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Book review: A Local Habitation - Phil's Rambling Rants
March 22nd, 2010
11:34 am

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Book review: A Local Habitation
Today's book review is A Local Habitation by Seanan McGuire.

This is the second book in the Toby Daye series which began with Rosemary and Rue.  It is a complete story, but it makes more sense in the context of the world set in the first volume.

I've been procrastinating this for days because what I'm about to say is painful for me, but it's time to get it over with.  I didn't like this book very much.  The world is still engaging, and there are developments in the ongoing relationships of ongoing characters that I was happy about.  And I continue to enjoy the way Seanan puts words, sentences, paragraphs, and scenes together.  But this particular plot is not to my taste, and there's a real darkness, a hint of nihilism, bringing about the sort of thoughts that I read fantasy to avoid because the daily news is so full of them.  It's not all dark and icky, not at all; if it were, I wouldn't hesitate to say I hated it regardless of who wrote it.  But it's darker than I'm ready to handle right now.

To say anything more, I have to be somewhat spoilery, although I won't reveal who the killer is.  A big part of my problem is that this story is at least half slasher movie, and I believe I can go so far as to say that I loathe slasher movies.  It is a standard feature of the genre that the people are locked up together for reasons that don't have to really make sense, and that once in the situation, people are supposed to behave stupidly so the killer can act again.  These are the things you're supposed to agree to suspend your disbelief and enjoy, but since the enjoyment isn't there, the suspension isn't either, and I didn't agree.  But there's another level of philosophical trouble I have.  This is something that was touched on in Rosemary and Rue, but I managed to not fixate on it; because it's more central to the plot here, I had to think about it more.  Faerie is dying, and this story is about one person's dream about how to save it.  I find her solution less than satisfactory, and it doesn't even work.

6 out of 10.






****  PLOT SUMMARY  --  MASSIVE SPOILERS  ****



Toby goes out with the girls and gets much drunker than anyone should, and Tybalt finds her as she's trying to go home and escorts her there.  For someone who's supposed to hate Toby and want her dead, he's awfully sweet.  He answers the phone while she's passed out, leaving her a message that Sylvester is coming.  He arrives and sends her on a mission: he hasn't heard from his niece in too long.  She's set up her own County in Fremont, and the diplomatic situation is very tense between Sylvester's duchy and the neighboring one.  So Toby heads off to Fremont and finds A Local Habitation Computing, January's company.  She gets a very chilly reception, in large part because the people assume she's a spy, but she manages to convince them of her bona fides.  And then Colin is killed, and it's revealed that it's not the first death, and this is one of the things that's hard to swallow.  Deaths are rare in Faerie, and deaths where the Night-Haunts don't take the bodies are unprecedented, and they've been keeping it a secret.  Jan has left phone messages for Sylvester that were never answered (that Sylvester never got), but nobody did anything more to get the word out.  I haven't actually retained all the details of people running around, refusing to leave the place stalked by an unknown killer and refusing to even act as if they're in danger as more of them die, and I don't really want to; I'm just going to recall the stuff that should be important to remember for the series.

Toby's main magic power as a Daoine Sidhe is being able to read memories through blood, but it doesn't work on these bodies.  She gets nothing.  Alex and Terrie are presented as brother and sister but it was pretty obvious (from way before Toby saw it) that they were the same person, and that they were something succubus-like.  But Terrie got killed, and Alex was still dead at dawn.  Toby uses her magic to make Alex wake up, realizing that he wasn't quite as gone as Terrie, but even after bringing him back, she isn't closer to knowing what's happening.  She calls in her debt with the Luidaeg, learning how to summon the Night-Haunts to ask them why they haven't taken the bodies.  She believes that the Luidaeg will kill her now that she isn't bound by the debt, but she still sees it as her duty.  (Fortunately, at the end of the story, it appears that the Luidaeg is very lonely and the apparent friendship she's made with Toby is real; she's not going to kill Toby unless Toby really does something to deserve it.)  The Night-Haunts appear, and the leader wears the face of Dare, the changeling girl in the first book Toby couldn't save.  In return for talking, they demand that Toby bear the knowledge of what they are.  Oberon created them, not just to dispose of bodies, but to absorb and hold onto the memories of fae who die.  So in some sense the dead aren't really dead, although it seems likely that true death would be nicer than the continued existence they have.  The Night-Haunts explain that since the bodies have been drained of their memories, they are of no use and they cannot take them.  But they fail to shed light on how the people died.  Finally, January gets killed, with an axe as well as with the strange wounds at neck and throat.  Eventually, Toby manages to eliminate everyone else and track down Gordan, the Coblynau changeling, and goad her into explaining what's going on.  It all started with April, who was a dryad Jan rescued when a development bulldozed her tree.  Jan saved a branch, and managed to convince the dryad's spirit to move into a computer.  Dryads have a humanoid form but aren't really sapient, and April came out as something alien, almost robotic, with a lot of logic and factual intelligence but not really understanding the world.  Jan got the idea that if April could live in a computer, the rest of Faerie could too, and started the company to try to make it happen.  Gordan's powers of fabrication were important in the project, but unfortunately, Jan didn't realize that Gordan's hatred of purebloods for the way they treat changelings had made her crazy.  The process they'd developed was supposed to transcribe a person into the computer, not to kill them.  They tried it on a couple of cats, but even though the cats died, Gordan wouldn't stop.  They started trying it on their coworkers, and it killed them too, but they believed they were storing something, even if they hadn't been able to actually talk to it.  But Gordan kept killing, and she killed Jan because Jan was pureblood, and didn't even keep the electronic record.  Gordan fell from a catwalk (there's a catwalk because the building was built for some other purpose before it was taken over to be a computer company; it's not really well justified, but such things really happen often enough that it's not too hard to swallow) and got killed, and as April understood that she'd been involved in killing her mother, the shock made her become much more a person.  The cavalry finally arrives, the wounded survive, April becomes heir to the County of Tamed Lightning, and she and the survivors are going to continue their work, with the possibility that the dead will be brought back.  Except for Jan, who has a true funeral, with a pyre, of a sort that hasn't been seen since Oberon created the Night-Haunts.

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From:phillip2637
Date:March 29th, 2010 12:33 pm (UTC)
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I avoided the details of your review until after reading the book and now find that I agree with your main points very strongly.

I wouldn't have known to make the "slasher movie" connection, but it makes sense. There were lots of interesting character-to-character things going on, but I was struck by the amount of back and forth motion happening with no progress -- both physically and developmentally. I also share the sense that there were things that remained a mystery to Toby far longer than I expected, and things that were ignored or delayed when their importance seemed like it was obvious.
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