Today’s Double features two mermaid books, and you know what that means – the return of the Tide Metaphor!
Seanan McGuire. One Salt Sea. New York: DAW Books, 2011. 354 pgs.
A few disclaimers:
- I follow and occasionally interact with the author via her LiveJournal blog.
- Whereas, like most people, I usually start a series with Book 1, in this case I started with Book 5 (well, technically with 5.1 – McGuire’s e-novella, In Sea-Salt Tears). Thus, I’m fully aware that some of my confusion/frustration with the early chapters stemmed partly from my lack of background in the October Daye universe.
- As always, I try to avoid any in the review itself, but there may be SPOILERS in the comments section re: this or other October Daye books. Just so’s you know.
- Oh, and I should probably mention that the F-word and other such salty language is casually thrown in here and there throughout the Daye series. It’s not overdone, in my opinion, but if swearing really bugs you, you may not want to read these.
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Rating (ok, I’m going to use the IB scale again, because it’s too much fun, and they did say a while back that I could…):
4 out of 5 coffee refills. ‘Coz Toby needs her coffee. Like, now.
Ebb: Chapter 1 opens with cliché swordfight banter and lots of whining from our protagonist about having to work hard. Also, lots of info-dumping that, on the one hand, ok, is helpful to someone who hasn’t read Books 1-4 and isn’t familiar with all these characters… but on the other hand, really slows down the action. As in, you get a sentence or two of action, and then a paragraph of by-the-way-this-is-who-so-and-so-is-and-here’s-what-happened-to-them-in-previous-books-in-case-you-forgot, and then another sentence or two of action, followed by another by-the way… and so on.
In other words, not much happens in Chapter 1.
Flow: Oh hey, it’s the Luidaeg (pronounced “Lou-shack”), and look what she’s brought with her – the plot! She really is an awesome character. It’s hard to even pin her down to a stable mental image; her human form reminds me of Abby from NCIS (if Abby tied her hair with electrical tape) – but her voice in my head sounds more like Ziva. She’s described sort of like a teenager, but she’s actually many millennia old, if not older.
+ + = the Luidaeg.
Ebb: Back to not much happening. October’s boyfriend comes over, lots of sexytimes, we chat for a while about this interesting plot that will soon be happening…
Flow: I love that in October’s world, same-sex relationships are considered the same as hetero relationships. As in, the unique thing about Toby’s friend May dating a raven maid named Jazz isn’t that they’re both girls. The challenges they experience (as far as I know from Book 5) have nothing to do with their gender, but with their different backgrounds – for instance, they have to adjust to each other’s different sleep cycles, May being a nocturnal fae like Toby, while Jazz is diurnal.
Ebb: Not much happening. Getting bored. Stay strong, Nerija, there’ll be mermaids soon, right? There was a little bit of 🙂 in learning more about Toby’s boyfriend (he’s a Selkie), and how being a Selkie works in this universe.
Flow: Chapter 5 – Oh, sweet! The plot’s starting! An assassination attempt! Toby showing off her detective skillz! A declaration of war!
And from here on, sj, you were totally right. Things get exciting and suspenseful, and I’m actually starting to care about all these characters, and srs drama happens, and sacrifices, and root and branch what a ride!
My favorite things:
- Like sj, I ❤ ❤ ❤ McGuire’s world-building and the way her Fae society works. I love the everyday details, like how each person’s magic has its own signature scent – Toby’s cut grass and copper, Dianda Lorden’s water lily and amber, etc. Or how the characters’ exclamations are things like “root and branch!” and their well-wishing phrases things like “Sweet tides” or “Open roads.”
- Oh, and of course ZOMG THE UNDERWATER PALACE AND ALL THE MERMAIDS AND HOW CAN TOBY NOT BE SQUEE-ING AT THE TOP OF HER LUNGS (er, gills?) TAKE ME WITH YOU PLZ?!?! It somewhat reminds me of the Lakebed Temple from Zelda: Twilight Princess, with its mix of underwater rooms vs. those you can explore in two-legged form.
Come on, Toby, how can you not be in love with a place like this?!* —
… The gleaming mother-of-pearl walls were mostly obscured by elaborate loops of coral shaped like an abstract jungle gym. I thought it was purely decorative until half the fae in our escort swam off and settled themselves among the nooks and handholds. 
The hall paid no attention to conventional geometry, twisting and looping like a piece of tangled string, until I could only tell up from down by the direction people’s hair floated.
More thoughts (including spoilers) in my earlier Goodreads review.
