The fifth book in New York Times bestselling author Seanan McGuire’s October Daye series, One Salt Sea picks up one month after the events of book four, Late Eclipses. A changeling (part fae, part human) knight turned Countess, October “Toby” Daye’s life is finally beginning to take on some semblance of “normal”—she’s becoming more comfortable with her role as nobility, actually dating again, and her life is starting to look up. That is, until war is threatened when someone kidnaps the children of the Duchess of the undersea courts of Saltmist. Toby only has three days to find the kids, clear her Queen’s name, and stave off a war, a feat made even more difficult by the fact that someone is determined stop her—someone who isn’t afraid to break the rules. And the stakes are much higher than usual—as the back cover blurb states, “When Faerie goes to war, not everyone will walk away.”
Hitting her stride
In previous novels, the storyline has seemed rushed, like McGuire simply couldn’t take the time needed to fully express the story. While Toby is almost always working against a deadline, the sense of rushing seemed almost too much and took away from the overall impact of the story. This was one of my major critiques of McGuire’s writing and the stories she crafted in the earlier installments.
However, in book four, McGuire seemed to find a good pacing for the narrative, and I’m happy to say that she settles into that pacing in One Salt Sea. The suspense of working on a deadline is there, but the plot and story do not seem rushed. It’s a relatively steady pace which works phenomenally well for Toby’s story, and I am very pleased with the results, as One Salt Sea quickly became my favorite of Toby’s (mis)adventures.
One of the things I love about this series is the sheer amount of worldbuilding done within each novel. In a lot of instances, McGuire pulls directly from mythologies, and her research is evident. At the beginning of each book, a pronunciation guide is also provided, and before each read, I will just spend ten minutes going through the list and saying words out loud.
Yes, I’m a total geek.
At any rate, the worldbuilding in One Salt Sea is more expansive than in most of the previous novels, largely due to the new realm Toby encounters—the Saltmist, home of the undersea Fae. McGuire’s research shines through again, and she brings a feeling of correctness to this world that is so different from anything we’ve seen in Toby’s story thus far.
One of the things that struck me the most about One Salt Sea, as opposed to the rest of the novels, was the degree to which I connected with the secondary characters. While the secondary characters have been developed in previous books, I hadn’t felt as much of a connection with them as I did in One Salt Sea. This is partly due to becoming more and more familiar with the characters, but can also be attributed to the writing style and content of the novel. As such, there was one character in particular whom I began to warm up to who I hadn’t really cared for before. Yet even then, I still had my biases against them—I simply began to accept them and the direction McGuire was writing them. And once I finally began to accept that, what happened? Like any good author, McGuire killed them off. (Seanan, I both loved and hated you in that moment.)
Apart from the secondary character developments, we get a number of more introspective moments from the protagonist herself. These moments serve to develop some absolutely delicious internal conflicts as well as external character tensions. I am personally looking forward to where they will go, and how they will affect Toby in the future.
Why should you read this book?
Read this book for the action. Read this book for the worldbuilding. But most of all, read this book for the characters and the story. McGuire truly hits her stride in this novel, and it shows, both in pacing as well as her character work.
If you’re a newcomer to the series, this book can stand on its own quite nicely. However, as with any series, I recommend starting at the beginning, Rosemary and Rue, with the understanding that as with most series, this one takes a few books to get up to speed.