most prolific fantasy authors, churning out three novels a year and all kinds of shorter stories and songs. And we grab the newest offering, devour it, and demand more.
The other aspect of these books that I think captures me so completely is how devoted they are to actual literature. Set aside the fact that all the titles come from Shakespeare, there’s constant references to a much older faerie than our Disneyed culture knows. There are nursery rhymes that save your life, and in this newest book, our heroes take on an addictive drug made of fruit from the heart of faerie that kills the part human part faerie changelings. It’s called goblin fruit. And Toby even quotes the line “we must not look at goblin men” at one point. I personally spent an entire month studying Rossetti’s poems in college. This level of weaving the old with new is something I find precious in a book, and McGuire is a master at it.
The other odd aspect of these books is the surprises…or lack thereof. The consistency of everyone’s actions, manners, and thoughts is shocking. So while some plot twists do really seem to come out of nowhere (flash frozen blood comes to mind) they make perfect sense and don’t yank you out of the story. And even if you’ve seen a big reveal coming for six books, when it does occur there isn’t a sense of victory for having been smarter than the author. Of course you saw that coming. You were supposed to see it coming. The point was Toby didn’t see it coming. The rest of us have just been sharing the suspense of waiting for that penny to drop.
Which ties into my last reason why everyone should be reading these books. They are so planned out its terrifying. When I get a new book, I read and reread it several time, because I’m sure I’ve missed so much. Magical objects from the first book are vitally important to the plot of Chimes at Midnight. Little hints of abilities and places you barely remember noting are suddenly the difference between life and death. The very goblin fruit wrecking so much havoc in Toby’s San Francisco has been mentioned before. Instead of mystery of the week featuring nasty fae creature of the week, we have a slow and steady build to something that’s going to shake the entire foundations of this second world. You know at the end of each book that when this week’s crisis wraps up and everything is saved, in reality, we’ve only moved a step closer to something bigger. But instead of rushing into it or dropping ridiculously huge hints everywhere (okay, those might be there, they just aren’t glaringly obvious)McGuire is taking her time, telling us the story of our changeling hero, and allowing the path to be as important as the final destination.
It’s all about the characters after all.