WARNING (again): This is Spoiler Territory. There will be SPOILERS for previous October Daye books and novellas, and for The Unkindest Tide.
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I was not in the best place, emotionally, when I started this book. Another depression flare-up meant I was in no mood to be lulled into a false sense of calm by Chapter 1’s domestic shenanigans (as lovely as they always are), and I probably did a Liz Lemon epic eye roll when Toby expressed some variation of “We’re all going to be fine now!”
Because of course Chapter 2 has to knock on the door and make ish get real with its talk of genocide and mourning and complicity and ultimate atonement. At this point, I had to set my Nook aside for a few weeks.
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But, come on, I have to know how this all goes down. So, Toby agrees to be the Luidaeg’s personal extra-strength hope chest and transform the Selkies into the Roane. They set sail on May Day for the Duchy of Ships, a patch of Faerie anchored to a lighthouse far out at sea, and holy squid I want to go to there.
It’s basically an armada of ships and boats and beaches and Cape Cod style villages and there’s a marketplace and who’s to say there isn’t a merrow-run coffee stall selling the most authentic and organic sea-salt caramel lattes?!
Anyhoo, it’s awesome and we get to meet some mer-mazing characters like the aforementioned Captain Pete and her alter-ego, the ethereal-yet-badass mermaid goddess Amphitrite. I love that she’s so badass she inspires her descendants to either pass out in awe at the first sight of her or fly into an impulsive rage and try to punch her in the face. And I love that Dean turns out to be the fainty one, while Dianda is the punchy one.
Best of all, though, are her thoughts on how much (if anything) the present-day Selkies should have to suffer for what their ancestors did to the Roane. How much even the first Selkies — the children of the humans who killed the Roane — should have had to pay.
“You told a bunch of shivering children who’d just killed their own parents to allay your wrath that they weren’t done paying, and they agreed, because they were terrified. You’re terrifying, you know. Sometimes you even frighten me.” (pg. 92)
I gave an even bigger fist pump a few chapters later, when Liz Ryan — leader of the Half Moon Bay clan and former lover of the Luidaeg — summed up her personally twisted relationship with Annie:
“She turned me into a bitter, broken-hearted drunk when she refused to tell me why she wanted me to turn away the birthright I’d been dreaming of for my entire life,” said Liz. “Is that crime enough, or should I go looking for something more direct that made me the way I am now? I gave her everything. I wanted to spend my life with her.” (pg. 213)
Of course, of course, neither of these arguments is mic-drop definitive because the situation is too complicated and painful for that. Of course I don’t completely blame the Luidaeg for her treatment of the Selkies in general — and Liz in particular — because it comes from a place of unbearable grief. Of course Tybalt’s right when he points out that choosing to wear your lover’s dead child’s skin as a magic cloak is kind of a turn off.
But the fact is, Annie didn’t tell Liz the truth about sealskins until it was too late. The fact is, no Selkie child knows the truth about sealskins before they agree to take one, and when they are told, the price of nobly refusing the skin is immediate death.
Which suggests that Annie was never in it for the long haul with Liz. She explicitly admits that their relationship was only supposed to be a temporary fling, by Faerie lifespan standards.
“Yes, Elizabeth Ryan was my lover, and yes, I would have kept her with me for as long as her mortal bones could have borne it. I would have lain her to rest in Summerlands soil, in a place where no one would ever disturb her remains, and I would have gone to visit her every sennight until the moons fell from the sky and the sea forgot what it was to sing. But she chose a Selkie’s life, and with it, became one of my children in image if not actuality.” (pg. 117).
The language is gorgeous and hella romantic on the surface, but deeper down, it sounds like Annie would rather love a dead woman than a living Selkie. She wanted “till death do us part,” while Liz wanted forever.
Again, I understand why the Luidaeg feels the way she does. But, as an omniscient reader, I can feel Liz’s eternal heartbreak as well, and it burns like a stonefish.
Which, I suppose, is a sign of wonderfully complex and multi-faceted storytelling on McGuire’s part.
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- First of all — and I realize this is a minor point, but it matters to me, Maeve damn it! — I’m kind of bummed that none of the stories following Forbid the Sea mentions Tybalt’s brief, tragic romance with a Selkie named Dylan. Like, when Toby reads his blood memories in Once Broken Faith — specifically, his memories of prior romances — Dylan doesn’t come up at all. And now, we have an entire novel dedicated to the impending death of the Selkie race, and Tybalt doesn’t once mention his history with them.
Like, I get that he wouldn’t mention it to the Luidaeg or the clan leaders, but he never mentions it to Toby, either. It could’ve even been something as subtle as a mysteriously wistful or mournful look that passes over his face as he watches Selkie lovers like Matthias and René (or, wow, when Liz is talking about her failed romance with the Luidaeg, maybe?!).
