Monday, December 3, 2012
Bastard Reaction: Ashes of Honor by Seanan McGuire
A few months ago I reviewed One Salt Sea by Seanan McGuire, and I praised it plenty. In particular, I made it a point to distinguish and commend McGuire for her writing skills which I felt was among the top in the genre, making her novels standout from the pack. It was with that in mind that I eagerly anticipated the next in the October Day series, Ashes of Honor, but can't help but be disappointed about a few aspects that I perceived worsened this time around.
My main hindrance in the enjoyment of Ashes of Honor was the repetition, and it began with "coffee". I was hard pressed to go a few pages, maybe even a few paragraphs without "coffee" being mentioned on some regard. And just about every scene was framed by coffee-related topics, usually about going over and over about how much Toby loves coffee, and how her friends are the best of friends because they know to bring her coffee, and going on about how she likes her coffee served, etc. By the third of the novel, I was already coffee'd-out with no end to it in sight. I mean, was there really a need to mention coffee about 76 times in the novel? I really don't think so. We crossed the line between portraying a personality quirk and a distraction. Had a similar problem with the use of "pennyroyal and musk", used to describe Tybalt's scent, particularly when he uses his fae abilities. Though a far less egregious use than what's described above, there was one particular passage that it seemed like Tybalt couldn't take two steps without Toby using this descriptor once more, then again. The scene really called for Toby to find a more varied way to narrate and describe Tybalt's actions.
The attention to detail wasn't up to standards either. Those close to Toby determined that she was suicidal, but the evidence presented in the narrative just didn't add up. Given, we knew that Toby went through a traumatic experience in the last novel, but absent of that knowledge, nothing presented should've led to these characters claiming she was suicidal. In fact, if it wasn't for that knowledge I would've thought she was doing quite well for herself. She has a very nice home, she's living with a self-made family who she cares about and they love her in return, she has her friends, and she seemed more comfortable with who she is in this world. Then they use as evidence her "going into danger alone" to conclude that she wants to get herself killed, but it's a non-sequitur. In a vacuum yes that's a good reason to suspect Toby destructive intentions; problem is that it's no different than her actions in the past, that's who she has always been. All to say a better job should've been done to lay the groundwork for the portrayal of the apparent depression Toby was going through during the time between the previous events and the start of this novel.
On a similar regard, I also felt that the actions taken by the villain towards the ends were uncharacteristically convenient for our heroes. A villain who was shown to be very smart, clever, and paranoid, yet in the end this character was anything but. Some dumb unnecessary strategic mistakes were made, and it really didn't hold up well as the climax came to be.
Lastly, the last contrary facet I'll mention is that there was a plot convergence towards the end that I personally didn't like. Though not a problem in any shape or form, I thought the story would have been much stronger and more powerful had they remained separate. As it were, there was a slight cheapening of some of the events, and the twist that brought it forward didn't have the weight it probably intended. I'm not going to lose any sleep over this particular objection though, just a personal preference observation. Many probably loved this particular development.
Now that I've managed to get my venting out of the way, I'd like to take the opportunity to say that even with the above, I still enjoyed the book. Certainly not the best in the series, but not the worst either, and the story progression was quite favorable. In fact, quite a few interesting things are going on that I'll be interested in seeing them unfold in the coming installments.
One thing I loved about Ashes of Honor was the re-focus it gave to the human world, something that has been fairly neglected until now (though we saw a bit in the previous book). There was more interaction with human characters, the police got involved, and it added a certain dynamic that really enriched all that Toby has gone through, and the world she's living in. I hope we see more of this going forward. Apart from the human world, McGuire took us to new places in the fae world, places I didn't think we'd get to experience, so that was a very nice touch as she keeps expanding this universe.
Character interaction is still going strong, something that I constantly see improving with each new novel. Tybalt and Toby scenes were great, and some interesting progressions going here as well, so we'll see how McGuire handles it going forward. Though I very much am in favor of the current happenings, it's something that's quite fragile and needs to be handled with care. There's also a certain tension and maybe some animosity growing between Toby and Luna (more from the former towards the latter) which I'm finding quite curious and interesting. It's something subtle, nothing full blown, in fact, for all intents and purposes they love and care about each other, but it's a relationship I'll be paying a very close attention as the story goes along.
I think my favorite aspect of the novel was the focus given to the Court of Cats. It had an interesting plot thread, and through it we learned about Tybalt's past and also of how the succession of the King works, so that added a good dimension to the story.
Ashes of Honor was an overall good read, but it was overshadowed by the aforementioned problems for me. I suspect not many readers that are this far along in the series will care much for these observations, and will end up loving the novel as is. I still very much stand by the October Daye series, one of the current favorites in the genre, but can't shake the disappointment with the latest novel given that the previous two were great. That said, urban fantasy readers who have yet to give this series a try, don't be discouraged to give this series a look. I highly recommend it.
Buy Ashes of Honor at The Book Depository.
For more information on the series, please visit Seanan McGuire's website and blog.