I finally took my eyes off the water, peering at her through the disheveled curtain of my hair. “Are you just babbling at me until I start feeling better?”
"Yup!” Marcia beamed. “Is it working?”
My stomach was no longer roiling. I didn’t trust myself to stand up on my own, but I also didn’t feel like I was about to introduce the barnacles to my breakfast. Again. I blinked. “Actually, yes.”
“Sometimes you need to take peoples’ minds off their problems if you want those problems to resolve themselves,” said Marcia. “Focusing on things can make them worse.”
“Not all problems go away if you ignore them. Most don’t.”
“No, but not all problems can be fixed. Sometimes you have to wait until the situation changes.” She smiled sympathetically. “Like if you’re on a boat and you get seasick.”
Yup. Toby's on a boat—a sailing ship, to be precise—just the place for someone who hates water. Why is she there? Well, that has something to do with the debt she owes the Luidaeg. The Luidaeg has decided that time is up and it's now time to pay that mysterious bill she told the Selkies was coming due. And Toby has to come along to help her collect. A couple of months ago, when I listened to the audiobook of One Salt Sea, I wondered what happened to that ominous future event, so that was nice to see. On the other hand, we're told that this was nearly three years ago, which means it takes only three-ish years for books 6-12 to occur? That's an eventful life right there.
Because they're apt to be useful, and because Toby isn't likely to come nicely without them, the Luidaeg also brings Tybalt and Quentin along on their trip to the Duchy of Ships, where a convocation of Selkies will be held to pay this bill. Due to the significance of this happening, a few other dignitaries come, too—delegations from the Kingdom of the Mists, the Duchy of Saltmist, and Goldengreen—oh, and Gillian (which makes sense for people who've read the previous book, Night and Silence).
So we've got a group of Toby's friends, a new Duchy for most of them to visit, a bunch of debts the Luidaeg is collecting, and the fate of an entire race in the balance. What could go wrong?
Naturally, that's the wrong question. Something better to ask is: how many pints of blood will Toby lose while trying to fix what goes wrong and how many others will die? Obviously, I'm not going to answer those, but we need to get our thinking straight.
Something I want to mention before I forget: Before the Sea Witch shows up at her door, Toby's narration gives a very thorough and succinct recap of the entire series (one of the best of those I've read lately, it's a tricky thing to accomplish) before noting
...there's a lot of history around here, and sometimes it doesn't summarize very well.
It's a small thing, but it made me smile—McGuire excels at those.
The Luidaeg has got to be just about the most popular character in this series, and we really get to know her so much better here than we have before—and it made me so happy to see this. I'd gladly take another Luidaeg-centric book or three any day of the week. Seeing her at this turning point in all her power and all her grief is just stunning. I don't think I'd ever felt bad for her (at least not for long), but watching her being resolute in carrying out the duty she was bound to here—while clearly not wanting to go through with it—was moving. Early in the book, there's a scene between her and a little girl that just about broke my heart. At the same time, she has plenty of great lines and made me chuckle a lot, too. Her interactions with Quentin (and vice versa) might be my favorite parts of the book.
The Luidaeg/Selkie story was strong enough that I don't care so much about the rest of the book, which is good, because I think it's one of her weakest. There's an adventure in Saltmist that seemed pretty perfunctory and while the ending is very clever—and gives Toby a chance to embrace the technicalities of Faerie in a way she usually doesn't (that is, keeping the letter of the law, but doing a tap dance all around the intent)— it seemed anti-climatic. We have a great build-up and then an almost let-down of a conclusion.
A few quick bullet points that I don't have the time to expand on (nor do I think I could do them justice without talking too much about them):
- No one expected, I trust, that things between Toby and Gillian would get better after Night and Silence, but it was tough (yet understandable and believable) to read Gillian's reactions to Toby here.
- There are repeated references to the weakness/susceptibility to harm of one member of Toby's group—McGuire hit that note so often that I really feared for that character. One that I didn't realize I liked as much as I did when I feared for their safety and longevity.
- We get to meet another Firstborn! She's just fantastic and I hope we get to see more of her. Also, the reactions of various members of her descendant races to meeting her in the flesh were priceless.
- Someone's blind fosterage is getting harder to maintain. That could prove interesting (and in the Toby-verse, interesting usually is defined as calamitous)
- Clearly, Toby's reputation as someone who topples monarchies has spread far and wide. This isn't good for her, but will be good for us readers.
- Marcia continues to show more depth and ability than I gave her credit for when we met (which surprises me almost every time we see it)
- What we're told about future books here (in terms of Toby's future obligations) is enough to get long-term readers excited (not that we needed the encouragement, really, but it's nice to know)
This isn't one of the best in the series—but it features some of the best moments, scenes, events. It's not a trade-off I'm entirely pleased with, but I can live with it (and thankfully the good far outweighed the less-good). It's safe to say that a lot won't be the same again in this world or for many of these characters. Any time I spend with Toby, Tybalt, Quentin, the Luidaeg, etc. is a good time, and I thoroughly enjoyed the read, I just wanted a bit more from an author who usually brings more than you could realistically ask for.