- Second: for casual or first-time readers, it might not be clear what the full scope of the controversy is about the Selkies becoming Roane. In other words: why would any of the Selkies not want to transform? The prospect of being permanently bound to their magic, rather than having to carry it around in an easily lost or stolen form, seems like a major win, doesn’t it? How many Selkies would refuse such a chance?
It was only later that I realized something: what’s going to happen to the humans who don’t have a skin in the end? Are the new Roane going to have to cut ties with their families completely? And what then? Are those remaining humans going to be considered a security risk, knowing about the existence of Faerie? Are they going to be killed the way most human families are after a Changeling’s Choice? Or is there going to be some major Exception made, as was the case for Chelsea’s mother in Ashes of Honor, only on a much larger scale? I feel like these questions could have been raised more explicitly, at least in passing.
- Third: as the Point of No Return draws closer, we get some ret-conning regarding the nature of sealskins and why (or whether) they’re such a security risk for Faerie as a whole. In One Salt Sea, Rayseline Torquill stole a sealskin to infiltrate the Duchy of Saltmist and kidnap the Duchess’ children. Considering she’s a completely land-based faery, the assumption here is that she couldn’t have reached the Duchy at all unless she was in fish or seal form.
But now we learn that that apparently wasn’t the case. Because, as Tybalt casually throws out there, Rayseline didn’t actually use the skin to transform. So, what, she just used the stolen skin as a fashion accessory? Like, she found some other way to infiltrate a deep-underwater setting and just carried the skin around awkwardly so people would think she’s a random Selkie swimming around in human form?
The previous books made a point that a “selkie” is really the magic contained in the sealskin and not the person who uses the skin. The person herself or himself is essentially human. Which suggests that any human could use a sealskin, not just the descendants of the first Selkies, right?
Maybe McGuire decided that would be too much of an oversight on the Luidaeg’s part?
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First of all (I guess this one’s closer to a solid Ebb), how is it that only one Selkie dies after the Luidaeg gives them all permission to steal skins from each other in the days before the Final Transformation? Was everyone savvy enough to lock themselves in their cabins rather than going all Super Smash Bros on each other? Was no one desperate enough to actually take the Luidaeg up on her offer? As Tybalt says to René LeFebvre, “Murder is everyone’s way, given sufficient incentive” (pg. 230).
And speaking of Isla Chase’s death by drowning, didn’t Toby say something about Selkies learning to swim from a young age? Why didn’t Isla swim to a rope or ladder or something after Torin pushed her overboard (oh, remember that side quest I mentioned? It’s apparently not as tangential as it first seems…threatening Dianda’s youngest son was never really the point, so it makes sense he was never in any serious danger)? Is the water around the Duchy of Ships that rough? Or maybe she was so shocked by her lover’s betrayal that she didn’t have the presence of mind?
But anyway, after all that, the villains make their ineffective grand stands and the heroes dole out the delightful come-uppances and say deep things about fate and history and justice, and suddenly it’s time for that Major Historical Moment.
On first read-through, it felt like an anti-climax.
Like, the Luidaeg completes most of her goal and postpones the rest for a future book. Like, she mostly brings back the Roane, but lets a few Selkies stick around for seven more years. Like, WHAT’S THE POINT??? Those few remaining Selkies are still going to have to turn Roane eventually; what difference does this make?
On second thought…maybe it makes a world of difference. The postponement leaves open the possibility that the Selkies might not have to die out completely — that, before the seven years pass, Toby will find a way to break the Luidaeg’s geas, allowing the Luidaeg to break her promise/threat. That a few humans might be saved from the consequences of the Changeling’s Choice.
Maybe it means that Annie is giving Liz an extra chance to keep her sealskin without becoming Roane — i.e. without becoming one of Annie’s children. Maybe it means that Annie is leaving open the chance for reconciliation and a rekindling of their relationship.
And, as I read those final few paragraphs again, I realize just how big a deal even the mostly-accomplished Transformation is. I see a line I missed before, that sends a lovely chill through me:
The Luidaeg was laughing, and finally, the thin, jagged edge of sorrow that had always lingered beneath the sound was gone. (pg. 305)
Something miraculous has just happened. An entire species has been resurrected. A species nearing extinction has the chance to live on. Something about this moment was both Chosen and Foreseen by the original Roane, and what does it all mean?
Fellow Toby fans, lay down your theories! What does it mean for Faerie if the Roane — and their prophetic abilities — return to the seas? To the original Roane, why was this Convocation worth dying for? What’s going to happen with Gillian’s family?