I've been putting off writing a review for this book because I still can't figure out what to say about it. It's steampunk Frankenstein, so if that sounds appealing to you then snap it up post-haste. If you're not a steampunk fan, well, know what you are getting into.
Lee does an excellent job evoking the past in all her books, and this one is no exception. The interesting thing is that she infuses her world with machinery and mechanical men. It almost has a cyberpunk quality in that so much of the book is concerned with the divide between machine and man, and at what point when adding machinery and subtracting flesh does a man cease being human. It's an interesting direction to take the story, and there are also some astute comments of disability and social standing.
Where the book flagged for me was that I went into it wanting a story about brotherhood, and to watch these two brothers grapple with one another throughout the narrative. However, much like the source of inspiration, the two spend most of the book separated and only clash at the ending. This is all well and good, it's just not the story I wanted. While the book spent lavish detail and time exploring other characters and locales I found myself frustrated that it wasn't spending its time on things that interested me more. It doesn't feel fair to be critical of a book for not being what you want it to be, especially when it does a fine job in every other respect, but here I am.
If you dig steampunk you will likely enjoy this book. If you like historical fiction with a twist you will likely enjoy this book. If you want to read an interesting re-telling of Frankenstein you will also likely enjoy this book. If you want a story of brothers at odds with one another, and an exploration of their relationship, this will likely not hit the mark for you.
In the aftermath of Amandine's latest betrayal, October "Toby" Daye's fragile self-made family is on the verge of coming apart at the seams. Jazz can't sleep, Sylvester doesn't want to see her, and worst of all, Tybalt has withdrawn from her entirely, retreating into the Court of Cats as he tries to recover from his abduction. Toby is floundering, unable to help the people she loves most heal. She needs a distraction. She needs a quest.
What she doesn't need is the abduction of her estranged human daughter, Gillian. What she doesn't need is to be accused of kidnapping her own child by her ex-boyfriend and his new wife, who seems to be harboring secrets of her own. There's no question of whether she'll take the case. The only question is whether she's emotionally prepared to survive it.
Signs of Faerie's involvement are everywhere, and it's going to take all Toby's nerve and all her allies to get her through this web of old secrets, older hatreds, and new deceits. If she can't find Gillian before time runs out, her own child will pay the price. One question remains:
Who in Faerie remembered Gillian existed? And what do they stand to gain? No matter how this ends, Toby's life will never be the same.
I guess the fact that I’ve read to book 12 in this series would be an indication that it’s a hit for me. I don’t know how much longer McGuire can continue to spin the faerie tales, but I am a willing victim.
This installment takes us back right to the beginning, as it once again involves Toby’s human daughter, Gillian. In an earlier book, Gillian had made the choice to become fully human (the changeling’s choice) and Toby honoured that wish, despite her own heartache. But thinking that the Fae would leave Gillian alone seems to have been wishful thinking and once again some difficult decisions need to be dealt with.
At least Toby has her beloved Tybalt back at her side, although I didn’t find his sudden switch back to be the most believable plot point that McGuire has written! She’s going to need his support as her life becomes even more intertwined with The Luidaeg and she tries to re-establish family bonds with her genetic family, not just her chosen family.
There are certainly plenty of loose threads, where McGuire can pick up the narrative and spin us more of the adventures of Toby. I, for one, will be waiting impatiently for the next volume.
Toby is a happy-go-lucky charmer who’s dodged a scrape at work and is celebrating with friends when the night takes a turn that will change his life – he surprises two burglars who beat him and leave him for dead. Struggling to recover from his injuries, beginning to understand that he might never be the same man again, he takes refuge at his family’s ancestral home to care for his dying uncle Hugo. Then a skull is found in the trunk of an elm tree in the garden – and as detectives close in, Toby is forced to face the possibility that his past may not be what he has always believed.
This book isn’t part of French’s Dublin Murder Squad books, so don’t go into it expecting that. She is still writing in the mystery genre, but no doubt feeling the urge to diversify a bit, and not be locked into just one series.
Having said that, Toby (the main character of this book) reminded me in several ways of Rob Ryan from the first DMS book, In the Woods. They both have dodgy memories and both start out each book seeming like happy-go-lucky guys. Ms. French doesn’t let them stay too settled, however. Toby’s kinda-sorta-close family ties also reminded me of Frank Mackey in DMS #3, Faithful Place. Frank, just like Toby, had to sort through family history and old memories to come to some sort of conclusion about the present.
How accurately do we remember the past? I think the general consensus is that we’re all revisionists. (As Stephen King wrote in Joyland, “When it comes to the past, everyone writes fiction.”) And how much more severe is that situation going to be when Toby has been severely head-injured? Actually, I really didn’t like the Toby of the first few pages and was wondering what had happened to one of my favourite writers! I usually really enjoy even French’s most annoying characters—so I was happily surprised that head-injured Toby was more much interesting and (to me) likeable.
I had a great big soft spot for Uncle Hugo as well. Having done genealogy myself, I loved that French made him a genealogical researcher (and a good one). I’ve got some Irish ancestors, who emigrated to Canada and kept raising money to bring more relatives over. I’ve got to find the time to learn more about them!
The Witch Elm also made me think of M.L. Rio’s If We Were Villains, which I absolutely adored. I thought that Toby resembled Oliver Marks from that novel, particularly when it came to the book’s ending. A lovely messy ending, with only hints at how things will actually resolve when either Oliver or Toby emerge back into the world.
So, I maybe didn’t love The Witch Elm quite as much as the Dublin Murder Squad, but I still found it to be a book well worth reading. Ms. French, I am still a devotée.
It's been quite some time since I wrote you all last! Health and income have not been good, putting a huge pause on the writing projects currently sitting on the back burner.
However, Advent is just around the corner now, hot on the heels of the American Thanksgiving! You'll want to get your orders in early to beat the rush.
Secondly, there's a new social network out there that could be a real boon to other authors you know. Their SocialCRM is patent-pending and they are currently in beta. As of this very evening, they announced a huge contest coming soon, as soon as they reach 2 million beta testers!
I don't know about you, but personally, I love contests, particularly if they are free, and if they have potential to reach more readers. There's some authors over there already, so this is another way to connect with them.
I'd be honoured if you clicked through the following link and signed up using my referral link. Once Webtalk is out of beta, there won't be any more private invitations, it will be wide open. (but if you want to take part in the contest announcement, use my referral link)