The Winter Long: an October Daye novel by Seanan McGuire
This is the 8th Toby Daye book, and according to a brief note at the start of the acknowledgments, this is a big one, one that she’s been working towards since the series started. Naturally, that made me read with a certain amount of trepidation.
The book begins with Toby being forced to attend a party, the first Yule Ball thrown by the new Queen after Toby and friends put her on the throne. That being given, there is no way Toby can avoid going, and at the main event she is officially named Hero of the Realm. Then, once they go home everyone (almost everyone) falls asleep and Tybalt goes home, leaving only Toby to be disturbed by someone knocking at her door. It looks like Duke Sylvester, her liege lord, so she lets him in, only to realize too late that it’s his twin brother, Simon.
Now, even if you’ve been following along in the series, you could be forgiven for forgetting who Simon is, but he’s the villain who, at the start of the first book, kidnapped his niece and sister-in-law, leaving them in a dark, lonely place until the niece, at least, went mad, and who, when he caught Toby following him, turned her into a koi and left her on the side of a pond to die. A helpful bystander threw her into the pond, where she remained for 14 years, ruining her life in way that she has only just begun to recover from.
Simon’s return is bad enough, but from hints he drops during this meeting and things that Toby figures out later it becomes plain that he was never acting alone, but under orders. Under the orders of someone powerful enough to not only order him around, but also to magickally compel him to remain silent about their identity. Someone powerful enough to compel even the Luidaeg to remain silent (and the Luidaeg is first generation fae, right off of Oberon and Maebh). Someone that Toby knows.
And that’s without the personal bomb that Simon drops on her. All things considered, this one really shakes up the status quo of the series without ruining it. While you have to have read the other books in the series to understand what’s going on in this one, it is Highly recommended. And that applies to the rest of the series, as well.
The Worm Ouroboros: prelude to the Zimiamvia trilogy by E. R. Eddison
This is a re-read; but I didn’t do a write-up back in the day. Only the last book in the series got written-up (here)(That entry was not long on details). The series is back in print, finally, and in my opinion well-worth picking up.
This, however, comes with a few caveats. For starters, this book is nearly a century old (1922) and shows some of its age. It (and the rest of the series) inspired Tolkien and Lewis (among others, of course–cover blurbs include Ursula K. LeGuin and Neil Gaiman), so it you’ve had enough of Tolkien and his ilk you probably don’t want to read this. Everyone in the stories is white European (even the ones who aren’t technically human) so if you’re looking for characters of colour, you can pass this series by. There are more women in this book alone than in all of Tolkien, but of the three women who come to mind in The Lord of the Rings, one was a powerful enchanter whose power made her home a refuge and shield against the Dark Lord, and another rode to save the good guys and slew one of the big bads (The third is Rosie Cotton, who is famous mostly for marrying Sam at the end of the book). The women in this series are mostly wives and daughters, some of whom have political power, one or two of whom have magical power, and in the sequels one of them may, in fact, be a goddess.
This book begins with a man named Lessingham who one evening sleeps in “the Lotus Room”, in which he may experience a vision or may be physically taken via hippogryph-drawn chariot to the planet Mercury, specifically the Court of the Demon Lords, who are not demons as we use the term but rather men who live in a land called Demonland. And they have horns. To the birthday celebration of Juss, Prince of Demonland, the king of the Witches sends, as an ambassador, his dwarf jester, to demand the Demons’ submission as the Witches claim rulership over the whole world.
Since the King of the Witches, Gorice XI, claims to have defeated in wrestling 99 great champions, killing them all, Goldry Bluszco, brother to Juss, challenges him to a wrestling match. Should the demon win, Gorice will renounce his claims but if Gorice wins, he is free to attack Demonland. This match takes up the second chapter of the book, and sometime during it Lessingham vanishes forever from the narrative; we see him no more until the second book. With him goes any more mentions of Mercury (the characters, even if they be Mercurian, quote Terran poets and philosophers in the original languages), the Demons’ horns (the original characters horns are mentioned as part of their coiffure; Demon characters introduced later get no mention of horns. In fairness, the Demons, Witches, Imps, Goblins, et al are just humans from lands with strange names).
Goldry and the Witch King wrestle (the set-up for the match rather reminds me of the chapter in Prince Caspian in which Peter and Miraz duel for Caspian’s claim on the throne–or rather, considering this came first, vice versa) and Goldry wins, killing Gorice.
Being on neutral territory, the Demons rest for the night, but the Witches slip back to Witchland to bury their king. New king Gorice XII is waiting for them, and his first act as King is to cast a spell calling up a dark power to attack the Demons’ ship and carry off Goldry to some form of durance vile.
The rest of the book is the Demon Lords (particularly Juss) trying to get Goldry back, while the Witches go about conquering the world, including trying to take over Demonland, at which, of course, they fail.
But there are many heroic great battles before Goldry returns and the Demons win the war.
As characters, the Demon Lords remind me of Celtic heroes (Goldry even warp spasms while he’s wrestling Gorice XI), though notes claim that Eddison based them on the Eddas, or some such.
The only connection to the rest of the series is the (brief) presence of Lessingham, who will play a much larger role in the rest of the series, and a brief mention of Zimiamvia itself, as seen from afar atop a mountain: “Is it true, thinkest thou, which philosophers tells us of that fortunate land: that no mortal foot may tread it, but the blessed souls do inhabit it of the dead that be departed, even they that were great upon Earth and did great deeds when they were living, that scorned not earth and the delights and the glories thereof, and yet did justly and were not dastards nor yet oppressors?”
And, yes, Eddison writes extremely forsoothly, which can bother some people. Neil Gaiman writes a cover comment on one of the books where he notes that it ceases to annoy soon into reading it, but your mileage may vary.
So, overall, I found this to be a lot of fun, though not without its issues. Recommended, but not for everyone.