Review: The Brightest Fell, by Seanan McGuire

Russ Allbery eagle at
Sat Jan 15 19:08:42 PST 2022

The Brightest Fell
by Seanan McGuire

Series:    October Daye #11
Publisher: DAW
Copyright: 2017
ISBN:      0-698-18352-5
Format:    Kindle
Pages:     353

This is the eleventh book in the October Daye urban fantasy series, not
counting various novellas and side stories. You really cannot start
here, particularly given how many ties this book has to the rest of the

I would like to claim there's some sort of plan or strategy in how I
read long series, but there are just a lot of books to read and then I
get distracted and three years have gone by. The advantage of those
pauses, at least for writing reviews, is that I return to the series
with fresh eyes and more points of comparison. My first thought this
time around was "oh, these books aren't that well written, are they,"
followed shortly thereafter by staying up past midnight reading just
one more chapter.

Plot summaries are essentially impossible this deep into a series, when
even the names of the involved characters can be a bit of a spoiler.
What I can say is that we finally get the long-awaited confrontation
between Toby and her mother, although it comes in an unexpected (and
unsatisfying) form. This fills in a few of the gaps in Toby's
childhood, although there's not much there we didn't already know. It
fills in considerably more details about the rest of Toby's family,
most notably her pure-blood sister.

The writing is indeed not great. This series is showing some of the
signs I've seen in other authors (Mercedes Lackey, for instance) who
wrote too many books per year to do each of them justice. I have
complained before about McGuire's tendency to reuse the same basic plot
structure, and this instance seemed particularly egregious. The book
opens with Toby enjoying herself and her found family, feeling like
they can finally relax. Then something horrible happens to people she
cares about, forcing her to go solve the problem. This in theory
requires her to work out some sort of puzzle, but in practice is fairly
linear and obvious because, although I love Toby as a character, she
can't puzzle her way out of a wet sack. Everything is (mostly) fixed in
the end, but there's a high cost to pay, and everyone ends the book
with more trauma.

The best books of this series are the ones where McGuire manages to
break with this formula. This is not one of them. The plot is literally
on magical rails, since The Brightest Fell skips even pretending that
Toby is an actual detective (although it establishes that she's
apparently still working as one in the human world, a detail that I
find baffling) and gives her a plot compass that tells her where to go.
I don't really mind this since I read this series for emotional
catharsis rather than Toby's ingenuity, but alas that's mostly missing
here as well. There is a resolution of sorts, but it's the partial and
conditional kind that doesn't include awful people getting their just

This is also not a good series entry for world-building. McGuire has
apparently been dropping hints for this plot back at least as far as
Ashes of Honor. I like that sort of long-term texture to series like
this, but the unfortunate impact on this book is a lot of revisiting of
previous settings and very little in the way of new world-building. The
bit with the pixies was very good; I wanted more of that, not the trip
to an Ashes of Honor setting to pick up a loose end, or yet another
significant scene in Borderland Books.

As an aside, I wish authors would not put real people into their books
as characters, even when it's with permission as I'm sure it was here.
It's understandable to write a prominent local business into a story as
part of the local color (although even then I would rather it not be a
significant setting in the story), but having the actual owner and
staff show up, even in brief cameos, feels creepy and weird to me. It
also comes with some serious risks because real people are not
characters under the author's control. (All the content warnings for
that link, which is a news story from three years after this book was

So, with all those complaints, why did I stay up late reading just one
more chapter? Part of the answer is that McGuire writes very grabby
books, at least for me. Toby is a full-speed-ahead character who is
constantly making things happen, and although the writing in this book
had more than the usual amount of throat-clearing and rehashing of the
same internal monologue, the plot still moved along at a reasonable
clip. Another part of the answer is that I am all-in on these
characters: I like them, I want them to be happy, and I want to know
what's going to happen next. It helps that McGuire has slowly added
characters over the course of a long series and given most of them a
chance to shine. It helps even more that I like all of them as people,
and I like the style of banter that McGuire writes. Also, significant
screen time for the Luidaeg is never a bad thing.

I think this was the weakest entry in the series in a while. It wrapped
up some loose ends that I wasn't that interested in wrapping up,
introduced a new conflict that it doesn't resolve, spent a bunch of
time with a highly unpleasant character I didn't enjoy reading about,
didn't break much new world-building ground, and needed way more faerie
court politics. But some of the banter was excellent, the pixies and
the Luidaeg were great, and I still care a lot about these characters.
I am definitely still reading.

Followed by Nights and Silences.

Continuing a pattern from Once Broken Faith, the ebook version of The
Brightest Fell includes a bonus novella. (I'm not sure if it's also
present in the print version.)

"Of Things Unknown": As is usual for the short fiction in this series,
this is a side story from the perspective of someone other than Toby.
In this case, that's April O'Leary, first introduced all the way back
in A Local Habitation, and the novella focuses on loose ends from that
novel. Loose ends are apparently the theme of this book.

This was... fine. I like April, I enjoyed reading a story from her
perspective, and I'm always curious to see how Toby looks from the
outside. I thought the plot was strained and the resolution a bit too
easy and painless, and I was not entirely convinced by April's internal
thought processes. It felt like McGuire left some potential for greater
plot complications on the table here, and I found it hard to shake the
impression that this story was patching an error that McGuire felt
she'd made in the much earlier novel. But it was nice to have an
unambiguously happy ending after the more conditional ending of the
main story. (6)

Rating: 6 out of 10

Reviewed: 2022-01-15


Russ Allbery (eagle at             <>

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