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And so. Despite some of the low reviews on Goodreads, and even though it’s not going to be the mermaid-fest that One Salt Sea was, I’ve decided to check out Book 1: Rosemary and Rue. And, guys?…I’m actually really enjoying it! It’s not just that I’m finally getting the basic course on what’s a knowe and what does being a changeling mean in this world and all that. I’m actually enjoying the plot and everything! It starts right in the middle of the action, the exposition feels natural rather than info-dump-ey, and there aren’t nearly as many references to Toby’s coffee addiction (ok, Book 5, I get it, she likes coffee. I like coffee, too. Let’s move on). And, again, the worldbuilding is awesome. I love how McGuire’s Fae society blends the modern-urban setting with more ancient/poetic elements.
Edit: Here are my overall thoughts on Rosemary and Rue.
* P.S. Yes, I know there’s a very good reason Toby hates being underwater. I did get the gist of her backstory from the hints in Book 5, and I understand it even better having
started finished Book 1.
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Rating: 3 out of 5 studly Selch suitors.
As with One Salt Sea, I seem to have jumped into this series at its latest installment rather than starting with the first book. However, from what I gather, the books in Lackey’s Elemental Masters series stand up better as individual stories than the books in McGuire’s October Daye series. Each is essentially a twist on a fairy- or folktale, and this latest one focuses on the selkie mythos.
Interesting note: Lackey’s Selch are similar to McGuire’s Selkies, in that they can share their skins with others – i.e. a sealskin will work for whoever wears it, not just for its original owner (though I’m not sure if this is true for people who have no blood connection to the Selch in the first place).
Flow: I first found out about this book from the SurLaLune Fairytales site, and the Amazon preview of Chapter 1 hooked me with its description of the Protheros’ cottage on the west coast of Wales — its “ancient wooden floor made of ship’s planks gone black with age” ; its ceiling held together with “ships’-timer beams”; the fireplace fed with driftwood and sea-coal that make the flames burn “blue and gold and green, colored by the salts in the wood and the coals” …
Ebb: Midway through Chapter 1, we’re suddenly in London, meeting an entirely different set of characters apparently introduced in the previous books. To Lackey’s credit, she handles Nan and Sarah’s backstory smoothly, giving just enough exposition to help me get my bearings, but not so much that it feels like an info-dump. And the jacket-flap summary did mention there’d be an intersection between Mari Prothero and the London cast, but I still felt like I’d been yanked into an entirely different story, and one that I wasn’t nearly as interested in. I want to get to the part with the Selch!
Flow: Back to the story of Mari Prothero. On her eighteenth birthday, Mari finally learns why her father has been such an unnaturally successful fisherman all his life, and why he seems able to survive any storm when so many other men have drowned. That morning, Daffyd finally tells Mari about the Bargain their ancestors struck with the local Selch clan. To keep the Selch from dying out, one Prothero in each generation must mate with one of the clan, and then give one child, along with the seal-wife or husband, back to the water. In return, the Selch will protect the Prothero fishermen, allowing them to work in any weather.
Mari is outraged at the thought of marrying some stranger and then losing one of her children, just so the men can maintain the Prothero Luck.
But she has her own friends among the water fae, and they suggest she strike her own bargain with the Selch.
Which is just the beginning of the story.
Ebb: …which is kind of the problem. From the jacket description, I expected Mari’s fight against the Bargain to be the main conflict…and it is, really, but you wouldn’t know that most of the way through. Instead, the initial conflict seems solved within a few chapters. Then a new sort-of conflict branches off, and then that’s solved fairly easily, and then another sort-of problem comes up, but nah that’s not really an issue, and then we finally get to the real conflict!
Flow: Ok, things are finally getting serious and exciting, and I really care about what’s going to happen to these characters.
Ebb: Wait, when did she get this power? I’m sensing a deus ex machina here…
Flow: Ultimate resolution = Satisfying.
I wish Lackey had foreshadowed the ultimate conflict more clearly and ominously. For most of the book, I wasn’t sure where the plot was going because each potential problem ended up either easily solved or barely mentioned again, so it didn’t feel like there were any real stakes until the last few chapters.
I also wish she’d trimmed some of the non-plot-related scenes, like the Christmas and New Year’s parties – in fact, most of the Nan and Sarah scenes could have been condensed.
The seal lore was, of course, fascinating, and I liked the resolution even if a few parts felt too easy. Once I suspended my disbelief about certain things, the rest of the action was really cool.
 One Salt Sea, pg 153.
 Home From the Sea, pg 3.
 Home From the Sea, pg. 2.