enhanced] DD-B

Book Note: Seanan McGuire, An Artificial Night

I read this book about 1-Dec-2022. This is the first time I've read this book. The book is copyright 2010. This note was last modified Sunday, 11-Dec-2022 20:16:27 PST.

This is book 3 of the "October Daye" series.

This note contains spoilers for the book.


This is the third October Daye book. The series seems to take a big jump up in quality here, and several other readers have described it that way to me.

October is a half-elf changeling. She's a knight of one of the Dukes of the elven lands in the SF Bay area, and she's a private investigator, so she ends up investigating weird stuff happening in Faerie.

The character is somewhat interesting, the world-building is somewhat interesting, the supporting characters are generally very good. This particular book also has a Tam Lin story buried in it, which I generally approve of.

But for me, it doesn't manage to overcome the big problem with writing fantasy—how does your magic work?

If you you have viewpoint characters without magic and not too much magic in the background, you can follow Tolkien and simply have it be unclear to the reader as well as the protagonists what is and isn't possible.

If you want to go for more systemic magic, accepting that that's non-traditional, you can do that, and educate the reader in the system, and have things mostly make sense.

October doesn't really know what magic she has or how it works, or what powers the people around her have. She gets good support and good advice, but it ends up feeling that she pulls through mainly by good luck, and that's not a good look for a protagonist. The elves don't believe in systematizing things or communicating about things, so I don't really believe they know that much either. This is a traditional fairy-tale approach to magic, uncomprehended and without rules; but I've never been a big fan of fairy tales or mythology.

By the end of this book, October acknowledges to herself that she actually is a hero, and has to think of herself that way (for example, planning for her retirement is not going to be an issue). But I don't get the slightest sniff of the great classic book about heroes, Heinlein's Glory Road (#3). Agree or disagree, if you're going to discuss heroes, that's got to be part of the discussion.


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David Dyer-Bennet