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 Jazz can't sleep, Sylvester doesn't want to see her, and worst of all, Tybalt has withdrawn from her entirely, retreating into the Court of Cats as he tries to recover from his abduction.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.
I got an uncorrected advance reader copy at Bouchercon this year, but it was from a freebie table, meaning there is zero chance of bias.
Up front this is definitely an uncorrected ARC and I sincerely hope that someone not only corrects the grammatical and punctuational errors, but the huge, gaping plot error.
Briefly as possible: Lady Dunbridge's friend's husband is murdered. Lady D and friend find a hidden safe deposit box key in a safe, and checking the box they find thousand of dollars in cash, which they take out and hide. At the denouement it is revealed that he had this cash with him when he died, that the murderer took it after shooting him. Which would make it impossible for Lady D and friend to find it in his safe deposit box afterward. I mean, I'm pretty sure the murderer didn't kill him, take his money, and then return it to the victim's safe deposit box for the two women to find.
Those issues aside, it's not a bad read. Lady Dunbridge is an interesting mix of traditionalist and modernist, in much the same way I'd bet a lot of women were at the turn of the century, just before WWI. Her morality has left the Victorian Age behind, but her pragmatism has her actively searching for a new husband who can maintain her in the lifestyle befitting her Countess title. That she decides to do that in America is a slight twist on an old theme.
Some of the secondary characters are all written to be interesting in their own right, with Lady D's ladies maid being a downright lady of mystery with some mad and disconcerting skills. Others are more cardboard prop-ish; either they have more development planned in future books (?) or they weren't meant to be more than props.
There's no romance, although the Countess is plenty interested, and there's heavy foreshadowing of mysterious men and sadly, a possible love triangle. Nothing specific, just inferences that can be made from inescapable tropes.
The plot, other than the train-sized hole running through the end of it, was pretty interesting. In a very weird coincidence, the book centered on horse-racing; the Belmont Stakes, specifically. (I was completely unaware of this when I picked it up to read.) It was an interesting story, and I loved the tie in with Doyle's Silver Blaze (which, towards the end of the book became Silver Blade, something I really hope they catch before publication). It could have been a tighter story - it did drag a bit in the middle - but overall, it held my attention.
I'd probably read another one if it comes across my radar; there's enough here to show promise.
I'll use this book for my Melbourne Cup Day Festive Task, since it's been handed to me. (Read a book about horses or a horse on the cover.)
Sefia knows what it means to survive. After her father is brutally murdered, she flees into the wilderness with her aunt Nin, who teaches her to hunt, track, and steal. But when Nin is kidnapped, leaving Sefia completely alone, none of her survival skills can help her discover where Nin’s been taken, or if she’s even alive. The only clue to both her aunt’s disappearance and her father’s murder is the odd rectangular object her father left behind, an object she comes to realize is a book—a marvelous item unheard of in her otherwise illiterate society. With the help of this book, and the aid of a mysterious stranger with dark secrets of his own, Sefia sets out to rescue her aunt and find out what really happened the day her father was killed—and punish the people responsible.
Librarians, pirates, and assassins, oh my! Once again, I am charmed by a young-adult author.
I loved the magic of reading & literature—quite literally in this story. Sefia, our young female main character, has inherited a Book, her only legacy from her beloved parents. Somehow, Chee makes it seem not only likely, but inevitable, that Sefia would teach herself to read this book and then use it to see the past and explore the present. Her pursuit of the truth about the Book and the loss of her parents & her aunt, lead her to follow a criminal outfit and she eventually rescues a young man who they have been forcing to fight other youngsters to the death for some obscure purpose. He is so traumatized that he is unable to speak, but his fighting prowess leads Sefia to name him Archer.
Chee writes a very egalitarian world without making a big deal about it. For those of us who grew up with fantasy where we had to have a sex change to identify with most of the characters because they were almost all male, this is a very disorientating experience! To read about an assassin, and suddenly realize, wait this is a woman! Same on board the pirate ship—there’s a ship’s boy, but also a ship’s girl, not to mention numerous female crew members. It’s all written matter of factly, and I found myself running face first into my own assumptions on a regular basis. What a pleasant change!
There is the inevitable romance between Sefia and her rescuee, Archer, but it didn’t overwhelm the main plot and was gently developed. I will be pleased to follow their story further in The Speaker.