Review: An Artificial Night by Seanan McGuire

October 7, 2010 Books, Reading, Reviews 1 ★★★★★


Mommmmmmmmmmm!  Seanan made me cry again!

It’s easy to joke about that, but the truth remains: McGuire’s skill as an author and the facility which she creates a character who is so real that it seems like I actually know her has, for the third time in as many books (four, actually, if you count her novel Feed, under the nom de plume Mira Grant – but that’s a different series), succeeded in turning me into a sobbing mess.

An Artificial Night represents a significant leveling up for Toby Daye, the protagonist. The situations in the first two books in the series—Rosemary and Rue and A Local Habitation—while difficult and serious, were within the realm of being solvable by a normal (albeit very talented and grimly stubborn) individual. The foe she faces in this story, however, is so powerful that it’s not unlike having to defeat a god.

As always, McGuire laces the novel with a significant amount of folklore. Aside from the ever-present references to oak, ash, rowan, and thorn, the number three—so significant in so many fairy tales—plays an important part in the novel (specifically, the number of times she must face down the Firstborn who has been abducting and transforming children). And then there is the appearance of Toby’s Fetch, which always signals the impending death of its twin…

An Artificial Night also sees McGuire referring to and drawing an original background well of poetry, story, and song that she has created over a period of years, the hauntingly exquisite “Babylon Wood” series. Only a passing reference, but one central to the story, and the teaser makes me hope we might see more of that material in future books in the series.

Nor is the “Babylon Wood” material the only song the book plays host to, as one of the plot’s kernels is a re-enactment of the Tam Lin ballad. This made me squee out of all proportion, as that ballad is this reviewer’s all-time favorite song and story. (And being a Fae junkie, there are a lot of old ballads in that vein that I like.)

The period between the release of A Local Habitation and An Artificial Night marks a turning point in McGuire’s career professionally, as well, as she won the John W. Campbell Award for best new writer at this year’s WorldCon in Australia in September, for her first novel Rosemary and Rue. This marks the first time an urban fantasy novel has won that award, and I can’t think of any other writer better-suited for it.

Those fans of the series who long to see more of Tybalt will not be disappointed by this book. He plays a substantial part in helping Toby, and their relationship—crabby and unconventional as it is—takes another step forward here. While I am not, by any meaning of the word, a fan of paranormal romance, I am rather enjoying the long, slow, drawn-out dance that is the chemistry between them, and I think I would not enjoy it nearly as much if it were happening at a quicker pace. Both Toby and Tybalt are proud, prickly, stubborn people who aren’t interested in lowering their standards for a quick roll in the hay. It’s clear to see that Tybalt cares for Toby in a way that he doesn’t much want to admit, and Toby’s feelings for Tybalt, which started out as a thorny distaste, grow more cloudy and difficult to describe with each adventure.

Toby grows significantly in this book. In Rosemary and Rue, she flat-out refused to entertain the thought that she was a hero, and didn’t want anything to do with the idea; in An Artificial Night, she admits she is one, although it’s still not something she’s happy about, and recognizes it will, in all likelihood, lead her to an early death.

Final call: this is the best book in the series so far, period. I really want more than just five stars to give it.

The release date for the 4th book in the Toby Daye series, Late Eclipses, has recently been announced as March 1, 2011. This makes me happy. DAW Books has bought the first five books in the series, and McGuire says there are at least three more planned beyond that. This simultaneously makes me happy and not-happy. While I’m overjoyed that I have at least (hopefully) four more books in this series to savor, I’m sad at the idea that I might only have four more books in the series to savor. In this case, eight is most definitely not enough.